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Bearing Much Fruit

I want to tell you about a friend. We’ll say her name is “Lydia”. We started working in this city in East Asia because of her and her husband. When I first got to town, I thought they’d be critical factors in the work here. But as the year went on I saw their life being filled up with, well, life. Both husband and wife worked; and they have a son who is very smart and also very strong willed, which can make for a lot of work at two years old. On top of that, they bought a home and are renovating it. That’s a full life. So in my mind I said “goodbye for a while” and hoped they could continue to study with us. I couldn’t really see them helping lead or being a main contributor to our ministry while their lives were so busy.

That’s how it went until after this last winter break. I saw them a bit (if they could make it), or I’d sporadically go over to their place if they had time. After winter break she called me up and said she wanted to give a presentation. When we got to her home, she had copies and a projector set up.

Her presentation was about mothers.

She wanted to help. In her own life she saw the difficulty of raising a child, and she also saw it in others: the loneliness, the huge change in social life, the work, and many mixed feelings of guilt, anger, and even child abuse. She wanted to do something about it. So she told me of her plan to create a support program for moms. They would find a time to meet together to learn how to parent, to give them a break to develop friendships with other women, and to provide a time to hear about forgiveness and the gospel comfort as they raise their children. A ‘support for moms’ program to take on the challenges of raising a child in this culture.

To put it mildly, I was blown away. I had resigned to the fact that they would be occasional “receivers” of the work here. Maybe they’d come once or twice a month, but we wouldn’t see too much of them. But instead, God was working in her something massive. In fact, this is so big that she quit her job to focus on the program. Can you imagine quitting your job to dedicate yourself to serving others and sharing the gospel? She wanted to do just that, especially to this specific group.

There’s so much here that I would love to talk more about, but I’ll just mention one more thing. Last week at our Bible study we focused on John 15, the vine and branches. Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Those who remain in Jesus will bear much fruit. That verse made me think about our expectation of Jesus’ promise. Maybe I had been looking for some consistent fruit from her – like a good ole’ reliable apple, or some other plant like wheat or corn – i.e. faithful attendance to studies and consistent outreach work. But maybe God was growing in her some other fruit that takes a bit longer to develop. Maybe like a sweet cherry tree. The sweet cherry tree can take from four to seven years to see fruit; but once it blooms, it produces a large quantity of sweet, much sought after cherries. Maybe God was slowly building in Lydia something that would produce a little later, but something much sweeter and richer in taste.

We can wonder about that same promise of Jesus in our lives, especially when we can’t see the fruit right away. Does that mean we can reverse the logic and say, “I must not be connected to Jesus because I can’t see the fruit?” While that could be the case sometimes, I think we can also rest in God’s promise. He says you will bear much fruit. Maybe you can’t see it right now, or it’s not the kind you are thinking of, but Jesus is connected to you and in you – and you will bear fruit.

Written by a missionary in East Asia


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Adversity Turned to Blessing

God can turn any adversity into unexpected blessing! We need think no further than Joseph in Egypt… or Iliyan Itsov in Bulgaria. As many of the Roma people (aka gypsies), Iliyan was working away from home in Italy when adversity struck. Injuries from a serious car accident cost him his job and forced him to return to his village in Bulgaria. While he was recovering, his pastor asked him to consider becoming a pastor in the Bulgarian Lutheran Church. Iliyan eagerly signed on for the three-year seminary program sponsored by WELS, which required him to make many trips to St. Sophia Seminary in Ukraine.

Missionary Iliyan Itsov

His time for graduation came in the fall of 2015, and adversity of a different sort struck. The Bulgarian Lutheran Church, which already had five pastors for its four congregations, had no place for him to serve. This time it was the WELS Board for World Mission’s Europe Committee which turned adversity into blessing. It called Iliyan to begin a new mission effort, called Outreach to Roma. As a Roma himself, Pastor Itsov can relate to the rather closed gypsy society; plus, he has numerous relatives and friends scattered around Europe with whom he can share the good news of Jesus.

There are about 13,000,000 Roma in Europe, of which 750,000 live in Bulgaria. Today, only a very few of them travel from place to place in small caravans of horse-drawn wagons (primarily in Slovakia and Hungary). Most live in small villages, separated from and unwelcome in mainstream society. The poverty in these villages is the reason that nearly all Roma families have one or two members working in Western Europe – and sending money home for the rest of the family to survive on. For example, for 10 years Itsov’s mother has supported her extended family by working as a cleaning lady in Italy.

Itsov’s call gives him the freedom to gather groups wherever the Lord provides opportunity. Following the example of St. Paul in Acts, Itsov gathers interested people in a village, asks them to select a leader, and then provides that leader with training and materials to use. Itsov may visit two or three times a month, but in his absence the leader conducts worship, reading sermons Itsov provides. As of this writing, five groups, scattered across Bulgaria, are worshiping regularly. In addition, the Outreach to Roma van regularly hauls seven or eight people to the Bulgarian Lutheran Church service in Dunavtsi.

Outreach to Roma – Vacation Bible School

The work hasn’t always been easy – and hasn’t always borne visible fruit. At the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Germany, Itsov spent several months trying, unsuccessfully, to gather groups in Germany. In one village, the tires on the Outreach to Roma van were slashed, and Itsov was threatened with a beating if he showed his face there again.

Now another adversity has struck. Itsov is battling serious health issues. But, once again, adversity has also led to blessing. It has given WELS the opportunity to show love and care as brothers and sisters in Christ. We, through WELS Christian Aid and Relief, have sent $13,000 to help with the costs of his surgery and treatments.

The Lord is using Itsov’s ministry. In a service in the village of Zlataritsa during the month of November, 15 adults and 6 children were baptized. Last month, 20 people were confirmed there. These are just a few examples of how God is blessing his outreach. Join me in praying that Outreach to Roma will see a growing number brought to the Gospel, as God turns the adversity of their difficult lives into eternal blessings.

Written by: Rev. John F. Vogt, WELS Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe


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The Lord Blesses Hmong Outreach in Vietnam

It all started when a leader within the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam viewed an online sermon by Rev. Bounkeo Lor. The message of pure grace through Jesus Christ was something he had never heard before – and he wanted to learn more. He invited Rev. Lor to come to Vietnam to train himself and others in the truth of the gospel, and the Lord has allowed this opportunity to blossom since.

HFC leaders gather for training in January 2018

With every visit Rev. Lor has made to conduct training in Hanoi, approximately 60 church leaders have attended to learn more about the truths of the Bible. These same 60 leaders have been taking the message back to their congregations, and the gospel message is accomplishing its purpose. The HFC was a church body of 65,000 members when their leader first reached out to WELS. In the years WELS has provided training, the HFC has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches. Rev. Lor has been called to serve as Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, and the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) and Multi-Language Publications teams have been brought in to offer support and additional resources for this expanding ministry.

Not only is this church body is growing, but the communist Vietnamese government has also noticed a positive change. The HFC has a strong history of legalism, which had caused conflict as to which rules are God-pleasing and which are not. The message of free grace received from Jesus Christ has replaced their old law-based preaching and leadership styles, and church leadership has stabilized as a result.

HFC leaders take photos of illustrated Bible stories to take back to their congregations

The gospel can work even in the most difficult of circumstances, and sometimes in ways we cannot expect. The Lord has blessed this outreach, and the Vietnamese government has invited WELS to build a theological training facility in the capital city of Hanoi. WELS is currently the only protestant church with official governmental permission to work with the Hmong in Vietnam. WELS Missions representatives will be visiting Hanoi, Vietnam in June to evaluate and explore this opportunity further, and efforts to secure funding for land acquisition, construction costs, and initial operation costs have begun.

In a letter from the HFC to WELS, church leaders wrote:

“We thank you for the WELS training for the past three years. Now, we believe that we have salvation. Without that, today we would still be living in the darkness of Satan. We believe that God already answered our prayers through the WELS.”

As the HFC and WELS work together to establish a theological training facility, the focus remains on the future – the future of their church body, the future pastors and lay leaders that will be trained in confessional Lutheran doctrine, and ultimately the future that awaits them in heaven.

 

Africa Updates – Mission Work in Liberia, Unrest in Cameroon

Mission Work in Liberia

Do you call it reaching out? Or reaching back? WELS One Africa Team, made up of WELS missionaries serving in Africa, will soon become involved in the mission trips taking place to Liberia.

These trips had a special start. Over the years, people from Liberia have fled civil wars in their country and found peace and life in the United States. Some have joined our WELS churches where they settled.

Matthew Cephus trains church leaders in Liberia

Starting in 2016, Isaac David – a Liberian immigrant living in Las Vegas, Nev. – began making trips back to Liberia to share the message of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. More recently, Matthew Cephus, a Liberian immigrant living in New Hope, Minn., has done the same.

What’s next? In September and November 2018, a couple members from the One Africa Team will join these men and their teams from the United States in training more pastors and leaders on Liberian soil. The plans are made: training will take place for 125 pastors and leaders in September. An additional 40 pastors and leaders will continue their training in November. The numbers of people reached grow from there as these church leaders take God’s precious word back to their churches and communities and share with others.

So whether you call it reaching out to Liberia or reaching back, there is only one place to find lasting peace and security. That is in the hands of God who reached down from heaven with his love and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.

From Missionary John Hartmann, Outreach Coordinator – One Africa Team


Unrest in Cameroon

Please keep our brothers and sisters in Christ in Cameroon in your prayers.

The English-speaking areas of Cameroon are in conflict with the dominant French-speaking regions, including the government. Some of the national pastors of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC) and their members are finding themselves running into the bush (country) at night because of fear. There is no denying it – as selfish interests and tempers flare, guns go off and people are losing their lives. The times are troublesome as the devil tries to deter Christians with fear. We remember well how many times our Lord reminded his followers “Do not be afraid” in both Old Testament (2 Kings 6:16, Nehemiah 4:14) and New Testament (Matthew 6:31, 17:7; Mark 6:50; Luke 8:50). We especially pray that God continue to strengthen our brothers and sisters in the LCC.

Missionary Jeff Heitsch preaches at a congregation of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon

Cameroon Missionary Jeff Heitsch and his wife Stephanie, will be leaving Cameroon and be temporarily relocated to the United States due to the internal political unrest in the country. They arrived in Cameroon in October 2017.

Conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon began to intensify about the time of the Heitschs’ arrival, and the security situation has deteriorated significantly since then. By mutual decision of the Heitsches and the WELS World Mission Board, the Heitsches will remain in the United States for the time being. Missionary Dan and Karen Kroll, who also serve on Cameroon, were already planning being back in the United States on furlough until mid-July.

“It’s always a difficult decision to remove a missionary from their field, but it is also important that we keep them safe as well as pray for our brothers and sisters in Cameroon who live in the midst of the strife. We have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless the gospel-sharing work of the national church body, and if it is his will, that one day we will, once again, be able to serve this mission field in person,” says Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions operations.

WELS Missions and the members of the LCC continue on in the assurance that our living and victorious Savior is in control and knows all things. Nothing will happen without his knowledge and approval, and we join with David to say “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). May we all continue to walk in the confidence and peace of our Risen Lord, no matter where in the world we might be.


Want to stay up-to-date on what is happening with Africa mission work? Subscribe to One Africa Team blogs or follow them on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

 

Celebrating 125 Years of WELS World Mission Work

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”

2 Corinthians 6:2

“This is the worst time to begin an Indian Mission,” said a veteran missionary to WELS in synod convention as they contemplated their first world mission effort. Seven days later, Native Americans defeated U.S. forces at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Undeterred, the people of our synod decided that it was the best time to share Jesus with people who did not yet know him. By October 1893, two missionaries boldly went to share the gospel on the Apache reservations of the Arizona Territory.

125 years later, the same fire to reach the lost is now burning in the hearts of our Apache brothers and sisters. It is still the worst time for many Native Americans. On the more than 500 reservations scattered across North America, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, and violence are a part of too many homes. 95 percent of Native Americans are not Christians and do not have the hope of our Savior.

Apache Christians feel there has never been a better time to share Jesus. Our focus is on equipping Apache Christians for service in God’s kingdom: on the Apache reservations, with other tribes, and through the Internet. As long as the devil is active, there will never be an ideal time to share Jesus. Like our WELS ancestors 125 years ago, we move forward in faith and trust.


Apache Ministry Today

As we look to the next 125 years of ministry, the opportunity is great.

What can you do? You can PRAY! Pray that Native Americans everywhere come to know the hope of salvation that is found in the Holy Scriptures, and not in the words or religious ceremonies of the medicine man. You can TELL your friends and family about the Apache people that are studying to be spiritual church leaders through this mission work. You can GIVE a gift to help support ministries like the three below:

Apache Christian Training School (ACTS)

Apache Christian Training School (ACTS): Apache Christians are asking to be equipped to share Christ’s love. ACTS provides them with training and resources that prepares leaders for all levels of ministries on the reservations. With a solid program already in place, ACTS exists to provide trained workers for the ever-expanding ministries of current congregations. ACTS will also play a key role in the training of workers to share the gospel with other Native American communities.

Lutheran Church of the Open Bible

 

 

Lutheran Church of the Open Bible—Whiteriver, Ariz: With approximately 1,000 members, Open Bible is looking to expand its ministry through increased use of trained volunteers and called workers. They will use these trained and equipped Apache Christians to serve as evangelists, deacons, and deaconesses. These trained workers will play a vital role in expanding outreach opportunities, small group study and support groups, addiction recovery ministry, grief counseling, youth ministry, and worship opportunities.

Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

 

Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School: With enrollment rising from 75 to 130 in four years and requests for solid, Christian education continuing to roll in, there is a great opportunity for expansion! Additional classrooms, building repairs, faculty, and resources are desperately needed to catch up with enrollment growth. Your gifts will help present-day ministry at the school and support the various projects that will allow Peridot-Our Savior’s to reach more children and their families with the gospel.


Join the Apache Anniversary Celebration!

June 22 in Wisconsin
KI Convention Center, Green Bay, Wis. (Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society convention hotel) – All are invited!
6 to 9 p.m. – Meet Apache brothers and sisters, experience their music, and learn about their history.
RSVP Today! 

October 26–28 in Arizona

Oct. 26 – Reservation tours
Oct. 27 – Anniversary celebration in Peridot, Ariz.
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Music, crafts, history, food; 4 p.m. – Worship; 5 p.m. – Dinner
Oct. 28 – Celebration worship at all reservation WELS churches

For More Information… 

 

Latin America Mission Updates

When you think of Academia Cristo, think of Luther’s Catechism. Martin Luther developed his catechism after coming to recognize the extreme lack of basic biblical understanding among church leaders and heads of families. He describes visiting churches in Saxony that didn’t have the Bible or whose leaders had not memorized the 10 commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. A similar lack of basic Christian knowledge is what led to and guides Academia Cristo’s ministry efforts to help more people plant and lead churches that faithfully proclaim God’s Word. WELS Latin America Missions has been busy sharing the good news of Jesus – here are some updates:

New WELS Presence in Puerto Rico

Rev. Larry W. Schlomer has accepted the call to serve for one year as a disaster response coordinator for Puerto Rico. In this role he will work with the national pastors of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico to identify and prioritize specific needs, plan construction and repair projects, and coordinate volunteer efforts. He will also help to coordinate continuing theological training for two men whose training was interrupted by Hurricane Maria last fall. Schlomer has already begun efforts to connect interested Latino members of stateside WELS congregations with the outreach and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Rev. Larry W. Schlomer with his wife Marlene

Besides assisting in disaster response, Schlomer hopes to establish an enduring and close connection between the Puerto Rican church and our Latin America Missions team. These connections will help strengthen fellowship ties and allow for the continued sharing of ministry ideas and encouragement.


Academia Cristo – Training course interest remains high

Latin American woman shares Academia Cristo with her family

There are currently 150 people studying online in the Academia Cristo Catechism level training program. Here are examples of three courses:

  1. The Bible: In The Beginning – In this course, students learn the first Genesis Bible history courses and how to teach them to others using a teaching methodology based on Luther’s simple way to pray.
  2. The Word Grows: Multiplying Disciples – In this evangelism course, students study the lives of Paul and Barnabas, Mark the Evangelist, and early church leaders such as Priscila, Aquila, and Apollos. Those who successfully complete the course are invited to personally connect with a mature Lutheran leader who will be responsible for guiding and mentoring them as they learn to faithfully proclaim God’s Word to others.
  3. Spiritual Identity – In this course, students learn why there are so many different church bodies, the importance of making a clear confession, and connecting with those who make a clear confession while avoiding those who do not.

In addition to online courses, live Academia Cristo face-to-face workshops have been taught in Colorado, Florida, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay, and Venezuela so far this year.


WELS Missionaries relocating to Ecuador

This summer two missionaries from the One Latin America (1LA) mission team will be moving to Ecuador. This will be the first time WELS will have an active mission presence in the South American country. Rev. Nathan Schulte and Rev. Phil Strackbein have begun making arrangements to make the move. Schulte currently serves in Mexico, and Strackbein serves in Bolivia. Read more wels.net/new-world-mission-start-south-america.


Making Disciples in New Locations

The Apostle Paul was Timothy’s teacher and mentor. He instructed Timothy that he should take “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Note the four generations of disciples mentioned here: Paul, Timothy, reliable, qualified people, and others. Academia Cristo seeks to emulate this model – chains of disciples, training others with the goal of planting new churches, and reaching new areas. It maximizes everyday means of communication to make initial connections.

The strongest of these online connections lead to face-to-face visits. So far this year, missionaries have visited Academia Cristo contacts in central and Eastern Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Argentina. Many are studying to become members in our fellowship. There are now 21 men who are being mentored by WELS missionaries and national church leaders. These men are in turn sharing what they’re learning with those they know as they begin gather groups around the Word of God.


Blessings in Colombia

The Lord continues to bless mission efforts of our brothers and sister in the Colombian Lutheran Church. Two of the first churches planted by men who came into contact with the Colombian Church via Academia Cristo are working to move out of homes and into larger facilities. Please pray God continue to bless these new Lutheran churches in Ibagué, Colombia and Isla Margarita, Venezuela.


To learn more about other outreach opportunities the Lord has provided in Latin America, watch the Academia Cristo Spring 2018 Update Video. 

 

Cameroon mission update

Cameroon Missionary Jeff Heitsch and his wife, Stephanie, will be leaving Cameroon and be temporarily relocated to the United States due to internal political unrest in the country. They arrived in Cameroon in October 2017.

Conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon began to intensify about the time of the Heitsches’ arrival, and the security situation has deteriorated significantly since then. By mutual decision of the Heitsches and the WELS World Mission Board, the Heitsches will remain in the United States for the time being.

Missionary Dan Kroll and his wife, Karen, who also serve in Cameroon, were already planning on being back in the United States on furlough until mid-July.

The decision when and if to have a missionary return to Cameroon will be determined as the security and safety situation is monitored.

“It’s always a difficult decision to remove missionaries from their field, but it is also important that we keep them safe as well as pray for our brothers and sisters in Cameroon who live in the midst of the strife. We have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless the gospel-sharing work of the national church body, and if it is his will, that one day we will, once again, be able to serve this mission field in person,” says Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations.

The Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC) serves more than 650 baptized members in 32 congregations and two preaching stations. Due to various reasons, the LCC has not trained any new pastors since 1999. With the Lord’s blessing, 13 students are now enrolled in pre-seminary studies. Both Kroll and Heitsch worked with the LCC to further develop this worker training program. Currently, the LCC is served by eight national pastors and 12 evangelists.

Now I Believe

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I didn’t know what he meant.

I heard his words, but I didn’t grasp his message. I wondered what he was really saying. What was the meaning behind the words? Was he even talking to me? Or to someone else? Or was he just talking to himself? Three times he repeated the same thing:

“Now I believe.”

I was a bit uncertain about his words because I had just walked up to him. His name is Bright Pembeleka. He is the pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Blantyre, Malawi. He’s been serving in the public ministry for 13 years.

Bright Pembeleka graduated from the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia in 2005

We both had come to the same place: the mortuary. We were collecting the body of a Lutheran Church member. Pastor Pembeleka has been there before. Many times.

As a pastor he knows the routine all too well when someone dies: visiting the family, preparing the sermon, leading the worship, saying the prayers, conducting the burial service. But this time was different. Powerfully different. Life-changingly different.

This time he would not wear the robe of a preacher but the cloak of grief. The Lutheran member who passed away wasn’t just a church member, the person was his own daughter. Edina was 21 years old. Just 21!

It’s not supposed to happen this way! But it did.

Watching one coffin after another being carried out of the mortuary and being placed into waiting vehicles reminded me once again: The old must die. The young can.

We waited while the embalmers did their job. Sensing an opening in the conversation, I risked asking Pastor Pembeleka what he meant by what he said, “Now I believe.” His explanation came freely, though heavily – it didn’t just land in my ears, it settled in my heart.

“I have officiated at a lot of funerals. I did so because it was my job. It was part of my work. But now it is happening to me… now is really the first time I know what it means to grieve. Now I am the one experiencing the pain. Now I know the heart-ache that others have talked about.

Now. I. FEEL.”

His eyes were reddening with tears. His voice was cracking with sorrow. His heart was breaking with pain. The cloak he wore was both dark and heavy.

Now I believe.

Grief seized him and gripped him. He and his wife and children would now be the ones to weakly stand, then kneel beside the pile of fresh dirt. Even fall upon it.

Maybe you’ve been there – waiting at the mortuary. Visiting at the funeral home. Walking the path to the grave. Placing a wreath of flowers. If so, you understand. If not, you likely will. Because sooner or later death touches the ones we love.

Malawi National Pastors at the Funeral

The cloak is dark and heavy.

Pastor Pembeleka would be at the funeral, but this time he wouldn’t be leading the service. His brothers in Christ would. Fellow servants and seasoned preachers. A band of disciples who gathered, supported, encouraged, prayed and rallied around their grieving brother and family.

Some of whom have buried their own children. They know. They have experienced. They understand. They FEEL. They believe.

They gave what they had, and what they had was what was needed most: the Word of God. After all, it had something to say to Pastor Pembeleka, his wife, his children and everyone there. It has something to say to you who weren’t. At a Christian funeral, GRIEF isn’t the only cloak worn on such days! So is the robe righteousness. The mantle of God’s grace. God has draped his people with a love that seizes and grips and doesn’t let go.

In death there is life! (John 11: 25, 26)

Most fittingly, Pastor Eliya Petro chose and preached on the assuring words found in John’s first letter, ”God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life…” (1 John 5: 11, 12). Edina has life because the Son has her!

A chorus of Lutheran women, uniformed in purple and white, confidently sang that truth again and again as they walked in a long double line to the funeral house, “She’s in the hands of God, yes, she’s in the hands of God.”

She is… because Jesus has conquered death!

She is… because Jesus lives!

She is… because Jesus has taken away her sin!

Pastor Pembeleka, you and your brothers have taught your congregations well. The people, whether sitting in the pew at church or sitting on the ground in a graveyard or kneeling close to the pile of dirt, have heard the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ from you. Week after week, sermon after sermon, service after service, funeral after funeral. Look around, dear brother. The gospel has done miraculous and marvelous things!

The people are expressing the very faith that God has given them. They are sharing the good and comforting news of Jesus with you and your family when you are the one grieving, the one paining, the one sorrowing, the one experiencing. They are serving you, standing with you when you are the one feeling.

Thank you, Pastor, for showing your humanness. Your frailty. Your need. Thank you for sharing your pain and your sorrow and your tears. When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 10)

Now I believe.

In my weakness and God’s strength,

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi


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Apache Christians celebrating 125 years

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Dear Friends of Apache Christians,

After 125 years of God’s amazing blessings, the Apache mission, WELS’ first world mission, has never been more ripe for harvest.

We are so grateful for all the loving prayers and support over the last 125 years, but there is much work left to be done and now is the time to do it. Thanks to God, we have missionaries who can equip God’s people for their works of service. We have mature Native Christians with hearts full of compassion for their Native brothers and sisters who are without Jesus. We have open doors to other tribes in other places and Native Christians willing to be trained to go to them. And we have you. Will you help us by giving today to one or more of these programs?

  • HELP Open Bible Lutheran Church of Whiteriver hire part-time Apache Christian Training School graduates to assist the pastor with outreach and ministry.
  • HELP Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School respond to a growing list of student applications.
  • HELP the Apache Christian Training School equip Apaches for leadership in ministry including reaching out to other tribes.

As we proclaim our Easter joy to the world and give thanks for the risen Savior who came for all people, know that you can make a difference in the lives of Native American Christians. PRAY that Native Americans everywhere come to know the hope of salvation found in the Holy Scriptures. Now is the time!

“Bikehgoihinan dahaazhe biłhikah doleeł” (translated: “Walking with God forever”),
Pastor Dan Rautenberg
Native American mission field coordinator

Wait! How Do I Pray?

“Let’s close our bible story and pray.”

Pastor Joe asked this simple request, and panic broke out from two neighborhood boys who were attending the “Garden, Baking and Bible” event. This is a weekly, after school activity built around the Bylas Community Garden located on the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church property. It serves as a member-run outreach tool for the Bylas community to use to introduce families to the forgotten practice of gardening, healthy eating, and the Bible as the only hope for salvation.

“WAIT, how do we pray? We’ve never prayed before.”

Pastor Joe with Garden, Baking and Bible visitors

They said it innocently and in honest confusion. It was their first time attending the Garden, Baking and Bible class… but they had heard that if you came, helped weed and water and listened to the Bible story, then there would be food to make and eat at the end.

The other children told them to fold their hands – and rightly so, but this caused more confusion as they asked, “Why does that matter?” The other kids couldn’t easily answer. And so we had a little lesson on talking to God. The boys and all the children learned how God wants us to talk to Him and how, as Pastor Joe says the words, they can think about them more if they are folding their hands and not playing with the stones and their shoelaces etc. They learned that folding your hands isn’t necessary, but it helps us think about the words we’re saying to God. They learned that God – who made the storm calm down immediately, who created the entire world, who loves them and forgives all their naughtiness (aka “sins”) – can truly hear the prayers they pray when they think them to God or say them aloud.

The Bylas members want to share God’s saving messages of hope, the peace of knowing forgiveness, the healing that comes from the only one with power (not the medicine man), and the joy that comes from knowing how much God loves us. After exploring several “fun ideas” that might attract kids and families from the community, gardening was chosen. An initial grant from the First Things First organization while also partnering with the University of Arizona allowed the church grounds to have a section of their land rota-tilled and set up with fertilizer and a simple irrigation system. The church simply had to provide a fenced in area (so the feral horses don’t eat all the crops – which has happened, but that’s for another blog). Weeding, watering and planting all happened in order to harvest:

  • “The Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash planted together)
  • Sugar cane
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Peppers
  • Popcorn

Kids walk from near and far to help, to taste the “unique” good-for-you food, and to hear the Bible stories. Teenagers have come and often ask to read stories to the kids. The kids are so disappointed when we have to end, and they so badly want to know MORE:

“What happens when Joseph’s brothers find out that it’s HIM?’, ‘But what will happen if Pharaoh NEVER lets the people go?’; ‘Please, read more. Please, one more story.”

This month the garden program will be visited by Tribal chairmen and dignitaries, First Things First program leaders, and University of Arizona dignitaries as it won “Most Active” garden and also encouraged healthy food choices. BUT, the Our Savior’s members know the real win is that at least 6 of these children now come to church and Sunday school regularly because they know the church people and want to hear more about how much they are loved. Those who don’t yet come to church are winning too, as they hear God’s Words of hope and get to PRAY every week at Garden, Baking and Bible.

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, visit nativechristians.org.


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Exciting ministry opportunity in Vietnam

Since 2015, WELS has consistently been sending members of the Global Hmong Committee and the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) to train leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam in sound, Lutheran doctrine. While much needs to be done before fellowship can be declared with this church body, its leaders have expressed a desire to learn Lutheran doctrine and to become a confessional Lutheran church body. Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry coordinator, has been leading these efforts, making multiple training visits per year.

In the three years WELS has provided training, the Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches. The message of free grace received from Jesus Christ has replaced their old law-based preaching and leadership, and their churches are expanding as a result. Church leadership has stabilized, and the communist government in Vietnam has noticed this positive change.

Thanks to the Lord’s ever-guiding hand and blessing, the Vietnamese government has invited WELS to build a theological training facility in the capital city of Hanoi. This is an amazing and unexpected opportunity for our synod. As the HFC looks to the future of their church body, they realize the importance of equipping the next generation of pastors with the truth of the gospel. WELS will continue to provide HFC leaders with theological instruction and pastoral training.

This opportunity for further gospel ministry is great, as WELS is currently the only protestant church with official governmental permission to work with the Hmong in Vietnam. Our Home and World Missions team, the Synodical Council, and the Conference of Presidents are working tirelessly to fully evaluate and explore this opportunity, in addition to securing the funds needed for land acquisition, construction costs, and initial operating costs of the training facility. Watch for additional updates about this effort in the coming weeks and months.

As this opportunity lies before us, you may want to support Hmong ministry in Vietnam with a gift that will help to purchase land and build a training center in Hanoi. You can also continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters across the globe as they learn more about the freedom that comes through God’s grace. Pray for continued blessings on the training that Rev. Lor and the PSI team are providing to the church leaders of the HFC.

You can donate online to support this effort. Select “Vietnam-Hmong Outreach” from the drop down menu.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

New World Mission start in South America

This summer two missionaries from the One Latin America (1LA) mission team will be moving to Ecuador. This will be the first time WELS will have an active mission presence in the South American country. Rev. Nathan Schulte and Rev. Phil Strackbein have begun making arrangements to make the move. Schulte currently serves in Mexico, and Strackbein serves in Bolivia.

Rev. Nathan Schulte

Schulte, a member of the 1LA team, explains, “In the beginning of November all the 1LA missionaries met in Mexico City to discuss a major training program we are developing and the relocation of different missionaries to best accomplish our goals as a team. We want to reach as many people as possible and to train people to be leaders in their own multiplying groups. The team had done extensive research on a number of major cities in Latin America. Quito, Ecuador, eventually came to the top of the list for a number of reasons.”

One of the main contributing factors to the decision was the large number of Facebook users in Ecuador, more than 60,000, following Academia Cristo online. Academia Cristo is a WELS Spanish-language website with videos and audio Bible studies to reach out to non-Christians as well as to train Latin American church members how to share their faith.

A second contributing factor is that with a location in Ecuador, it puts the missionaries closer to other countries in South America where WELS can’t permanently locate a missionary for safety or political reasons, but where interest in the gospel message has been demonstrated through active use of the Academia Cristo website.

And a third reason is, while WELS has never officially had a mission in Ecuador, Martin Luther College Spanish Professor Paul Bases has been taking groups of students there for years to teach English, and through that work, valuable connections have already been made.

Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, says the main goal of the missionaries is to “facilitate the planting of small group churches in Quito and beyond.” He says, “The idea is that in a short time, to connect Ecuadorean Christians to the online materials and relationships so that they’re able to keep the ministry rolling even after our missionaries might leave.”

Schulte says, “I love the fact that, from the start, we are focused on training Ecuadorians to study God’s Word and to share it with others. They know their culture and situations better than I ever will and God has already placed them in their own unique contexts with their own connections and opportunities. I’m really looking forward to working to help them to do just that—share God’s grace with others.”

Rev. Phil and Kathryn Strackbein

The missionaries’ first priorities will be to find a location for a Christian training center while also settling in themselves and doing boots-on-the-ground work, meeting their neighbors and learning more about the community. To help this effort, two congregations, St. Matthew, Oconomowoc, Wis., and Goodview Trinity, Goodview, Minn., will be sending volunteers in May and June to host introduction workshops open to the Quito community. These two volunteer groups are the inaugural groups for the new WELS Missions Journeys program, which is starting to help coordinate opportunities and WELS members who want to volunteer in a WELS mission field.

Schulte says, “Ecuador, like all Latin America, is in desperate need of God’s grace. It is grace-starved. Even in many churches and Christian groups, the emphasis is not on Jesus and what he has done for us in our salvation. We want to bring people to the source of that grace—the Bible, to teach them to learn from it and to share it with others.”

Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions and check out Academia Cristo at academiacristo.com.

Growing opportunities in the Philippines

In February, Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team members, World Mission Seminary Professor Rev. Bradley Wordell and International Recruitment Director Rev. Jon Bare, joined Rev. Robb Raasch, the chairman of the Asia Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, on a trip to the Philippines. The purpose of the trip was to work with Rev. Alvien De Guzman of Law and Gospel Lutheran Church in Manilla on a plan for a pastoral training program.

A year ago, De Guzman didn’t see the potential of needing a pastoral training program for the near future. But just in the past few months, three men, who like De Guzman had left another church body for doctrinal reasons, contacted De Guzman, wondering if they might join his congregation. He discovered that all three had begun pastoral training in their original church but left when they became convinced by Scripture that they were not receiving the truth of God’s Word. Each of the men has a group in front of them ready to be led, but the men need pastoral training to be prepared to serve them.

That began a conversation with World Missions and the PSI team, leading to this visit. “It was a privilege to meet these three men and to hear their stories,” says Wordell. “Their patience and determination are inspiring. They have been waiting to see what the Lord’s plan is for them, and each of them has a strong desire to serve among Christ’s people.”

The training program will be specifically designed to meet the needs for pastoring churches in the Philippines. “Our goal is to provide the training that these men need in their own culture and context,” says Bare. “This visit allowed us to work with Pastor De Guzman to design the best program for this growing church in the Philippines.”

The courses will be offered in a variety of methods. De Guzman will teach some courses on the ground. Others will be conducted online or through intensive courses offered on short-term visits.

WELS first got involved with De Guzman in 2014, when De Guzman contacted WELS World Missions looking for help after he discovered WELS online. In early 2015, WELS determined that De Guzman was in doctrinal fellowship. His congregation is using videos and printed materials from Multi-Language Publications to reach out to the unchurched in its community.

Read more about the visit. Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

A Man of Many Hats

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that the public ministry may assume various forms. For example, public ministers of the gospel may serve as a parish pastor, a world missionary, a seminary professor, a mission counselor, a synod president or as the editor of a theological publication. Theoretically, a WELS pastor could serve in all of these forms of public ministry at different times. But typically no man would serve in all these roles at the same time… unless your name is Alvien De Guzman.

Pastor Alvien De Guzman and wife Marieta

Now, please don’t misunderstand. Pastor De Guzman is not a Lutheran “Superman”. He is as flawed as every other minister of the gospel. Rather, what he is (as the only confessional Lutheran in fellowship with the WELS in the country of the Philippines) is a man who is serving in a lot of roles at the same time. You might say that these days, Alvien De Guzman is “wearing a lot of different hats.”

Actually, it’s been that way since the beginning of his relationship with WELS. In 2014, Pastor De Guzman’s first hat was as a tent minister, devoting his weekends and evenings to conducting Bible classes in his home, while also working a secular job. Shortly thereafter, Pastor De Guzman began working with WELS Multi-Language Publications to develop confessional Lutheran materials in his native language of Tagalog. He put on the hat of a religious publications editor.

About that same time, through the financial support offered to him by WELS Board for World Missions, Pastor De Guzman became a full-time mission explorer. In consultation with our Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, he developed an outreach plan for several barangays (neighborhoods) in Novaliches, a suburb of Manila. He planted a congregation which bears the name Law and Gospel Lutheran Church. He looked for ways to connect with his community. Over the course of time, the Lord brought through his doors a growing number of children – Pastor De Guzman then put on the hat of a youth minister. He taught Sunday school and trained others to do the same.

More recently, Pastor De Guzman has donned the hat of a multi-parish pastor. Preaching stations have opened in neighboring suburbs of Navotas City and Cavite. The opportunities to bring the gospel to new locations have begun to stretch Pastor De Guzman to the limit. Who would provide the workers for these fields the Lord was opening to him?

Law and Gospel Lutheran Church – Manilla, Philippines

In a very short period of time, three different men who recently left the Lutheran Church of the Philippines for confessional reasons have requested further theological training from WELS. They are eager to serve alongside Pastor De Guzman. But first Pastor De Guzman will need to don the hat of a seminary professor – teaching classes and monitoring the field experiences of these men, under the direction of WELS Pastoral Studies Institute.

God willing, all of these men will one day shepherd congregations of their own, united with Law and Gospel Lutheran Church as an independent church body, in fellowship with WELS. It will be a new synod in the Philippines, with a new synod president – and another hat for someone to wear.

God knows what the future holds for our mission work in the Philippines. But from my human perspective, I expect that for the foreseeable future, one man will continue to wear a lot of hats. May God grant this man the grace to wear each of his hats well, for his sake and for the sake of those he shepherds, in Jesus’ name.

Written By: Rev. Robb Raasch – Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee

Want to see more photos from the WELS World Missions and Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) visit to the Philippines? Check out the WELS Missions Flickr album.


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Inner Peace! Inner Peace!

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, poor Master Shifu cannot find any peace. He tries to meditate; he chants the words, “inner peace, inner peace” over and over again, but nothing changes. There is no peace for him. He just has too much on his mind… there are too many troubles, nothing is going the way that it is supposed to go. Worst of all, his enemy is coming, and his student (fat panda Po) is much better at eating noodles than he is at learning Kung Fu.

Maybe your life feels like that sometimes. It’s difficult to live with inner peace. There is so much to do. There is so much that could be done better. There is stress and uncertainty. There are unmet expectations that you put on yourself and others put on you. There are setbacks and disappointments. There are often mental and physical roadblocks to important things you are trying to get done. Life rarely ever goes the way you planned it.

In the midst of that storm, you try to have inner peace, but it just will not come to you.

Here’s the problem: When we cannot find inner peace, it is usually because we are trying to do God’s work. I do not mean the ministries we have been assigned – I mean the work that only God can do. Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.” It is not our business to run the world and to make all things work out for the good of the Church. Our business is to trust and to live out our vocations in that trust. God will take care of the rest.

Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is the guarantee that we do not need to worry about God’s business. In fact, we do not need to worry about anything. The angels sung about it: “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” I like the Chinese translation there (from the CSB): 平安临到他所喜悦 的人. “Peace comes to those who delight him.” God delights in you!

As Zephaniah wrote,“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (3:17)

God delights in you because He delights in Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place, died as punishment for your guilt, and rose to guarantee that you are now innocent in God’s sight. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus. He sees perfection. He sees a billion reasons to rejoice and sing. And in that moment – in every moment – He commits himself to working out all things for your good.

So, be at peace. Tomorrow may bring trouble of every kind, but peace is yours through Christ!

Written by: A Missionary in East Asia


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It’s Rally Day!

In 1918, Missionary Edgar Guenther established Open Bible Lutheran Church of Whiteriver, Ariz., one of 9 current WELS churches on the Apache reservation. In the past on Rev. Guenther’s birthday, we set aside time to rally the “troops”; or rather, the members! That was years and years and pastors and pastors ago. We all loved (and needed) that day. The members started asking present Apache Pastor, Kirk Massey, if they could have Rally Day again.

“We sure can. We should rally the members back to church.” said Pastor Massey. However, with a congregation of over 1,000 members, Pastor Massey had his hands full. Many members had stopped coming to church for one reason or the other, and Pastor Massey was making sure to follow up. Many came to church, but also needed their pastor daily. He needed some help and suggested to the ladies, “If you can find some people to organize a big Rally Day – we can have it, but I won’t be able to devote much ministry time to organizing it.”

Brenda Lee wanted to have Rally Day, but she needed help. After asking around, she found help in her Christian sisters at Open Bible Lutheran Church.

Rally Day organizer and Open Bible member, Brenda Lee

“The goal of Rally Day was to bring back straying and lost members into the church. To welcome them with awesome worship, joy-filled fellowship, games, and delicious food.” exclaims Brenda Lee. “And that is what happened – all to God’s glory!”

With a budget of $500, the ladies organized egg and balloon tosses, music, miniature horse rides, lots of games for kids, cream pie throwing at our pastors and teachers (that was a big hit), and a fry-bread making contest for the ladies. Pastor Massey built the fry bread fire, he and the church men were the judges, and the ladies went to work making the traditional fry bread. The fry bread winner received homemade banana bread! In the end, everyone won as they enjoyed traditional fry bread and beans, a potluck of side dishes, and fried chicken brought in from the local grocery store.

Now that Rally day has ended, the ladies can’t stop talking about what else they can do to aid in fellowship and encouragement:

  • Could our other Lutheran reservation churches hold more joint events?
  • Could we host more fellowship days where we could offer support and encouragement to visitors?
  • Is there a way we can gather to offer support for the recovery group attendees from the local neighborhoods and encourage more people to go into recovery from alcohol, drugs, anger and harmful habits?
  • The men said they’d like to teach the women to play horseshoes… can we make an event out of that?

“There are some awesome Christian fellowship opportunity there.” says Brenda Lee, whose head is spinning with all the possibilities.

Her question to other reservation churches and to YOU reading this is:

What can you be a part of organizing at your church that will offer support and encouragement to members who have strayed and to brand new visitors? How can you help strengthen those who are regulars by giving them an opportunity to serve?”

That’s a great question for all of us.

Brenda Lee is a member at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz. 

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, contact Debbie at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.


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Celebrating WELS Missions

On Sunday, Jan. 28, St. John, Jefferson, Wis., celebrated WELS World Missions by hosting a church mission festival and corresponding school cultural fair.

Rev. Tim Dolan, chairman of the Native American Administrative Committee for WELS World Missions, preached two mission festival services and gave a presentation about Apache mission work during Bible class. Activities moved across the street to St. John’s elementary school after the second service, where a cultural fair then took place.

Principal Peter Lemke, who organized the fair, has a personal connection to WELS Missions: “When I was a young child my father accepted a call to teach at East Fork Lutheran High School, located on the Apache Indian Reservation, where we lived for seven years. I was also blessed to visit our missions in Malawi and Zambia when my parents served as missionaries there. Once you personally experience this work, you can’t help but come away with a better understanding of the need to continue mission work. It is truly a life changing experience.”

In an effort to include parents in the learning experience, each family worked together to create a display from one of the countries where WELS is currently conducting mission work or is in fellowship with a sister church body. “Passports” were handed out at the door to encourage everyone to visit other displays to receive a sticker for their books. The children sang songs in different languages, and each family brought a potluck dish specific to their country.

Kinsley, a first-grader at St. John’s, was excited to share about her world mission field. She noted, “I learned that missionaries in Mexico sometimes have to communicate through the Internet to share Jesus with other people. It was super fun to work on my project with my mom and dad!”

Megan, mom to a second-grader, was also impressed with the event. “This project was a great way to not only learn with my kids but open my eyes to all of the mission work our church body is actually doing.”

For an event guide to host a cultural fair along with your next mission festival, visit the WELS Missions Resource Center. To request a mission speaker for your event, visit wels.net/speaker-request. In addition to mission festivals and cultural fairs, mission speakers are also available for school assemblies, women’s and men’s conferences, and Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society rallies.

View photos from the event:

 

Faith and Love in Action – Africa

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Are you a planner? I am. At this time of year many people plan what they’d like to accomplish during the year and beyond. As I finish my term of service with the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM), I am starting to make some plans for what comes next. Though planning of some degree is wise and sensible, what happens when plans are upset? Do you feel frustrated or angry, wondering where you went wrong or questioning the wisdom of God?

Many people greet the New Year hoping for prosperity. But how do you define prosperity? Is it based solely on your net worth, or is it based on what you share, be that time, money, or skill? Your definition of prosperity could depend on your definition of “enough”. But what if you don’t have all you need? Does that mean God’s plans for you fizzled, or His promises don’t apply to you?

Some of the rural Malawians that the Lutheran Mobile Clinic serves are wrestling with very grim situations, just like many other people throughout the world. Grave illnesses, the death of the main breadwinner, flood, drought, the breakup of families and other consequences of living in a sinful world have snuffed out the survival and prosperity plans of some of these people. In these circumstances it is easy to forget that God is watching and intervening for their good. Hope is fleeting and future prosperity seems impossible. They may fear that God is guessing, rather than knowing His plans for their lives. They may wonder if God’s promises apply to them.

This is where organizations like CAMM and Christian Aid and Relief come in. We understand, by the grace of God, that His promise in Jeremiah is to us, just as it was to the Israelites who, being carried off into exile, were most certainly wondering about their future. However, as volunteers, donors, and those who pray for these “faith and love in action” organizations, we also understand this promise is not just to us; it is also about us.

Believing that God is the source of every blessing and that everything belongs to Him, we are free to use everything He has given to care for ourselves as we care for others. Because God places us and gives to or withholds from each of us as He sees fit, there is always something you can do for someone in need, whatever that need looks like. Perhaps you have nothing but time; be a full-time volunteer. Maybe God has given you money; give wisely and generously. Have you identified and developed the talents with which you were blessed? Use them in service, wherever you are. Are you enduring a season of life where time is limited, money is tight and you’re unsure of or unable to use your skills? Be a prayer warrior and expect the Lord’s guidance in His time.

Will this be a prosperous year for you? It might depend on your definition of prosperity. However, no matter what sort of year this turns out to be, we are confident in God’s providence, and privileged to share with others, because God is faithful and He never breaks His promises.

Written by: Amanda Artz, Clinic Administrator at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi

P.S. – Want to learn more about the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM)? Visit their website at www.camm.us or follow them on Facebook


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Our Chair Problem – With a Surprising Outcome

The Peridot-Our Savior’s Mission Elementary School has been growing each year. It’s a combined school serving Peridot Lutheran Church (on the school campus), Grace Lutheran in San Carlos (4 miles away) and Our Savior Lutheran in Bylas (25 miles to the East). There are three towns on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and each one is blessed to have their own Lutheran Church.

Students from Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

In the past five years, the school has grown from 60 students to 70, 80, 110 and now 127 students!

This is an AWESOME blessing from God!
… but this was a HUGE problem for the Peridot-Our Savior’s Christmas Service!

  • None of our churches have enough space to put 127 children, 10 teachers and 300 parents, aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, and community visitors
  • All together, our three churches do not even have 200 folding chairs
  • Renting chairs is $1 a chair, and the rental company wasn’t sure they had more than 100
  • Peridot-Our Savior’s had exhausted it’s budget by putting up a much needed addition in order to accommodate most of the people wanting to send their kids to our Lutheran school
  • It was Bylas’ (25 miles from the school) turn to host this service

And so the school board went to work solving this awesome problem. We needed seating for 127 children, 10 teachers and maybe close to 300 people.

The Apache Tribal office allows tribal members to reserve the Stanley Recreation Hall (a gym) for free! The men of the Bylas Church Council were on it and agreed, that even though we’ve never held a Christmas service outside of one of our churches, it was necessary. They secured the gym and prayed people would come. However, Stanley Hall only owns 75 folding chairs. We wanted 300 chairs – just in case that many came.

The School Board came together and contacted the Apache Gold Casino. They had 200 chairs.

That would help!

For a reimbursable down-payment – they were ours to use. We just had to find men, trucks to pick them up, and a crew to set them up approximately two hours before the service would start because the gym would be used till that time.

After lots of up and downs…

“I can haul chairs.” – “Now I can’t haul the chairs, neither can I, neither can I”.
“You can set up early.” – “You now have to wait three more hours to set up.”
“Some of our chairs are broken.”
“The alternative high school kids will set up the chairs.” – “The alternative high school kids can’t set up the chairs any more.”

… it actually came together and worked!

Robert Olivar, a Bylas church councilman, brought family to help set up chairs. Liza Stanley brought relatives to help decorate. Wilfred and Jayson Stanley hauled chairs. Loren Victor and Beverly Robertson came to sing solos with the kids, the teachers handled last minute signage, and the children came to proclaim the good news.

But the BIG story is, 300 people did NOT come…

Over 550 people came! The gym was filled with almost 700 people including the students… Standing, on bleachers, against the side walls.

The Savior the children proclaimed and the people worshiped was the Savior that took care of all the details. The Savior that has taken care of our biggest problem, sin, also took care of our littlest problem (that we incorrectly thought was big) – chairs!

The Service, Reformation 500 Christmas: Promise Foretold. Gospel Retold. To Scripture We Hold, rang out boldly to more people that any of us expected!

Ben Pagel is principal of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School. He and Pastor Joe Dietrich of Bylas cannot thank the Apache men of the Peridot-Our Savior School Board and Bylas Church Council enough for all they did to make the school Christmas Service happen! These Apache Lutheran leaders are taking this 1st WELS world mission to new heights. Keep them and their work in your prayers.

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 


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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Sean Young, Director of Missions Operations, and his wife Kirsten visited our WELS mission field in the area around Novosibirsk, Russia in October 2017. Kirsten documented their stay:

It really hit me at 12:30am when we were standing on the tarmac in rainy Moscow, all trying to get on the plane at once, that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

I have met and spoken with both Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife Jennifer before, and I really enjoyed our conversations in the past. I knew we would be very comfortable as their guests during our stay. Our first day in Novosibirsk was spent adjusting to the time change in the fresh air of the Siberian countryside, while getting to know some of the national pastors and vicars. After some much needed recuperation, I could fully enjoy Sunday church services with our Russian brothers and sisters.

We attended two churches, one in Iskitim and the other in Akadem. I didn’t realize how lost I was going to feel during the services. I really wanted to follow along during the first service because I recognized the music, but I could not place where they were. I then realized that’s what it must be like for others to try and hear God’s Word in someone else’s language. Thankfully, we had a wonderful translator in Kate Wolfgramm. During the second service in Akadem I was able to find a Russian hymnal to follow along more and sing some of the hymns. The choir sang during the service and it was so wonderful to just listen and let the Holy Spirit work in my heart since I couldn’t understand the words.

Jennifer Wolfgramm prepares the Children’s Choir in Iskitim

While Sean met with the Russian pastors and took care of the mission operations business during the trip, Jennifer Wolfgramm showed me around Novosibirsk to take in the sights. We toured multiple art museums and cathedrals. From an artist point of view everything was fantastic! But from a Christian’s point of view (who knows the truths of scripture) it was sad to see people not only praying, but KISSING the frames of paintings and relics of either Mary or the Saints. I wanted to go around telling everyone they didn’t need to do that! One of the chapels we tried to visit was closed… but what was even more sad was the lady that spoke with us and conveyed that she was hoping the chapel was open so she could light a candle and say a prayer to a saint because her grandson was sick. Again, I wanted to explain to her that she can just pray to Jesus.

I’m sure I would be thrown in jail quickly if I lived in a foreign mission field.

Kirsten Young with a Russian Shut-In

The Sunday before we left, we were again blessed to attend church in Iskitim. I was prepared this time, making sure to grab a Bible and hymnal from the apartment we were staying in. We only needed Kate to translate the sermons. It was spiritually uplifting (and made me cry both times) to receive communion at both churches with people half way around the world – knowing that they believe in the same thing as me. After church, I got to help Jennifer teach Sunday school to the preschoolers. I helped a 4-year-old boy put together a craft, which was amazing that we could complete it since neither of us knew what the other was saying.

When I think about our visit, I still get chills thinking about prayers we said together – to think that even halfway around the world they’re still understood and applied the way we apply it and the way God intended. We can’t say enough how wonderful of hosts the Wolfgramms are! Thank you, God, for the experience of a lifetime!

Want to see more photos and videos from their trip? Visit the WELS Missions Flickr Album.

Cultural Insights:

  • The Greek Orthodox church is the only religion allowed to freely practice anywhere in the country by the Russian government
  • Russian meals usually start with 2-3 different kinds of cold salads
  • Russians don’t like to pass around food dishes at mealtime – there are always 2-3 different dishes of the same thing spread out around the table.
  • Russians don’t talk in public. They all have their pashminas (scarves) around their necks and usually a phone in hand.
  • Russians see an empty glass as one that NEEDS to be filled (this one we figured out on our own)


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Not a Bite Left, but a Hunger for More

We wanted all members to come together for fellowship. It didn’t work. We wanted everyone to hang out after church and visit. It didn’t work.

HOWEVER, something else worked! We didn’t see it at first…

Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. hosted their annual Christmas Dinner – a Mexican Fiesta on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Church was full that morning. The dinner was for all the members. As requested, after church and Bible class the members were given extra time to go home, get their dishes and bring them back for the potluck an hour later.

Only it didn’t work. Most of the congregation members didn’t come back. At first we hardly had anyone and not many dishes to pass at the Mexican Fiesta potluck. YIKES! “I was worried, even though I know I shouldn’t worry and God will work things out.” exclaimed Cecelia, the president of the Ladies Group.

And then enough dishes came. Several families came. Community members who hadn’t been to church in years and several interested neighborhood children came – children who invited their parents who wouldn’t come but said their kids could come. People who had heard about the “Mission Church” and had seen us at community events came.

And so, IT DID WORK. We served food to all of our guests, and some even took extra plates for relatives at home. The last person to eat found one piece of everything left! It was really quite miraculous. Several community members were able to get to know our members. Some even exchanged cell phone numbers so they could join in future events. Members brought friends and family who hadn’t met the pastor yet (who has been here for a full year now) and made solid connections with invites to visit.

There wasn’t a bite of food left at the end – but miraculously we had enough food for everyone and extra for them to take home to hungry relatives that live in their family trailers. And everyone left with a hunger for more Christian fellowship!

Cecelia was satisfied and happy. She had prayed God would use this opportunity to God’s Glory and accomplish whatever He wanted. And for her, she once again learned what we all often have to be shown over and over: that we don’t have to worry. God will always use our efforts to His good plans and for the people He loves!

Cecelia Dillon has served as Ladies Group leader at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. for years – maybe decades. She, her husband and her young and grown children often organize and serve at fellowship gatherings, demonstrating the gift of hospitality that often opens the doors to sharing the Gospel with others.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn more about this world mission field, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 


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Time to Tell the Story

One of the many differences about living and working in East Asia is this time of year, Christmas-time. Instead of reminding everyone about the “real meaning” of Christmas or reading about how we need to stop the materialism and stress to enjoy Christmas, I’ve found that over here I more often get to share the answer to this most basic question: “What is Christmas?” Each time I’m asked the question, I’m given another chance to sling my well-rehearsed What-Is-Christmas story. And, “well-rehearsed” is the right word. I probably told the Christmas story individually over 30 times last year. That’s a lot of telling and retelling. Last year, as Christmas drew closer I thought, “I’ll be glad when this is over because I’ve been telling the same story so many times”. I was getting flashbacks of practicing for Christmas pageants as a child, mechanically shout-speaking the words of Luke 2, “IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS…” But as Christmas arrived, my attitude was refocused as I got to thinking…

First, I appreciate the opportunity to focus the Christmas story. Sometimes we pack the nativity scene with extra characters, metaphorically and literally, finding every possible story that relates to Christmas to give it a fresh look. However, I’ve found that retelling the simple story of Luke 2 helps me cut it down to the basics. The conditions tell us Jesus’ beginning was a humble one, yet the angels tell us this was a massive event. After telling it so many times, I find myself ending the story by saying something like, “Basically God loved us so much he sent his own son to save us.”

It’s after telling people this focused message over and over that I see just how important this event is. This is God’s love put into action. Here is where I consider myself blessed to have heard other aspects of the Christmas story – of all those who waited for a Savior, or of those who scoured the writings for news about his coming, or about how so many promises of God were completed in this birth. It’s such an important point that I have to add it to my retelling. Unfortunately, I can’t share every detail every time without drawing a blank stare, but I’ll keep working on it. Nonetheless, all those facts tell me that Jesus’ birth is a massively important event – for me and for the person I’m telling it to.

Be like the Bethlehem shepherds, sharing the news of Christ’s birth

That leads me to these thoughts: How can I feel worn out from telling this amazing and important story?! And, how could it feel old when these people are hearing this news for the first time ever?! At Christmas, I’m excited to play the role of a shepherd of Bethlehem who goes throughout the city telling people “about this child.” I’m able to do this because our synod loves these people so much that they support and allow me to live over here to tell them. It’s even more exciting to see the people that have learned the Christmas story and are now becoming “Bethlehem shepherds” themselves, telling this story to others clearly and more naturally in their native language – sharing it better than I ever could.

This isn’t just a phenomenon on this side of the globe. There are people where you live that need to hear the Christmas story too, whether it’s for the first time or retold for the who-knows-how-many-time. This story is worth telling and retelling.

After thinking it through, I was excited for Christmas, and I’m excited for the new year. Let’s go tell the story of Jesus and his love.

By: A Missionary in East Asia


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A Most Blessed, Christ-filled Christmas from Malawi

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I just have to smile. After all, it’s Christmas time! It’s the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just have to smile.

I just have to chuckle, too. Christmas is also a time that I do.

Here’s why: at Christmas time my family and I display some of our nativities in remembrance of our newborn King. When setting them up and seeing them displayed, my mind immediately recalls the time I once bought a Crèche in an open air market here in Lilongwe, Malawi.

What’s so funny about that?

Picture this: Mary and Joseph and Jesus, some shepherds, the Wise men, a star,1 a cow, a couple of sheep, a donkey or two…

and a hippo.

My Nativity Scene Hippo celebrating the season

Ok, granted, it is Malawi. It is Africa. And hippopotami are abundant here. And to top it all off, it is a very different culture from the USA. But a nativity scene hippo? Hmmm… maybe this explains a few things.

For years I always pictured that Joseph was wide-eyed in amazement because of the birth of the Baby. Now I’m wondering if his eyes were like saucers because he was a bit worried and astonished that the three-toed, barrel-shaped beast with the beady eyes, big mouth, and bad breath was meandering just a bit too close to the manger.

We all love to sing Silent Night and we seem to think that all was indeed calm, but now I doubt if it was really all that quiet. I mean if

the cattle were lowing,
the sheep were baaing,
the donkeys braying,
and now the hippo gets a bit edgy and chimes in with its snorting, grunting, bellowing and blowing, then maybe the Baby was crying after all with the noise!

And yet we faithfully and confidently proclaim “No crying He makes” when we sing Away in a Manger. Yikes! Strange thoughts run through my mind! I just have to chuckle. I guess it’s fun to have fun with it. Gives a lighter side to the very important and monumental fact of Christmas:

The INCARNATION!

The “ten dollar” word that means God became Man. The second Person of the Trinity, True God, became the “first-born among many brothers,” True Man! (Romans 8:29).

Born to die!
Died to live!
Descended to earth so that we might ascend to Heaven!

That means we can sing Joy to the World with gusto all year round if we want! We have untold, incalculable, immeasurable, even indescribable joy not just on the 25th of the last month of the year. That gives us reason to worship every day of the year!

And worship we do. All around the globe Lutherans are worshiping this Christmas season. Which brings up something to ponder again at this time: Lutherans worship in different cultures and different cultures worship in different ways. Lutherans in fellowship worship in different ways. Even at Christmas.

The instruments played in your church may not be the ones in ours. Dancing choirs may be common place here, but not there. Your congregation dresses one way, but they do so very differently on the other side of the world…or maybe even on the other side of town.

There really wasn’t a hippo in the stable on that first Christmas in Bethlehem, but it didn’t seem to bother the marketer much that he included one in the nativity set he sold me. I walked away with a good deal and a good deal to ponder each Christmas in Africa: there are many differences at Christmas time in Malawi compared to an American Christmas in Wisconsin. Here are some:

  • No snow! While you may be singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” we are opening up our umbrellas because it’s the front end of the rainy season.
  • Decorations? There are a few but there are probably more in one Wisconsin Walmart than in the whole country of Malawi.
  • I’ve never seen a Christmas tree set up in a Malawian house.
  • Strings of lights framing houses? Are you kidding? Most houses don’t have electricity hooked up and the ones that do don’t have power most of the time anyway.
  • The most common and most favorite Christmas meal in Malawi seems to be chicken and rice.
  • I have never seen or heard of a Living Nativity in Malawi enacting the Christmas story. (Maybe it’s because it’s too difficult to get the hippo to cooperate).

Plenty of differences, but there are also similarities:

God’s people gather for worship.
Sins are confessed and songs are raised.
The Word of God is preached.
The Bethlehem Story is pondered.
Gospel news shared.
Fellowship enjoyed.

The Babe in the manger is honored with humble gifts and worshiped with happy voices. I just have to smile… at the absurdity of it all. There are many things more surprising than a hippo in a Nativity set! Imagine…

A God in love with us!
A night sky of angels exploding in song!
Shepherds who seek!
A virgin birth!
A believing husband-to-be!
God becoming Man!
A leading star!
Wise men who followed and those who still do!

And there still are missionaries who live in far off lands who, at Christmas time, still set up trees, decorate their houses and string lights even though there’s little power. Some still display nativity sets… with or without a hippo. On behalf of the Lutheran Mission in Malawi, have a most blessed Christ-filled Christmas!

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi


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Mexico – Not Quite Potlucks and Pipe Organs

I’m a pretty WELSie (WELSy?) guy. I could bore you with details, but suffice to say I feel pretty connected to a lot of people in our synod. And I don’t consider that to be a bad thing of course! I truly enjoy seeing how God has woven together people to do his work. I enjoy a good potluck with a long line of Midwest-made casseroles. I enjoy a pipe organ blasting out the old Lutheran favorites.

But I live in Mexico and I serve as missionary in Latin America. My background and what I enjoy might not matter all that much.

In this part of the world very, very few people share my commitment to potlucks and pipe organs. Much more troubling is this: very few people share my Spirit-given understanding of God’s commitment to mankind in his Son Jesus Christ.

While the souls of men are dying (to quote a favorite hymn), you’ve got to ask yourself again and again and again:

Is the most effective way to share the Gospel the way I/we are doing it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be said again (but probably should be stated anyways) that the message will not change. Pure grace is non-negotiable… as is every other stroke of the inspired Scriptural pen.

A fellow missionary on our Latin America Missionary team, Terry Schultz, recently came to Mexico. Terry is a Doctor of Ministry with coursework in Ethnomusicology. Until his recent visit, I wasn’t 100% what that was.

As we toured around Mexico, celebrating the Reformation with a few of the widely scattered Lutherans in this country, Terry shared his songs. Songs designed to share the unchangeable message in ways that make sense to the people who are hearing them.

The confession of sins is there. The song of praise after the absolution is there. The Song of Simeon. Even a Kyrie. Many of the hymns have lyrics ripped directly from the pages of the Bible. To a pretty WELSie (WELSy) guy like me, the music was unfamiliar. Prior to spending the last 11 ½ years in a couple different countries thousands of miles south of the “WELS heartland”, to be honest the beat pounded out on a conga drum probably would have made me at least a little bit nervous.

It did not make the people in Mexico nervous at all. Most of the people who attended the workshops were long-time and/or lifetime Lutherans. They love the message of pure grace in Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were overjoyed when they heard that precious message expressed with music that makes sense to them and makes sense to the people outside their small gatherings whom they have an overwhelming desire to reach.

At first, Terry tried to get me to play a drum so that I could provide a little supporting rhythm as he played his music on our short tour. Me. The very WELSie (WELSy?) guy with an affection for casseroles and pipe organs. Wrong guy. Putting me on the conga is like putting habanero pepper in your 7-layer salad. But it’s not about me, is it? And if putting the Gospel to a cumbia beat gives our brothers and sisters the opportunity to share Jesus with just one more person, then by all possible means.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

By: Missionary Andrew Johnston – Leon, Mexico

P.S. – Want to learn more about how World Missions and Multi-Language Publications are using ethnomusicology? Check out this video.


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Thankful to Be Let Go

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be your teacher anymore …”

It is rarely enjoyable to be let go. It’s challenging when your boss tells you that he or she can no longer keep you on staff – the pain and the sadness are real. Oftentimes, it leads to us to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “Where do I go from here?”

If you have ever spent significant time learning another language, more than likely you have invested in a teacher or tutor. After 3 years of serving on the East Asia mission field, I have not met a better tutor than Linda. Linda, a professional teacher in our local preschool, is encouraging to all of the skill levels that enter her classroom, and she also knows how to push each student to give their best effort (my 5-year-old son thrives in her class as one of the few foreign children). She and her husband both serve as teachers in our school system while also raising their young son without full-time daycare assistance from the grandparents, which is very uncommon where we live. On top of all of this, Linda has been my regular language tutor along with tutoring several other missionaries on our field. When the missionaries gather, the conversation often turns to the blessings of studying with Linda.

While it seems somewhat trivial to be sad over being “let go” as a student, the truth is many of us on this mission field know that Linda is one of the best. We genuinely enjoy her company! We had always told Linda that if she ever needed to step away from teaching us, we would not be upset but instead be supportive and understanding. As I considered this possibility, I never figured I would feel “thanksgiving” for Linda letting me go as a student, but that is exactly how I feel and how our mission team feels right now.

Linda and her husband Adam have a strong desire to share their Savior with the lost souls living around them. They saw potential for a new church plant in our area, and this past summer they moved to our neighborhood. For years they have been growing under the guidance of our missionaries, Friend of China teachers, and national Lutheran pastors (graduates from our seminary in Hong Kong). Part of the reason Linda was eager to tutor us was to enable us to serve the people in the local language. Now she is a part of the core group that is launching a sister church in our neighborhood this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. Adam and Linda are answering the call to prepare this location for worship, which includes taking the time to meet with local prospects that are interested in learning about Jesus and what it means to go to church. In summary, Linda has stopped training the missionaries so that she herself could go and serve the people – her people – by sharing the Gospel in her native tongue. This is something she can do far better than any of the foreign missionaries could ever even dream of doing.

The Apostle Paul gave thanks for the work God did in the hearts of his brothers and sisters:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our partners in ministry and their excitement to share their faith, love, and hope in Jesus. So, yes, it actually feels good to be let go because we get to watch our God accomplish great things through servants like Adam and Linda. Please keep this young church in your prayers.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving (and eat some extra turkey for the missionaries who can’t get any)!

By: A Missionary in East Asia


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