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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

It was a moment parents dread: an early morning phone call from the hospital.

“Your son has been in an accident. It’s critical. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. Come right away.”

Sebastian had always struck me as a responsible teen. Respectful, polite, hard-working, active in the church – the kind of child that makes parents proud. One night he and a friend were riding Sebastian’s motorcycle home from a party. A different motorcycle blew through an intersection and struck the vehicle Sebastian was driving. He and the friend riding behind him went flying. Sebastian’s body cushioned his friend’s fall, but the pavement cracked Sebastian’s helmet and caused severe head trauma.

Sebastian’s parents, Henry and Eliana, are good friends of mine. Pastor Henry is a missionary in our sister synod in Medellín, Colombia. He is called to help others start churches in Colombian and Venezuelan cities. I heard of the accident from Henry and immediately left for the hospital. What do you say when a brother in the faith and his family are going through a severe test? We lived in different cities. I was unsure whether Sebastian would be alive when I arrived.

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

After hours of travel, I got to see the family and shared my favorite Psalm with them: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” – Psalm 121. I assured them, “The Lord is with you. He is watching over you.”

“The first three days were critical,” recalls Pastor Henry. When he arrived at the hospital, Sebastian’s skull was cracked and his brain was visible. “After a few days they disconnected him from the machine to see what would happen.” He began to breathe on his own.

After a week, with a bandaged head, the medical team sent Sebastian home. He spent another month in bed, with his mom serving as his primary care provider. The next months his parents retaught him how to dress, eat, speak, and carry out basic skills.

Prior to the accident, Sebastian was studying to be a motorcycle mechanic. However, the trauma his brain suffered made school impossible. His mind found it hard to focus. Nearly three years passed. No longer a teenager, Sebastian grew more and more frustrated. He felt like a burden to his family. He began to struggle with depression.

Then one week, Pastor Henry was making his regular rounds and dropped in on a mission congregation in Ibagué, Colombia, which is about seven hours away from where he lives. Worship there is held in a hotel. Victor and Paulina work at the hotel and are leaders in the new church. Chatting after church, they mentioned to Pastor Henry that they were looking for someone to help them manage the hotel. “As a joke,” Henry recalls, “I told them, ‘You should hire my son.’” What a surprise when Victor and Paulina made the trip the next week to interview Sebastian for the position!

Arrangements were made, and in March of this year Sebastian moved away from home to live and work at the hotel with Victor and Paulina. “It’s been a huge blessing for everyone,” Pastor Henry says. “Sebastian is able to help start a church and stay close to God.”

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

I asked my friend, Henry, if a particular Bible passage brought them comfort during these past three years. “Yes brother, it was the one you read to us during the most difficult moments, Psalm 121.”

When David wrote those words some three thousand years ago, he had no idea how they would comfort a Colombian called worker family during their most difficult challenge. But God knew. Sebastian may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered during that early morning accident, but he can know God is watching over him, just as he watches over all his children.

Written by Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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My Mission Journey: Gail

Grace Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Virginia, sent a Mission Journeys team to Ukraine this summer to assist with four separate Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs hosted by WELS’ sister synod, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). Gail Kelley was a member of the team and shares her experience: 

Our trip to Ukraine started with a conversation on possible evangelism or mission trips our congregation could participate in, somewhere with a culture different than our own. We were looking for an opportunity for our members to visit and serve with fellow believers in another culture, as well as to learn new evangelism ideas for our own community in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Within a year, God opened the door to an incredible opportunity–the chance to visit and assist the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) with four separate Vacation Bible School’s at several local congregations.

We gathered up a team from our congregation and were blessed with many prayers, financial gifts, and words of encouragement from members who could not travel with the group. Four of us headed to Ukraine in June with a few other WELS members from other congregations and began the trip of a lifetime!

Our group split into smaller teams and headed out to the four different VBS’s over the course of two weeks. Each volunteer taught English lessons, Bible lessons in Ukrainian (with the help of local translators), a craft lesson, and music. Each town and congregation we visited was very different, but it was quickly evident that we were all united in the most important way–through our shared faith and love for God’s Word and his people!

The first Sunday in Kiev we attended church with the Bishop of the ULC. The Bishop pointed out several photos on the wall of the church’s lobby. These photos were taken during the early 20th century and reflected one of many vibrant, growing congregations hosting many festivals and worship services. The Bishop explained to our visiting group the history of the church in the past century, and the terrible trials they endured throughout the second World War and Soviet era. The Bishop also pointed out a large wooden cross hung on the wall, covered in a beautiful, traditional Ukrainian embroidered cloth. This cross was hidden in a congregation member’s home during a time when religion was strictly forbidden throughout the country. The Bishop explained that corruption and bribery are current trials the country is facing; asking our group directly what they would do when presented with a bribe and fighting persecution. Recognizing and understanding the depths of the trials the ULC has endured for the sake of the cross was incredibly humbling and filled me with a new sense of awe regarding God’s enduring promise to “never leave us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Meeting various members of the ULC and experiencing their hospitality and deep faith was humbling and inspiring in so many ways. And then of course there were the children and translators we were working with–all so very special and many eager to learn about Christ and his message (both in Ukrainian and English!). Most translators were not ULC members and spent the week translating lessons, Bible stories, and prayers for our group. I pray that the conversations we had and Bible verses we reviewed planted a seed in many hearts!

One of the many miracles from trips such as this one is the personal growth and impact on the volunteers–our entire group agreed we came back to our homes learning much more and growing in our faiths in more ways than we could have imagined.

Lord, give us the strength to stay courageous through trials and fix our eyes on your cross (Hebrews 12:2)!

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Pastor Chaplai

Pastor Chaplai is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Chaplai shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: In 1997 one of my children was sick. No remedies were helping. I decided that I wanted to visit a Christian church in our area, to see if they could pray for my child. Before I went, other people warned me about the dangers: “The church will make you give them all your money”, “If you decide to stop going to their church, they will persecute you.” We decided to go anyway. I brought my whole family. They kindly welcomed us and told us about the Bible. They prayed for us. We told others what happened. Later that year, my family and five other families were baptized. But as the church grew, the persecution against us also grew. We were fined by local authorities. We were arrested and threatened. One night the locals captured several families, put them all in a truck, drove 160 kilometers to a very remote place and dropped them off in the middle of the jungle to die. But they survived. One time many of the Christian men in our village were captured and taken to a house, where we were interrogated separately. They told me to denounce my faith like all the other men had done. I told them, “I don’t know about the other men, but I still believe in Jesus.” They locked my legs in stocks. They would threaten me, pretend like they were going to hit me, and demand that I sign a piece of paper renouncing my faith. When I refused, they would lock me up again until the next day, when the process would begin again. Finally, after many days, they gave up. They told me I was stubborn and let me go. I went back to my church and told everyone, “Don’t be afraid of them.” The community trusted me. Many families came to me to learn about the Bible. One time, in four days, 60 families became Christian!

I didn’t know much about the Bible. We did not have Bibles to give to people. As the church grew, the local government put more pressure on us. They would arrest us and slap us repeatedly in the face and then release us. But there were too many of us. Some officials came to our church pretending that they wanted to become Christian. They wanted to check us out and see what we were really doing. For two years we were being watched closely by soldiers. Finally they gave up and left our village. A few years later, I moved to Sa Pa to start a new church there. The persecution there was severe. In spite of brutal beatings, the Christians did not renounce their faith. One night, everyone in the village was baptized secretly in the freezing cold water of a nearby river (We didn’t know that immersion is not a requirement). For three years, I had to travel by night and teach the Bible to people between midnight and 5 am. We would sleep during the day. In 2003, I was chosen to be the leader of the whole area. In that same year, the persecution began to decline.

On ministry: My ministry has been very blessed. I might be the only pastor here who is able to say that every one of my relatives is a Christian – every one! I now oversee eleven congregations. I serve 1,934 members in 324 families. I still travel to new areas to tell people about Jesus. I have to be careful in some of those areas because of resistance and possible persecution. Because I was one of the first ones to believe in my region and because all the Christians think of me as their leader, so many people are coming to me all the time for all kinds of help. I must admit to you that ministry is very difficult. Many times I have wanted to give up. But I keep serving because I love God.

On learning: If it were not for these classes, I most certainly would have quit before now. I want to say thank you to WELS because you have given me peace. I did not have peace until I learned the gospel in these classes. All of us here are learning so many things. We take the things we learn here and teach them to our people. The printed materials, translated into our language, are very useful to us. All of us are baptized now, including our babies. We have peace and joy from the true teaching of God’s Word.

What WELS members can pray for: I ask the members of WELS to pray for me and the members of my churches. They are immature in their faith and do not understand “the priesthood of all believers.” They have not learned how to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God and to serve together in the body of Christ. I want to motivate them with the gospel, not the law.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Faces of Faith – Pastor Chaleunsouk

The following is an interview I conducted with Pastor Tom Chaleunsouk. After you read this, say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for his grace and his gift to the church.

Tom Chaleunsouk was born in 1952 just outside Vientiane, the capital city of the country of Laos. In the early 1970s he worked as a night watchman on the American Air Base in Vientiane. Tom was married in 1973 to his wife Kaysone, who was from the same village. By 1980, they had been blessed with three children.

After the Vietnam war ended, the air base was abandoned by the United States government and regime changes were taking place in Laos. The Lao communist government actively sought to find all those who assisted or worked with the Americans during the conflict, which placed the lives of thousands in grave danger. Many were killed and many were sent to concentration (“re-education”) camps in the northern part of the country.

Pastor Tom (right) and his wife Kaysone (third from right) during a youth volleyball tournament at the church

In 1980, having been warned that his life was in danger, Tom took the bold step of fleeing across the Mekong River which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. To avoid being seen by communist soldiers, he crossed the river in the middle of the night on an evening in October when the monsoons were nearing the end and the river was at flood stage. The crossing was about a quarter mile wide. He crossed alone to protect his family from possible capture or death in the event he was caught by the authorities. He could not swim, so he fashioned a triangle of three bamboo poles and plastic bags into a kind of life preserver. He tied them under his arms and jumped into the river. On the other side of the river, he was picked up by Thai soldiers and put into the United Nations refugee camp in Nong Khai.

Meanwhile, arrangements had been made for Tom’s wife, Kaysone, to secretly follow Tom across the Mekong River with their three small children. Kaysone’s father took them to the river where a boat was waiting for them. Their oldest child, Thephone (who was four years old at the time), began to cry. For fear of being caught by the communist soldiers, Kaysone’s father took the boy back to the village, leaving Kaysone and the two youngest children alone. They successfully crossed the river and were taken to the U.N. refugee camp. It would take another four years before Tom and Kaysone were reunited with their son.

Tom and his wife were raised in the Buddhist religion. In the refugee camp, Tom met a Thai Christian evangelist who held gatherings in the camp. He approached Tom one day and invited him to join them, where he shared God’s word and prayed for him and his family.

In 1981, Tom and his family were brought to the United States and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota. They were welcomed by the community, which helped them acclimate to a new country and culture. Tom and his family were eventually baptized, and Tom’s desire to not only learn more about Christianity, but also to be able to teach his native people about Jesus, became a driving force for him.

The Nong Khai church (left) and sala (right) in Ban Houymakhat. A sala is a covered open structure. All of the house church mission groups gather with the congregation here on the first Sunday of the month for a joint communion service and fellowship.

The family moved to Lakeville, Minnesota, where they started attending Bethlehem Lutheran Church. After Tom made his interest in becoming a pastor known, two pastors who were part of a multi-cultural WELS outreach team in St. Paul came to visit. Tom began part time studies with the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in 1998, and was enrolled full time in 2000. In 2005, he graduated and was commissioned as a missionary to the Issan (Thai-Lao) people in Thailand.

Over the course of his service to the Lord and his church, Tom has continued to offer pastoral instruction to interested students in Nong Khai, Thailand. Together with one national pastor and one national evangelist as well as some dedicated laymen, Tom oversees four “house churches” in different villages and a central church in Ban Houymakhat, Thailand.

Pastor Tom and his wife Kaysone have been and continue to play a vital role in our mission work among the Issan people in northeastern Thailand. Through their untiring dedication and service to the Lord, many have come to know their Savior. Pray that the Lord blesses them with health and a safe working environment!

Written by Rev. Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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A Lutheran seminary for a Confessional Lutheran church body

On a recent trip to the Asia-Pacific Rim, I spent almost two weeks with the faculty and staff at a small Lutheran seminary.

The request of their team was this: “Be our consultant. Speak to us about ways that we can fulfill our calling as a Lutheran seminary.”

Our studies were grounded in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We studied the Smalcald Articles which reminded us that the first and chief article of our faith is redemption and justification by faith. We were also reminded that no teaching of our seminary may come from any place other than the Bible. Those same Smalcald Articles reminded us that the goal of seminary training is pastors who know how to do pastoral care, preaching and teaching God’s law and gospel, equipping God’s people to live lives of repentance, and to use the keys with each other.

Building on that foundation, we talked about the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY of theological education at a confessional Lutheran seminary.

WHAT is their mission? To train evangelical Lutheran pastors who want to and know how to serve Christ’s flock and to reach out to others. WHAT kind of institution do they want to be? They decided on the following:

  • An institution which is centered on Jesus Christ and the Bible principles of Scripture Alone, by Grace Alone, by Faith Alone.
  • A culture where faculty, staff, and students work hard and are always growing.
  • A place of learning where the growth of the students (knowledge, faith/character/attitude, and skill) is strongly pursued.
  • A place where God’s people can learn from their mistakes.
  • A place where God’s people love each other.

HOW are they going to accomplish this mission? The faculty and staff agreed that they need to be in the Word together and that they needed to be praying for God’s help. They agreed that solid teaching in every course is vital. They also agreed that that they need to have a functional system for communication and accountability regarding curriculum, goals, and students. Finally, they decided that they need be examples for each other, admonishing and encouraging each other in love and humility.

As for the WHY of their service, they agreed that their motivation is the Savior who died and rose again for them. In Jesus Christ, they want to give glory to God in all they do. In Jesus Christ, they want to serve as the best faculty and staff that they can be.

Please pray that the Lord continues to guide and bless the faculty and staff who serve at this worker training facility. Please pray that they can be a blessing to the students entrusted to their care, and that those students, in turn, will be a blessing to many people in their region.

Written by Rev. Brad Wordell, professor for the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

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Faces of Faith – Thomas

Chinese students are often assigned a traditional English name when they begin to study English in grade school—if their parents haven’t already given them one. Later on, many of them choose a new English name for themselves, something that feels more suitable—the name of a famous athlete, a name that sounds successful, or a name that has special significance for them. When Thomas became a Christian, he chose the name Thomas, after Jesus’ apostle, because he also had many doubts about his faith. From that time, Thomas has dedicated himself to learning the Scriptures, sharing the gospel, and helping other doubters stand more firmly on God’s promises so that they can also say confidently that Jesus is, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). He even walked away from a lucrative future in the sciences to begin his seminary education – while he finished acquiring his PhD in physics! Currently, Thomas works hard to balance his studies, his new marriage, and his duties as an evangelist at the local church. His church already has three different sites, even though it is only about 5 years old. Thomas reaches out, disciples the believers, counsels the hurting, mentors new leaders in his congregation, and helps the different sites grow in grace. The doubter who once needed to be mentored into gospel confidence is now confidently mentoring others into God’s promises. He is even visiting developing groups and leaders in other cities to encourage them! Please keep Thomas in your prayers.

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Faces of Faith – South Asia

A young Hindu from Nepal had his whole life before him, when inexplicably he lost his vision. The doctors told him he would never see again. In despair, he contemplated suicide and made plans to throw himself from the famous Karnali bridge in western Nepal. A Christian friend went to visit him in his home and reassured him, “If God made your eyes, he knows how to fix your eyes. If God made you, he knows how to heal you. He will heal you in this life; and if not in this life, then he will heal you in the life to come. Whatever happens to you, God loves you and gave his Son for you.” After their initial meeting, the two men began attending church together. Miraculously, a small portion of his vision started to return. He prayed to God and said, “Whether you improve my eyes or not, I trust in you.” Thanks to the Lord’s infinite mercy, his vision was completely restored. Today he is a national pastor in Nepal, serving as Outreach Coordinator to help others to see their beautiful Savior.

From the friendly counselor to South Asia

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Faces of Faith – Niko

Meet the newest European pastor! Nikolla (Niko), pictured center, is the oldest son of Pastor Mikel and Pavlena Bishka. He lives with his parents and younger brother, Viktor, in Durres, Albania, an ancient city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, right across from Italy’s heel.

Niko completed his seminary studies in January 2019 and serves the Durres congregation together with his father, where 90 people regularly attend weekly worship services. Pastor Agron Mece (pictured left) and Mikel (pictured right) are both nearing retirement. They thank God for providing a pastor for the next generation and are recruiting other young men in their congregations to study for ministry.

The three pastors are working together to host the European Regional CELC Convention in May 2019. The convention gives the pastors across Europe a chance to see the work going on in Albania and to encourage our Albanian brothers and sisters as they carry the gospel to the three million people of their country.

From Luke Wolfgramm, missionary in Russia

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Faces of Faith – Fred

A Pima and Papago Native, Fred Thomas Sr. married Linda, a woman from the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Making their home on the Ft. Apache Reservation, Fred and Linda were hungry for God’s Word and a church home and began attending our Lutheran church. As the Holy Spirit worked, Fred was confirmed, became a church elder, and even started taking classes in our Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) during the evenings after he got done working.

When he and his family moved to a new community on the reservation, he volunteered for service again, helping reopen a Lutheran church in the community and offering his carport for worship services. Now a member and elder of Shepherd in the Pines Lutheran Church in McNary, Fred is serving in another way. As part of his advanced involvement in the ACTS program, he and other ACTS students are preparing Lenten devotions and leading worship for a mid-week Lenten series in the Lutheran churches of the Ft. Apache Reservation. Fred shares, “The Lord has blessed me greatly with the wisdom and knowledge to take care of his church and share his Word with other people who don’t know him. I give him all the praise, honor, and glory, as it is by grace that I have been saved.”

From Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations

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Faces of Faith – Hakim

“Even the cows listen to his sermons!”

So it seems! A picture (above) shows Hakim preaching a sermon to people sitting on the ground outside a house church. In the background is a cow staring intently at Hakim. His friends tease this humble, faithful servant who is deeply loved and say, “You are the world’s best preacher. Even the cows listen to you.” He is like a father-figure to many in the church. Despite his age he has a lot of energy and connects well with the young people in the church. He is also a film-maker and has made many video vignettes of Bible stories such as the Lost Son in Luke 15. He is also a student in our first Pakistan Bible Institute. He visits three to five house churches every week to teach what he learns in the Bible Institute. What makes Hakim and the other students wonderful preachers is how they bring God’s truth to our 58 house churches in Pakistan.

From the friendly counselor to South Asia

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Faces of Faith – Kittikun

Kittikun Thouttha (pictured center) was born into a Christian family in northeastern Thailand. His contact with WELS Missionary Tom (pictured left) brought about a thirst to learn more about the beautiful truths of the gospel as they are proclaimed in the Lutheran faith. After studying with Pastor Tom for over five years, Kittikun graduated from his studies and was ordained in 2013. When asked why he became a Lutheran pastor, Kittikun responded: “Because I know that God called me.”

Pastor Kittikun works closely with Pastor Tom and other leaders of our five missions in northeastern Thailand. He is active in the instruction of others who are studying for service in the church. He and his wife live in the village of Pongsumran where he poured a concrete floor in his carport and set up a small chapel for his congregation to gather. Pastors Kittikun and Tom also assist in the care and leadership of families from three house churches in neighboring villages. Once a month they all travel to Houymakhat village where our largest congregation is located. Together, they join in Bible study, worship, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and a fellowship meal.

Though the Christian church is small in Thailand, it is not dead. Despite the overwhelming influence of Buddhism in the lives of the Thai, the Lord’s Word does not return empty. Through the dedicated work of men like Pastor Kittikun, the Lord’s kingdom continues to grow.

From Ken Pasch (pictured right), missionary in Thailand

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Faces of Faith – Brother Wang

After working with Lionel Logue as his speech therapist for several months, King George VI of England opened Parliament “resonantly and without stuttering.” Through Logue’s training, King George began to overcome a very heavy stammer that had plagued him for his entire life, a critical need for a leader who would be required to inspire his people during the dark days of World War II. I think of King George when I think of “Brother Wang,” one of our seminary students here. Brother Wang stutters a bit when he speaks, whether in his native tongue or in English. Some people worried that this would make it difficult for him to teach and preach. But his determination to share the beauty of the gospel overcame his apparent weakness. For some reason, when he reads Scripture and preaches sermons, there isn’t a single slip or stutter. It’s a joy to listen to him recite Scripture or read an ancient poem with emotion and excellent rhythm. But his reading isn’t the most powerful aspect of his life; it’s his own passion and conviction for the gospel he reads, whether teaching the people who gather on Sundays, or when ministering to a dying brother, or when taking care of his mother. For a man who struggles a bit with stuttering, Brother Wang is a steady character who stands firmly upon the gospel without wavering. Please pray for this brother who clearly proclaims the name of Christ Jesus.

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Faces of Faith – Alisad

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been operating a clinic in Mwembezhi, Zambia, for almost 60 years. Part of the mission is to turn much of the operations over to Zambians. CAMM recently hired Alisad Banda as clinic administrator, an important step in nationalizing the clinic. He first came to the Mwembehzi Clinic in 2005 in conjunction with some work he did in Health & Development. He was impressed how the clinic worked so closely with the Lutheran Church and enjoys knowing that Christians are showing compassion, care, charity, and integrity in a hospital and clinic setting. Both his mom and dad were Lutherans and instructed Alisad and his siblings in the doctrine and teachings of the Lutheran Church. He has worked diligently to advance his experience and professional life, receiving a diploma for Social Work from the University of Zambia (2007) and a diploma in Public Health from the Chainama College of Health Sciences (2017). He will graduate in October 2019 from the University of Lusaka with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health. In addition to his studies, Alisad can speak five languages. He is excited for the new challenge and seeing the clinic progress. Alisad lives in Lusaka with his wife, Cecilla, and their two children. CAMM is blessed to have Alisad and his strong Christian values at our Mwembezhi Clinic.

From Angela Sievert, CAMM Public Relations Coordinator

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Faces of Faith – Pastor Isreal

Rev. Mesue Israel Muankume is the only second-generation pastor in the entire Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). In spite of his love and abilities with football (soccer), his father convinced him to study for the ministry. He graduated from our Lutheran Theological Seminary in Kumba  in 1999 under the leadership of the late missionary Norbert Meier.

He married Marie the same year and the Lord has since bless them with Suzanne, Haag (named after former missionary Keith Haag), and Joseph. After blessed service to several congregations of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon, Pastor Israel was struck with TB of the bone in 2008. The necessary surgery resulted in infection and left him walking with a cane and considerable pain to this day. Pastor Israel continued serving in LCC congregations as he has a real ability to communicate God’s love with others. In 2016, the Holy Spirit felt the need for a shift in ministry for Pastor Israel. He now serves as professor and Dean of our Bible Institute and upcoming Seminary in Cameroon. Please keep Pastor Israel and all of our brothers and sisters of the LCC in your prayers!

From Dan Kroll, missionary in Africa

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Faces of Faith – Carlos

Carlos Fernandez could have been called a highly successful church planter within his denomination in Argentina—once planting six churches in a year. But when his church body sent out a notice, which included no Biblical support, that forbid its members from watching TV or playing sports, Carlos decided that he could no longer take the legalism of his church body. He went looking for something else.

Carlos found Bible-based, Christ-centered teaching through Academia Cristo, the WELS online effort for outreach and training. Through it he was able to take online classes taught by WELS missionaries.

After several classes, Carlos received visits from WELS missionaries. He took off work from his finance company, used his motorcycle to shuttle the visiting missionaries around his town of Machagai, Argentina, and spent as much as 14 hours a day studying God’s Word. God willing, Carlos will be visited again soon when he will be welcomed into fellowship and the church-planting will begin.

From Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator in Latin America

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Faces of Faith – Lizbeth

“We want to learn more,” said Lizbeth Guaman, as she and her mother began classes with the Academia Cristo teachers in Quito, Ecuador. Lizbeth and several family members were disappointed with the Bible instruction they had received in other places. One day they saw an advertisement on Facebook for a Bible workshop and their interest was piqued. Lizbeth attended to see what it was all about. She liked it!

By God’s grace, they began taking classes and even invited Academia Cristo teachers to their home to teach weekly. Using Multi-Language Publications (MLP) materials and videos, this family has been advancing in Bible truth one lesson at a time. God has even planted the desire to share this news and invite others to the classes. May the Lord continue to water the seeds spread by the swirling winds of the internet!

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Online outreach in a restricted-access country

Imagine a country where it is illegal for churches to gather without special permission, to proclaim any gospel other than what the unbelieving government approves. A country where churches, obviously, cannot do any promotion, canvassing, or big outreach events, where all social media is controlled by the powers that be, and where most everything that is perceived as coming from the West is considered suspect by the authorities. How would you do large-scale outreach and evangelism in a setting like that, especially when you know that there are millions of people in that country who are looking for meaning and are open to spiritual direction?

Believe or not, one group has still launched an outreach website on the approved social media platform through the help of Multi-Language Publications (MLP). It is not overtly Christian, at least not at first glance. It talks about sports, common marriage problems, and movies that are popular. Each blog post offers simple life advice and insights on these topics to get people’s attention and then quotes a relevant Bible passage. Finally, at the bottom of the article there is a link to more information. From there, readers can access a page that tells them more about the Christian message through articles such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Bible?”

Now, keep in mind that there is no way to promote this web page. There is no Facebook targeted advertising campaign; there are no flyers; there is no canvassing. There is only word of mouth. Praise God that several “Promoters” (outreach-minded brothers and sisters) have agreed to post the weekly articles on their local version of a “Facebook Wall.” Praise God that, in the first 12 hours of the first article being released, there were already 753 views! Within a few days, there were over 1,200 views! But, more importantly, 120 people (10%) had gone on to view the article “Who is Jesus?”

By Facebook, Twitter, and Google standards, these numbers are insignificant. But the impact in a restricted-access country filled with spiritually curious people is powerful, and it is growing. In fact, this site is the sister of two other sites launched earlier, also with the help of MLP. The one launched in March, a simple discipleship website, had 7,300 visits last month. The second, a leadership training site, had 15,600 visits last month. Remember, there is no promotion; just one person telling another, “Hey, check this out!”

Please pray that these sites continue to grow and reach tens of thousands of people every month. Our goal for the first year is 150,000 visitors, and our 3-year goal is 1,000,000. Please pray that these sites are not shut down by the government. Pray that the authors, website manager, and “Promoters” have the courage to continue boldly and clearly proclaiming the gospel. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel on these sites to create and strengthen the faith of many people.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

To learn more about WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

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New seminary planned for Indonesia

Groundbreaking for a new seminary facility for Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI), WELS’ sister church in Indonesia, took place in May. This will replace the current seminary, which is on the island of Java.

“It is one of many steps in the process of indigenization and coming of age as a daughter denomination of WELS and a member church of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference,” says Prof. Gregory Bey, professor at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), GLI’s seminary. “It gives GLI a sense of stability and permanence.”

The new location will offer other advantages, including space for the students and professors to live on campus. Currently students commute back and forth from the dorm to the seminary classrooms, and the professors rent places to live. “A new campus will allow for one location with all the facilities in one place,” says Bey. The local community and its government officials also have approved this new building project.

Bey says that they pray construction will be completed in the next two years.

The new campus will be located close to one of GLI’s oldest congregations, which started nearly 30 years ago. “Initially the small band of believers met as a ‘house church’ as in the days of the apostles,” says Bey. “Eventually, nearby land was purchased, then a worship facility was erected, and finally a small ‘pastori’ or parsonage was added.” One of the sons of the congregation even served the church as its called worker. Having this congregation nearby will allow students to have a place for worship while they are away from home and a support group of like-minded Christians. It also will give them opportunities to gain practical ministry experience.

WELS first established a seminary to train Indonesian called workers in the mid-1980s. Classes were temporarily suspended in the mid-1990s for various reasons, but the seminary was reopened in 1998. Now almost all the classes are taught by national pastors, with Bey being the only full-time foreign professor. Currently seven students are enrolled, and three new students will potentially start in August.

WELS declared fellowship with the GLI in 2003. Twenty-five national pastors serve 1,239 people in 6 congregations and 23 preaching stations. This includes four pastors who teach full-time in the seminary.

Learn more about the work in Indonesia at wels.net/missions.

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Work in Vietnam continues

WELS leaders traveled to Vietnam in June to continue the training of Hmong church leaders as well as to further plans for the theological education center being built in Hanoi.

Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and Rev. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, taught 60 men from the Hmong Fellowship Church courses on the book of Isaiah, pastoral counseling and family ministry for missionaries, and dogmatics (teaching Bible truths).

“Our training session on Isaiah has helped the students in many ways,” says Lor. “I think especially important is that our instruction has helped our students learn how to interpret the Bible. We are talking about the law and the gospel in Isaiah. This approach to studying Isaiah is totally new to them. The law and the gospel are so clear in Isaiah. They are enjoying it very much.”

Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations, arrived later in the trip to work through details regarding the building of the theological education center. Land has been purchased and cleared, and bids are being gathered for the construction project. Construction should begin later this year.

“There is a growing sense of excitement among the Hmong Fellowship Church about having an educational center of their own,” says Young. Classes currently are being held in a rented church owned by the Vietnamese Fellowship Church.

Lor, as Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, teaches many of the classes and oversees the education program, working closely with WELS Missions and the Pastoral Studies Institute. He also directs Hmong outreach in other parts of Southeast Asia. His original call was for two years, but it has just been made permanent as training continues for these Vietnam Hmong leaders and as new opportunities emerge. He will be formally commissioned at the Taste of Missions event, July 13.

Gifts for the building project have been received from hundreds of congregations and individuals, totaling more than 65 percent of what is needed to support the building project and ministry education costs for a two-year period.

“Please continue to keep this opportunity in your prayers as we look to bring the truths of the gospel to the 100,000-plus members of the Hmong Fellowship Church,” says Young.

Learn more about this opportunity at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

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Two Walking Miracles

“Two walking miracles.” That’s how Marlene Truax describes her twin grandsons, Thomas and Dakota.

Born at 26 weeks and weighing just 1 pound 13 ounces and 1 pound 11 ounces respectively, doctors gave them a 50% chance of survival at best. All the family could do was put them in the Lord’s hands and find peace in trusting him. As Marlene remembered thinking, “If they live; they live. If they don’t, it’s still the Lord’s plan.” The boys spent much of the next year in the hospital, and over those long months the prognosis was not always good. Even after their eventual release from the hospital, Marlene remembers that the first three years were an especially difficult struggle.

But even when survival was in doubt and the future very murky, one thing that was always certain was that the boys were loved. And as the boys grew, Grandma Marlene especially made sure that they knew not only about the love of family but the love of Jesus. Every Sunday they were in church at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, and they were enrolled at East Fork Lutheran School.

This past May, these two walking miracles walked across the stage to receive diplomas as members of the first graduating class of the reopened East Fork Lutheran High School. It was a special moment and a testimony to the power of prayer, the goodness of our God, and the blessing of Christian family. As Marlene put it, it was also a time to be thankful. She was thankful for the people who have helped them along the way, and especially thankful to the Lord for taking care of them. She gives all credit to the Lord – that it was only through him that this special day was possible, only through him that these young Christian men can look forward to serving the Lord in their future, and only through him that we all have the promise to eventually live with him forever.

Her faith and thankful heart have been passed on to these two young men. Dakota’s advice and encouragement is to, “In everything, do it all for the Lord. Always thank God for waking you up every morning and for all he does. In everything be content and give thanks.” Dakota also had the opportunity this past year to take courses in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and use his training to do readings in church. After high school, he hopes to continue learning and helping people to look to the Lord for help when life is difficult.

Thomas is also thankful for being able to learn God’s Word every day at East Fork Lutheran School. In his words, the most important thing he learned was God’s Word and, “how we will be with him if we believe and trust in him because he is the one and only God.” He hopes to teach that to others after high school.

Please join all of us on the Apache reservations in thanking our God for the miracles we can see and the ones we can’t. Thank him for providing mature Christians who make a difference in the lives of their family, friends, and communities, and the called workers who assist in sharing the love of Jesus. Pray for Thomas and Dakota and young Christians everywhere that they may grow in faith and godly living and accomplish the work God will give them to do in the years ahead.

Love in Christ from your Native brothers and sisters,

Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American Missions

To learn more about mission work on the Apache Reservations, visit wels.net/apache.

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Memories in Malawi

Recently I’ve been digging through old photos, looking over the 25 years I’ve lived in Malawi as a missionary wife. There are an amazing amount of memories that come to mind looking over those pictures. My husband, Paul, was assigned to Malawi when he graduated from the Seminary in 1993. In remembering those early years, and comparing them to our life here today, several things came to mind.

The early years – Malawi, Africa

We didn’t know much about Malawi when we arrived in 1993 with our one year old son. Paul was called to serve rural congregations in the North of Malawi. We knew he was called to teach God’s Word to the people there. We had something valuable to share and were willing to do it. What we didn’t know at the time was that Malawi, and the millions of people who live here, had something valuable to teach us. Reflecting back, I can clearly see how God provided for us in big and small ways.

Our second child was born in 1995 while living in the small town of Mzuzu. When the doctor who delivered my baby asked if I had packed a flashlight, I realized that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Power cuts and dim lights are common. I learned to be ready for scenarios I hadn’t had to think about living in the U.S.

After our daughter was born, we had planned to travel throughout Malawi. I learned that some items, like disposable diapers, were impossible to find in Mzuzu. I was resigned to traveling for 10 days with a toddler and a newborn with only cloth diapers. It was then that I learned that God is much better at planning ahead than I am. Weeks before I even knew I would need them, a group of Christian women in the U.S. had a baby shower for me and shipped an enormous box of disposable diapers to Malawi. The diapers arrived two days before our trip. God’s timing was the best.

Nitz Family – Christmas 2018

As Paul and I met the people of Malawi, we saw that many Malawians struggled with the effects of poverty. Shortages of food, water, medical care, and jobs impacted people’s daily lives. As the needs of Malawians were made known to us and we sought ways to help, Paul and I were learning a lesson about giving and hospitality that Malawians had to teach us.

From our early days of language learning and visiting people in their homes, to traveling to remote villages with Paul to greet people who had never seen a “European” woman and her  baby before, we were welcomed with clapping, singing, and smiles. Chairs appeared out of no where for us to sit on while our Malawian hosts sat on the ground. If possible, a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta was procured for us. We never left empty handed. Mangoes, green maize, sweet potatoes, a live chicken – these people were happy to share with us. Not because we needed theses things, but because they wanted to show their love to us. Malawian’s have a phrase, Tikulandirani ndi manja awiri! We welcome you with both hands!They welcomed us not just with their hands, but with their hearts as well.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot during my years in Malawi. I’ve learned to drive on the left hand side of the road. I can navigate muddy, rutted roads that look impassable to the uninitiated. I’ve treated our neighbors’ dogs who had venom spat in their eyes from encountering a huge spitting cobra. I learned it’s not really a good idea to pick up a giant horned chameleon on the side of the road and try to to take it home in the car. These are all good things to know to live well in Malawi.

But most of all, I’ve learned that God’s people love each other no matter where they are in the world. God’s people in Malawi have shown their love to me and my family for 25 years, and by God’s grace we’ve been able to join with them in worship, Bible study, English classes, Sunday School, weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. While my own family is growing up and moving away, and I can’t physically be there for them in all the ways I wish I could, I am learning God provides for all our needs, big and small, in ways that I never even imagined He would.

Written by Susan Nitz, missionary wife in Malawi, Africa

To learn more about mission work in Malawi, visit wels.net/malawi.

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Pastor Long

Pastor Long is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

On coming to faith: An evangelist came to my village in 1997, but there was persecution in my village. The church in my village had two leaders. One of them was killed. The other one had to flee. Because I was a part of the local government, I knew what was going on among the Christians. As I learned more about Jesus, I came to believe in him. I kept my faith secret for many years. Finally, in 2003 I resigned from my government position and became an active part of the church. In 2007 I was called to serve as a pastor.

On ministry: I serve as a pastor in Lang Moua village in Hasan Province. I serve 366 families, about 1980 members. There are elders who assist me in the congregations. I preach twice per month and the elders also preach. I also teach the Bible at many gatherings each week. Many of my members want to receive Christian counseling; most of that work is done by the elders. I enjoy ministry. Serving God in any way makes me happy. I support myself as a farmer; my fields are in the mountains, and it takes me a couple hours to travel there. Also, I am often traveling to visit congregations in surrounding areas.

On learning: I started coming to Pastor Lor’s classes in 2013. But then my wife became sick, and I was not able to attend for a couple years. My wife is better now. We have three sons and one daughter. I am very happy that I can come here to learn more about the Lord.

What WELS members can pray for: I would ask the people of WELS to pray that God continues to strengthen my faith and to give me more knowledge, so that I can preach and teach the Word faithfully. I appreciate those prayers. Please allow me this opportunity to say to the people of WELS, “Thank you for supporting these classes. When we look back on our past selves, we see that we were like the Pharisees. In our sermons we were telling people that they needed to be better in order to be right with God. But now we know the Gospel and are living with joy. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants.”

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Pastor Tong Poa

Pastor Poa is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Poa shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: My parents and the children in my family were brought to faith through Christian radio broadcasts in our country. I was seven or eight years old at the time. Because the persecution against Christians was strong in our area, my family relocated to Houalenga village in Song La Province when I was about ten years old. There were other Christians there, but there were no leaders for the church. For that reason, I was asked to start leading liturgy at the age of 10.

On ministry: After I graduated from high school in 2008, I was also appointed a leader in the church. Now, 11 years later, I oversee 18 congregations in which there are 245 families with about 1,630 members. I work with one other pastor. We are in the city, and we serve the surrounding villages which can be reached from our city. I am married. My wife and I have 3 children ages 9, 6, and 2 years old. The congregations do not pay me a salary, but they do help pay for my transportation. There are many talented men in our villages, but the churches look to me as a leader. This is a special privilege from God. I wish I had more time for ministry. Some of the people I serve live in the mountains, and it takes me a long time to reach them. I travel by motorbike as far as I can, but then I must walk the rest of the way. To reach some of my people, I must walk 10 kilometers through mountainous terrain. Some of the places I serve do not have any cellular service.

On learning: I have been coming to these classes for 3 1/2 years now. I received training from others before, but these classes have helped me understand the Bible much better. I always return from here ready and eager to teach God’s Word to my people. Because I am the tallest pastor here, about a year ago the brothers gave me the nickname Saul.

What WELS members can pray for: Besides supporting my family and my ministry, I am also taking care of my parents, who are in their mid-60’s. In the past we struggled to survive, but the Lord has provided stability for us now. Please pray that the Lord continues to provide for our daily needs, so that I can continue to serve the spiritual needs of the members of my congregations. Please pray that God gives me health and strength and endurance, so that I can face any hardship.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Moving forward with the Vietnam opportunity

WELS members have responded overwhelmingly to the opportunity that God has given our synod in Vietnam. Gifts have been received from hundreds of congregations and individuals, totaling half of what is needed to support the building project and ministry training costs for a two-year period.

The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam (HFC), a church body with approximately 100,000 members, has asked WELS to provide theological training for its pastors. Their leaders and several dozen pastors have been receiving instruction from WELS pastors for about three years. They have concluded that we are teaching biblical truth and have embraced the teachings of the Lutheran church. They want to be a Lutheran church body. With the permission—and even encouragement—of the Vietnamese government, the HFC has invited WELS to establish a theological training school where eventually all their pastors will receive thorough instruction and pastoral training.

Due to the generous outpouring of support, the first concrete step in making this plan a reality was taken two weeks ago. I, along with Board for World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer and Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young (pictured, center), traveled to Vietnam to sign a memorandum of understanding with Vietnamese religious officials and with the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church. This agreement enables our synod to secure the use of a four-acre parcel of land on the outskirts of Hanoi and to begin construction of the planned theological training school. Details are now being worked out, and we hope that construction will begin in the near future. Gifts received so far have enabled us to secure the land and will make it possible to build the school. We pray that additional gifts will provide the means to operate the school with WELS instructors.

We do not know where this effort will eventually lead. What we do know is that we have been given an amazing opportunity that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. As we begin down this road, we do so realizing the risks, but also with our eyes of faith focused on the grace and promises of God and the opportunity he is giving us to proclaim the saving gospel in a place where it has been rarely heard. To God be the glory!

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

To learn more about this special opportunity in Vietnam, visit wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

 

Taste and learn how the Word is spread

WELS Missions will be hosting its first ever “Taste of Missions” event, July 13, 2019, 12-5 p.m., at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. WELS families are invited to attend this new opportunity to fellowship with WELS missionaries and families, sample ethnic cuisine from WELS mission fields, and learn more about WELS home, world, and joint mission work.

This family-friendly event will include meet-and-greet opportunities with missionaries, presentations from home and world missions, informative displays about WELS mission fields, a question-and-answer panel discussion, and more activities for the whole family. The day will conclude with a worship service celebrating the blessings of WELS mission work at 4 p.m.

Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young says, “We are excited to be able to offer this opportunity for our members. This is the second year that missionaries and their families have had a reunion, and this year, we wanted to invite our entire family in Christ for an opportunity to learn more about the exciting mission opportunities they’re supporting.”

Several home and world missionaries and mission representatives are lined up to participate in the event, including Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator; Rev. Timothy Flunker, Home Mission counselor; Rev. Luis Acosta, cross-cultural home mission pastor; Rev. Paul Nitz, missionary to Malawi; Rev. Rob Siirila, Asia Lutheran Seminary professor; Rev. Mike Duncan, friendly counselor to South Asia; Rev. Nathan Schulte, Latin America missionary; Rev. Nathan Seiltz, Multi-Language Publications director; and more.

Registration is now open. The cost is $5 per person; children under five are free. Learn more, view a full itinerary, and register online at wels.net/tasteofmissions2019.