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A Lutheran Revival?!

The bright yellow sunflowers lining the roads and filling the meadows were craning their necks to catch the last rays of sunlight as I drove down into the red valley known as Dischii Bikoh.

In English, we call this place Cibecue, Arizona. And in September it is especially beautiful after the monsoon rains and cooler temperatures allow the flowers to run wild. But I wasn’t there to sight-see the wonders of God’s creation. In Cibecue, Ariz., on a Tuesday night there was an even more beautiful sight to see: a group of Christians eating together, praying together, singing together, and encouraging, all within earshot to hear what wonderful things Jesus has done and how wonderful it is to be a follower of Christ. They put up a tent in someone’s field, cooked the food, provided the musicians and the loudspeakers, and invited the entire community to come and listen to the powerful gospel all week long.

For most WELS Lutherans, the idea of a tent revival may sound, well, un-Lutheran. But for a group of Lutherans with the word “evangelical” right in our name, it certainly was appropriate for this community on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. As pastor and church member after church member got up to speak words of encouragement from Scripture and personal testimony of what Jesus meant to them, it was music to the ears of a community looking for Christian role models and heroes of faith. It is not an easy thing to identify yourself as a Christian in a place where being Native is equated with practicing traditional religion and there is strong pressure to cast Christianity aside when the two identities collide. But what joy to hear from Christians who are not afraid to be Christians first and always! And what joy to hear from Christians who fell to temptation but experienced the sheer joy that comes from repentance and forgiveness from Jesus!

All week long, with sincere tears and ear-to-ear smiles, by loudspeaker and in quiet conversations over soup and fry bread, the gospel was shared and Christian encouragement was both given and received. Lutheran Apache Christians, armed with the Word of God, were unafraid to share their burdens with each other and tell others how Jesus set them free from the superstition and fear of idolatry, or from the chains of addiction or the prison of hopelessness and despair. Jesus changed their lives and their futures, and they were there to tell the entire community about this powerful and loving Savior.

Events like these are some of the things your Christian brothers and sisters in Native America are trying. They’ve armed themselves with the Word of God in regular Bible study, and they’ve done some hard work to figure out how to best share the gospel in their communities to their people. Won’t you join together in praying for them as we continue to make the efforts and take the risks and go boldly with the best message in the world?

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

 

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Try, try again

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS


Cameroon has had its ups and downs the past few years – which always gives more opportunity for the gospel message to take priority. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Our partners in Cameroon have the message of hope in Jesus and they’re taking every opportunity to share it.

Cameroon Seminary Professor Rev. Israel Mesue

We need more people to do the work! Last March, we hoped that classes would be able to resume at our campus at Barombi Kang. But those plans had to be scrapped when the only Cameroonian Seminary teacher, Rev. Israel Mesue, was informed by armed thugs that “if you open that school, you yourself will be kidnapped and taken for ransom.”

But as the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.” Just a few months later, Pastor Isreal proposed to continue teaching his students in Cameroon via “satellite seminary” in order to reinvigorate students about preparing for the full-time ministry. Pastor Isreal spends six weeks on the road, spending up to two weeks in each of the three districts of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). He is currently teaching lessons on the three Ecumenical Creeds, Homiletics (Preaching), and the large Catechism (Part 1 – Commandments); together with worksheets, discussion topics, and even tests for those courses.

James and Rev. Israel

Rev. Isreal began his first tour in the Western Bakossi District (Nyadong Village) with students Thomas and Vincent. The teaching went well and the students were happy to be back into the books. One of the LCC’s members sat in on the classes at Nyandong and decided that he might be interested in pursuing studies for the ministry in the future. If the satellite seminary program runs smoothly, James will be able to start his studies in September of 2022! We see the Lord of the harvest answering our prayers to provide men who are eager to serve him.

It can be bumpy at times teaching seminary students on the road. On his trip to the Northwest District, Pastor Israel’s bus broke down close to where some of fighting has been taking place between pro-government and separatist forces. When the military showed up, Pastor Isreal found himself less ten feet away from a shoot-out! Thankfully nobody was injured. Pastor Isreal looks to the Lord for protection and praises him for the many things that went well on his first trip.

Two weeks ago Rev. Israel was at the Northwestern District (Mbemi Village) with the chairman of the Board for Worker Training, Rev. Fon George, along with students Crispos and David. He was a bit delayed in starting his visit there because of another “project” in his home town of Kumba where he is teaching students Ferdinand and Solo.

Seminary student Solo

A French-speaking student, Jean-Jacque, did not join his fellow students in the English-speaking region of Cameroon because of the political climate. Nico, another student, was not able to join the program either because of his work. Both Jean-Jacque and Nico will have some catching up to do. While at Kumba there were a few interruptions, but Rev. Isreal adjusted the schedule as necessary to ensure that the students learned the material well.

It was a great blessing for both the students and their teacher to spend time together in God’s Word during this “Seminary road trip.” The next step will be to “try, try again” and bring all the students together on the campus of the LCC Seminary at Barombi Kang in Kumba. Please pray for the peace and safety of the people of Cameroon, and that God continues to bless the work of our partners in the LCC.

Written by Rev. Dan Kroll, missionary to West Africa

 

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3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia

In 2003 my family and I left Africa after 21 years to serve a congregation in the United States. At that time I wrote an article for the WELS Board for World Mission’s newsletter entitled, 10 Things I Learned In 20 Years In Africa.

Flash ahead 16 years. . . and my wife and I are unexpectedly having to leave our work in South Asia to come back to the United States. To mark this occasion, please allow me to tell you briefly about 3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia.

1) The caste system really hinders the spread of the gospel. In Zambia and Malawi, I saw how people from different tribes often didn’t get along well together. But the walls that tribalism erects in Central Africa pale in comparison to the barriers that the caste system builds to repel the gospel in places like South Asia. It’s rare for a Hindu of any caste to speak to a Christian. It’s practically unheard of for an upper caste individual to do so. God’s Word, of course, can accomplish great things. But it faces an enormous challenge among well over a billion people who live in South Asia. Something to keep praying about.

2) It isn’t easy to train a pastor in another culture. When you think of training a pastor, you first think of some sort of school where students study the Bible and its teachings; where they learn ways to share those teachings with other through sermons, classes, and conversations. Certainly, that is the foundation of a pastoral training program. But in WELS, future pastors also benefit greatly from having a host of role models; other, often older, pastors who know how to touch people’s hearts with a sermon, men who display the love of Christ in word and action.  But such role models often aren’t available in many of our mission fields. In classes you can describe practical situations and ask students, “What would you do?” But it’s not the same. Something more to pray about.

3) The Lutheran liturgy is really, really important. In our world mission fields, many congregations do not have their own pastor. These congregations are served by dedicated laymen. And for this reason, many of our world mission fields also prepare a “sermon book.” A sermon book contains a simple sermon translated into the local language for every Sunday of the year. In spite of the sermon book, I often wondered if they were adding a smattering of false teaching to their sermons. But there is one thing that can’t be “messed up”: the liturgy. And because all of our congregations use a simplified Lutheran liturgy, translated into the local language, I can be sure that each and every Sunday the Christians at that congregation are confessing their sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. I can be certain that they are hearing a summary of the gospel in the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I know that they are worshiping in the name of, and receiving the blessing of, the Triune God. Something to be grateful for.

And the ½ thing. . . it’s never easy to leave a world mission field. When we left Africa in 2003, our family mourned our loss for a long time. I suspect it will be the same now. We will miss the work, the people, and the life. But my wife and I will carry on, grateful for the blessings that we had and certain that the Lord will continue to bless the people and the work in South Asia, even as he will bless us in our new call in the United States.

Written by Rev. Mark Rieke, former Friendly Counselor to South Asia

Friendly Counselor Mark Rieke and his wife Sue are moving to La Crescent, Minn., where Pastor Rieke has accepted a call to serve First Lutheran Church after unforeseen circumstances made it impossible for them to return to their home and his call in South Asia. Please keep Mark and Sue in your prayers during this transition!

 

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We need Africa

Africa needs us! How many times have you heard that on TV or in your church? Most often people think of Africa as grassy savannas filled with wildlife, poor villages, and sickness and disease running rampant through the continent. In some aspects that is very true, however there are many stereotypes about Africa that are equally false, just like stereotypes about Americans and the United States. Africa does need us; but, did you ever think that we as Christians may need Africa?

Sunset at Mvuu Camp inside Liwonde National Game Park

In July 2019, the Central African Medical Mission (CAMM) brought a group of ten people from the U.S. together to tour Malawi and see firsthand the work of our Lutheran Mobile Clinic which CAMM oversees. CAMM, established in 1961, serves the people living in the central region of Malawi in conjunction with local Lutheran churches. The Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi brings medical care and supplies to the villages of Suzi, Msambo, Thunga and Mwalaulomwe every week. CAMM is entirely funded outside of the WELS budget by grants from charitable organizations and individual donors. Our hope in bringing such a large group of visitors to Malawi was to increase awareness among stateside WELS congregations and donors about our Mobile Clinic’s mission of mercy.

Inside the newly refurbished clinic room at Mwalaulome Lutheran Church

The twelve-day trip allowed us to take in the people, the villages, and the varied landscapes of Malawi. We were able to enjoy the beaches of Lake Malawi and walk through a nearby village. We saw many of God’s created animals at Camp Mvuu while on safari, and we saw the physical needs of the Malawian people treated at the CAMM mobile clinic in the village of Thunga. It is hard to describe the atmosphere and the number of people waiting to be seen by our nurses on a clinic day. The staff works diligently to make sure all the waiting people are seen.

The beauty of Malawi is breathtaking and filled our hearts with joy. Seeing children run alongside our bus waving and jumping excitedly brought smiles to our faces. Seeing the medical assistance provided to so many villagers on clinic day was eye-opening. I feel slightly ashamed that in the past I have been impatient because my doctor was 20 minutes late for an appointment, while visitors to the Mobile Clinic walk miles and wait hours to be seen in a room filled with about thirty other people.

Children show off their new toothbrushes they received at Thunga clinic

I feel guilty for wanting a really nice sweater or newer car when I think about Malawian children who only want an empty used water bottle to carry to school, or the Malawian mothers who just wanted medication to make their baby well again. In spite of Malawians’ lack of material possessions, they are grateful for their family, their faith, and access to medical care through our Mobile Clinic. So, yes, Africa may need us but we also need Africa to get perspective on our lives. We need to see the joy of children running to us barefooted. We need to witness the gratefulness of those receiving the next immunization for their child so they don’t become sick. We need to tell others about the blessings of our mobile clinic’s ministry that, from our perspective, is occurring in the middle of nowhere. We need to be reminded that we have Christian brothers and sisters halfway around the world that shares our love for Jesus and His blessings. We need the opportunity to put Christ’s words into practice: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40

As we recall our CAMM trip and the blessings of a safe and inspirational journey, this bible verse comes to mind, “Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security.” – Jeremiah 33:6

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

 

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Faces of Faith – Fang

I met Pastor Fang for the first time in 2012. He and a few other leaders from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC)  gathered with me in a small hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. We spent a few days together studying the Word of God, quietly, so as not to attract attention. Then the men left to their villages.

Fang was a very polite and humble student in my class, but he challenged me with all kinds of questions about Scripture and leadership. At that time I seemed like a baby pastor to them, compared to many other Hmong pastors who preached their philosophies, ideologies and traditions. For almost two years, Fang and I confronted each other in the classroom on a regular basis. He thought that my teaching—that sinners are saved by grace alone—was not based on the Bible. His reasoning was that if sinners are saved by grace alone, it is too simple and can’t be trusted. It’s like giving a math test of 1+1 = ? to university students. He said, “Sinners need to cooperate in their salvation by doing good and living a holy life.” He added, “None of the other Hmong pastors teach like you. They all teach that if we are good, God will love us, and we earn our salvation through our own merits.” Even so, he kept coming to my training – thanks to God.

In June 2014, Fang came to me and said, “Pastor Lor, I apologize for being angry with you and even labeling you as a cult preacher. Now, I totally admit that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Throughout my ministry, I’ve tried so hard to please God with good works. I thought that I could be saved through them. But the harder I tried, the more distant from God I felt. The more guilty I felt. I also gave many rules to my members. After two years of studying with you, I have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that I am saved through faith in Christ alone.”

Salvation by grace alone means a lot to Fang. He told me that since his members understood grace, they are more active in the church’s activities and more confident in their outreach to their community. Now they can say that they are saved and that they are children of God. Before that, they were hesitant to witness that they were saved because they weren’t sure that they were good enough to be saved.

Pastor Fang’s funeral

Last October, I was invited to preach for the Hmong National Conference in Lai Cau. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Fang and his wife, Yong, came to me. She said, “Pastor, I appreciate your hard work and how you trained my husband in the word of God. He is now a better husband and is a more caring pastor to his members.” I asked his wife, “How so?” She said, “The love of God motivates my husband to love us more. He was a man of traditions, but now he has a gentle and humble heart.” I told her, “Praise God for his love and mercy! And continue to support your husband’s ministry.”

Sadly, on July 18, 2019, Fang was taken home to his Lord. He was on a trip to assist another family who had lost a loved one just two days earlier. He preached for several hours under a hot sun, and then he was invited to stay with a family for the night. Early in the morning when the lady was done cooking, she called out for everyone to come to breakfast. Fang didn’t answer the call. The man of the family went to wake him up. We still don’t know the cause of his death.

He will be missed by many, especially his fellow workers in Vietnam. His associate called me hours after his death, “Pastor Lor, Pastor Fang passed away this morning. It was a tremendous lost to the congregations in this area because he served his Lord and members from his heart. We all miss him a lot. We know that you will miss him too.” Through his ministry, the Holy Spirit brought many to believe in Jesus. He was a model of faith not only to his members, but also to the community near and far in Northern Vietnam. Both he and his wife worked so hard in their rice field to make sure that they could serve their family and members. He told me, “Pastor, I am not rich but I thank God that he gives me the strength to work in my rice field so that I can support my family and do the work that my Lord has entrusted to me.” I remember one day, after a break from long hours of training, he brought me a well-cooked whole chicken and said, “Pastor, my wife and I thank you for sharing the word of God with us. We have nothing to pay you, so we brought you this chicken.” I didn’t know what to say, so I split the chicken and ate it with him and the other students. That was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life. I ate the chicken with tears in my heart.

More than 600 people, both the Christian and non-Christian community, attended Fang’s funeral. I thank God that he knew the truth that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No doubt he could have accomplished much more if he had lived longer, but God knows what is best for him and his family. Now, he is united with the saints in heaven, safely in the arms of our Heavenly Father. He is protected by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has no more tears, and he suffers no more persecution due to his faith in Christ. No more worries about his rice field so that he can take good care of his family and members. Peace is his in Christ forever!

Brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves daily that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Grace may not mean much to some of us, but for Fang, it was his only hope: his only hope in Jesus. He was willing to endure hardships for the sake of the gospel so that he could bring it to lost souls—sinners saved by grace through faith alone in Christ. God gives us the best treasure, so let’s share our best treasure to all nations, tribes, and languages through our prayers and stewardship.

Thank you for supporting the training in Hanoi, and please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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Academia Cristo brings new opportunities to share the gospel

Academia Cristo began in 2015 with a primary goal to help people start churches in Latin America that faithfully preach and teach God’s Word. “We provide resources, and train and connect people to a network of mentors as they work to share their faith and start churches,” says Missionary Mike Hartman, coordinator of Academia Cristo and Latin America Missions.  

Academia Cristo, academiacristo.com, offers self-study Bible studies, music, and training courses for leaders. More than eight thousand people have signed up for Bible courses through Academia Cristo. Its Facebook page, where it shares daily Scripture-based messages and regular live devotions, has more than one million followers. “We want to be known as an entity that has a Christ-centered, biblical message,” Hartman says. 

This online presence has led to mission opportunities throughout Latin AmericaIn these places, church leaders have connected with Academia Cristo to access the available resources. During the last years, “we saw a lot of people in Paraguay signing up for courses,” Hartman says.  

To make face-to-face connections, missionaries traveled to the country to meet with Academia Cristo students who were interested in using the resources to share the gospel with others. Later in 2019, two WELS missionaries, Abram Degner and Joel Sutton, will be moving to the city of Asunción, Paraguay, to continue meeting with these individuals. There they will study with them and show leaders how to share the resources with others. 

The missionaries will be located near individuals such as Carlos Fernandez in northern Argentina. Fernandez started studying with Academia Cristo more than two years ago. Previously, he had served as a pastor and missionary for a different church body. He left the church 10 years ago for doctrinal reasons. “I realized I was just preaching and teaching rules that people had come up with, rather than teaching people about Christ,” Fernandez says.  

As he studied the Bible and read it on his own, he realized salvation is through faith by grace. Fernandez, who lives in the Chaco province of northern Argentinawanted to start a church that was faithful to Scripture. In his search for truthful resources, he came across Academia CristoDuring the last two years, missionaries have visited him three times, and now Fernandez is in doctrinal agreement with WELS.  

Now a missionary mentors Fernandez, who then trains other men in the Chaco province who want to start Bible-based churches.  

For years, WELS members in the United States have reached out to missionaries in Latin America in an attempt to share the gospel with loved ones in other countries. Academia Cristo is able to help these members connect with family and friends in Spanish-speaking areas and share the gospel with them. For instance, several years ago, members of a WELS church in Sarasota, Florida, began working with contacts they had in ParaguayThrough Academia Cristo, they can coordinate with WELS missionaries to share the gospel with people in these areas.  

Another WELS church in Arizona has contacts in Cuba. Together with missionaries, members are using Academia Cristo to learn how to share the gospel and start churches in Cuba. Missionaries mentor these members and their connections to help them set up a ministry plan and reach more.  

“People are interested in these areas and searching for the gospel,” Hartman says. “They are looking for someone who will teach them about the Bible and Christ.” 


Rachel Hartman 


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Author: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Returning by the power of God

A native Paraguayan finds motivation from the gospel to revisit her country and share the message of Christ with residents there.  

Rachel Hartman 

Earlier on in her life, Juliana Kennell left Paraguay with the desire never to return. Now, years later, time and again she has gone back to the country. The change of heart, she says, can only be accredited to God and his powerful Word. After finding a Lutheran church in the United States, Juliana realized she could find ways to help others in South America learn more about Christ. 

Early years in Paraguay 

Juliana was born and raised in Asunciónthe capital and largest city in Paraguay. She lived with her mother, who raised her and sent her to a Catholic school. “It was an all-girls school run by a nun,” Juliana says.  

When she was older, Juliana got married and had a child. Her mother moved to New York, but Juliana remained in Paraguay with her family. Her life quickly took a troubling turn when her child passed away at the age of six. “I was very hurt and felt very bad,” she says. “It took me years to move on.” She found her life empty. 

During this sad time, Juliana’s mother developed a heart condition and grew ill. “She invited me to go see her in New York,” Juliana says. Accepting the invitation, Juliana recognized the chance to move on from her past. “I closed the door on Paraguay,” she says. When I left, I said I would never come back.”  

A new life in Florida 

Juliana stayed with her mother in New York for some time. Eventually, when she was again single, she moved south to Florida and began to rebuild her life. One evening, she went fishing at a beach park. During the outing, she met LaVonThe two exchanged phone numbers and two years later, got married. A little later, the couple had a child they named Abby. Life in Florida was a new beginning.  

After LaVon and Juliana got married, LaVon wanted to see the place Juliana had come from. Even though Juliana had vowed never to return, she decided to take a trip to show him what life had been like. When their daughter Abby was just nine months old, they made their first visit back. “My stepdad has a ranch, and LaVon loved it there,” she says. The couple appreciated the way their daughter was welcomed and appreciated in the setting in Paraguay. 

They returned to Florida and soon began thinking about Abby’s education. She was just a toddler, but based on their assessment and comments from others they felt it might be helpful to have their daughter in an environment where she would feel challenged 

One evening, the family went out to dinner. While there, they struck up a conversation with another diner who intrigued their daughter. During the chat, they realized the person was the preschool director at a nearby WELS school.  

Based on the initial encounter, LaVon and Juliana decided to check out the preschool. The place offered a program for children prior to preschool, and they opted to enroll Abby in it. “We started with the school and really liked it,” Juliana says.  

Soon their toddler was exposed to chapel and the Bible. The couple watched as their daughter developed in a Christian environment. It was a place that Abby visibly enjoyed.  

At the time, the family was attending a different evangelical church. While they went regularly, they didn’t find clear teachings regarding the law and gospel. They also came across few resources when looking for further instruction for their daughter. 

The situation led them to turn to Ascension Lutheran Church, Sarasota, Fla., the church connected to the preschool Abby was attending. “I wanted her raised in the truth,” Juliana says. The preschool director invited them to try a Bible class. They soon discovered the church offered a Bible study for adults and a Sunday school for children. 

Growing in the Word 

Juliana appreciated the chance for her daughter to learn more about the Bible and soon found herself absorbed in the Word too. “I knew very little with my Catholic background. I never understood the Bible,” she says. From her past church experiences in Paraguay, she remembered not being able to ask questions to gain a deeper knowledge. 

In the Lutheran church, the Bible was explained, and Juliana learned of the free and full forgiveness offered to her from Jesus. She was eager to study, learn more, and become a member. “I fell in love with the church, she says. She was drawn to the opportunities to talk about God’s World and apply it to daily life. 

Living in Florida, she was far from her other family members. Yet she found a sense of belonging in the congregation. That is the amazing part of Ascension. It’s a small church and feels like family, she says. 

Reaching out back home 

LaVon and Juliana kept making trips to Paraguay and discovered they could help those living thereThe elementary school, for instance, had a green board that was nearly the same color as the chalk they used. This made it difficult to read what was written on the board. The couple came up with an idea to take slatecolored paint for the board when they next visited. 

During following visits, Juliana brought clothes and supplies for family members, friends, and community members. “We started helping people,” she says. On one occasion, the family noticed that elementary children were drawing water from an open well every day for school. They helped oversee a project to put in a cistern and change the well structure, making it an operation that used gravity to draw water. This created a safer source of water for the children who used the well every day 

Back home, the family continued to attend Ascension and grow in the Word. “I like the Bible classes,” Juliana says. “The more I learn, the more I know and can share with others.” Over time, LaVon and Juliana realized they could do more to help those in Paraguay; they could help with the spiritual need they had observed. “The priest comes just once a year,” Juliana says. “The Spirit led us to the opportunity to bring the gospel to the village.”  

Juliana felt God had put her in a position where he could use her to share the message of Christ. “I can explain things in my own language, and I have the experience from the time I spent there before, she says. She could relate to the people and bring the gospel to a place that was hungry for it.  

Now Juliana has made numerous trips to ParaguayHer congregation got involved, and the pastor and other members organized a mission board called Solo Cristo. They also reached out to WELS World Missions and are working with missionaries to spread the gospel further there. 

Juliana recognizes her mission efforts stem from the Word being present in her life. “It’s not what I did; it’s what he did,” she says. “He put us together to work for him.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida.


Read more about how Ascension is involved in outreach in Paraguay at ascensionwels.org


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Pastor Zang

Pastor Zang Lou is 54 years old, and serves as one of the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). He and his wife Pai Chang have 5 children – their extended family has 22 members, including 12 grandchildren. In 2011, Pastor Zang found Rev. Bounkeo Lor’s online sermons and invited him to train 60 leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is his story: 

I thank God for everything that he has given me and because he has called me to faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

In 1987, when I was 22 years old, I was invited by the government to serve my country as a policeman. I served as a policeman for six years. During that time the gospel came to my country, and many people were led to believe in Jesus. One week after many became Christian, the government sent me to investigate: to find out why so many people left their Hmong traditions to believe in Jesus. During my investigation, the believers told me that they left their tradition to believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Then I told them that if they believe in the Savior and the One that has power to rescue the Hmong from the hands of the devil, I will go back and explain this to the government.

That night when I slept, a man dressed in white and bright clothes came to me in vision and said, “Lou, I call you to believe in me. I am the Lord who chose you to lead my people and to train them in my Word.” When I woke up early in the morning, I told my father that this vision was very important. My father allowed me to believe in Jesus, and the whole family became Christian.

After this event, the government found out that I had become a Christian. They started to find ways to trick me and persecute me and the believers. But we stood firm in our faith, and we asked God to help us overcome the persecution. The power of God and the Holy Spirit gave me the courage and strength to endure persecution. I encouraged the Hmong brothers and sisters to believe in Jesus. In a short time, many more people in many other villages also were led to believe in Jesus. In 1994, we were eager to find someone to baptize us.

I went to Hanoi and to Laos to learn more about the Word of God from Pastor Jouangwa Lor, one of my distant relatives. He baptized me and prayed for me. He also showed me how to baptize others so that I could return to my home town and baptize the people in my area. When I returned, I shared the Word of God with the people in my area and baptized 350 -400 people per day. Many people in northern Vietnam sought me to learn more about the Word of God, and so that I could encourage them and protect them from the government authority. Many times, the government wanted to put me into prison, but I overcame their evil authority with prayer. I strongly believed that God was with me, to protect me and the believers. In 1995 as the believers grew stronger, we start to form congregations in the area, and we appointed leaders to oversee the congregations. In 1993 to 1995, I trained the leaders and baptized more than 6,000 people. Most of our training sessions were done on farms or in the jungle.

I served the government until 2002. The government pressured me to renounce my faith. They gave me the choice of two documents to sign—the first one was to renounce my faith, continue my tradition, and serve the government. The second was to believe in Jesus but lose my position in the government. At that time, the power of God and the Holy Spirit led me to sign the document to believe in Jesus and to lose my position in the government. I refused to renounce my faith. But I told them that there was nothing wrong with believing in Jesus. I praise God that He protected me. The government did not dare to do any harm to me even though I signed the document to continue to believe in Jesus. Since then, they asked me to leave my position in the government.

I work hard to serve the believers. In 2004, the believers in my area were so hungry to learn the Word of God and to receive some training to be recognized by the Vietnamese government as workers for the church. We turned to Vietnamese pastors, but they did not truly guide us in the Word of God. We received training from them many times, but we kept learning the same thing over and over. We were very confused about the Word of God.

I praise God that in 2011 I met Pastor Bounkeo Lor. In 2014, Pastor Smith and Lor came to Vietnam together to teach us the Word of God. We asked them to do more training for the brothers in Vietnam. They told us that God can do everything, let’s continue to pray. Even though we only met them a few times, we started to love the teaching from the Lutheran church. The teaching of the Lutherans is the wisdom of God. According to Romans 10:12, when people hear the Word of God, people are brought to believe in Jesus.

I and the Hmong leaders in Vietnam are willing to serve our God without pay. We know that God is the heart for our lives, and the root of life for every soul that believes in him. And he gives us peace for both body and soul. I praise God for my brothers and sisters in the blood of Jesus and in his name that you have helped and supported the work in Vietnam. I will continue to love and serve my God more for the people in Vietnam. Our Hmong brothers really need more training. We ask you to pray for us. I also thank God that he opens the door more for church activities in Vietnam.

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An interview with Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, Bounkeo Lor

Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, accompanied Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, to Hanoi, Vietnam, to conduct a training for the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in June 2019. Sorum taught the Book of Isaiah and Pastoral Counseling and Family Ministry for Missionaries. Lor taught dogmatics. Half-way through this training session, Sorum and Lor had this conversation: 

Sorum: What are the special challenges that you face as you administer the WELS training program for the Hmong pastors in Vietnam?

Lor: Our biggest challenge here is probably that the translation of the Bible that most of our Hmong pastors have is not a faithful translation. This translation was done by the Hmong Christian and Missionary Alliance members and by the Hmong Baptists. They translated the Bible from their own doctrinal perspective. This means that their translation always talks about how a person must approach God with good works. A person must help God to save them. For example, the Bible most Hmong people have translates “justification” to mean something like, “You have to work hard.” The translation gives the idea that justification happens in a series of steps. Another problem with this translation is that it presents Hmong traditions as God’s Word. For example, the tradition of Hmong Christians is that it is wrong to drink alcohol. So the Hmong Bible translates the word “wine” with “juice.” The translation that most Hmong Christians have does not tell people the true teaching of the gospel.

Sorum: Has this translation made it difficult for our students in this training session to understand the Book of Isaiah?

Lor: The Hmong translation of Isaiah has made it hard to teach Isaiah. I must often correct our Bible’s translation of Isaiah before I can translate what you have said about the words of Isaiah. The Hmong translation makes it almost impossible for our people to see how Isaiah is talking about Jesus. For example, in Isaiah 4:2, the prophet describes Jesus as the Branch of the Lord that is beautiful. The Hmong translation doesn’t talk about a branch but about trees. How can a Hmong person see Jesus in a passage that says, “In that day trees of the Lord will be beautiful?”

Another example is in Isaiah 49:3. Isaiah says, “You (singular) Israel (Jesus) are my servant.” The Hmong translation says, “You (plural) Israelites are my servants.” This translation does not show Christ. This translation damages the beauty of these Servant songs throughout Isaiah.

Sorum: I understand why your students have had to work extra hard to get the right meaning and God’s encouragement from their Hmong translation of the Bible. You consistently take the time required to explain to the students what Isaiah is actually saying. God will bless this so these students can go back home to teach Isaiah and Christianity properly. What other benefits do you see these students in our training session receiving?

Lor: Our training session on Isaiah has helped the students in many ways. 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 is so clear in Isaiah. They are enjoying it very much. Also, they did not understand how a prophecy by Isaiah can be partially fulfilled at one time in history and then completely fulfilled in a later time in history. For example, Isaiah is comforting the people of Israel by promising judgment upon their enemies. But the final fulfillment of the judging of the Christians’ enemies will happen on the Last Day.

Another way that our teaching is helping these men is that they are learning about how the Old Testament teaches God’s plan of salvation. These men read their Bibles. They know the Bible stories. But no one explained to them that all of the stories in the Old Testament show how God chose the Jewish people and rescued a remnant of the Jewish people so God could give Jesus to the world as a Savior.

I think also that the students have enjoyed learning about how Isaiah organized his message. There is an outline to Isaiah. It is like a plot. There are sections that talk about different things. We have learned about the Four Servant Songs. We have talked about the different servants of the Lord and especially the great Servant, Jesus. This is new for these men and they are enjoying it very much. They are very eager to take what they have received from the WELS training back to their people.

Sorum: Your fellow Hmong pastors have significant challenges to their ministry. They need a faithful Bible translation and faithful teaching materials. I know you are working hard to provide them materials. You have translated many good materials into the Hmong language including Luther’s Small Catechism. But in spite of the challenges these men face, they are doing wonderful mission work. In the few years that you have been bringing Lutheran training to the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), it has grown tremendously. One of the leaders of the HFC told me that they now have 700 pastors and 120,000 members. That is incredible growth in a few years.

Lor: Since we have started this training for my Hmong brothers, their church has grown very fast. This church is growing through the pure teaching of the law and the gospel. Through our training sessions, these pastors now have the ability to apply law and gospel in their sermons and in their Bible teaching. This is the reason why their church has been growing really fast in the last couple years.

Gospel centered training has also opened their eyes to see that it is not the law that motivates people. It is not the law that is the goal of their ministry. Now the people in the congregations understand their role as Christians. They participate more in their congregations. They are eager to share their faith. This is why their churches have been growing so fast in the last several years.

I would ask my WELS fellow members to continue to pray for the HFC. This is a communist country. We do not know when the door will be closed. We now have an open door to preach the gospel. With our prayers and God’s help, these pastors will be able to train their own future leaders for the church even if WELS will not be allowed to assist us. Based on the current situation, I don’t see any problems in the near future. I am very grateful to my WELS brothers and sisters for supporting this ministry.

 

 

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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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New partners in Christ

Delegates welcomed two new church bodies—the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ—Kenya (LCMC) and the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church of Taiwan (CLEC)—into confessional Lutheran fellowship with WELS on Wednesday morning.

Representatives from both Kenya and Taiwan were present at the convention: Rev. Mark Onunda, chairman of the LCMC, and his wife, Grace, and Rev. Peter Chen and Mr. Michael Lin from the CLEC.

“My wife and I have traveled far to be with you these few days,” said Onunda when addressing the delegates. “Our short time together will secure a lifelong partnership to advance our positions in many fields of battle.”

The LCMC, a church body of 25 pastors, 46 congregations, and between 3,000 and 5,000 members, is relatively young. Registered as an independent church body in Kenya in 2013, it formed after several of its pastors and churches broke away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya because of false teachings. This fledging church body immediately began searching for like-minded confessional Lutherans. After they made contact with WELS World Missions in 2014, Prof. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, visited Onunda for the first time in Kenya in 2015. The Lutheran Church of Central Africa—Zambia, WELS’ sister synod, declared fellowship with the LCMC last September.

“With our blessed partnership in place, your brothers and sisters in Kenya can now attend to our most pressing challenges,” says Onunda. “We want to be aggressive in our mission work. We want to be strong in our encouragement of the pastors and congregations already in our church body. . . . There is also the pressing challenge of human need and suffering among our Lutheran people in Kenya.” This includes partnering with WELS to serve South Sudanese refugees living in Kakuma, Kenya.

The Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church (CLEC) in Taiwan started as a mission of WELS, with missionaries serving there from 1979 through 2013. The CLEC is now an independent church body.

“We are happy to be united with WELS in faith,” said Chen to the delegates. “WELS is like a mother to us.”

Chen notes that church members were unsure about what would happen to their church when the missionaries left. “When I go back, I can let my members know WELS hasn’t left us!” he says. “Now they declare we are in fellowship with each other so even if there are no missionaries in Taiwan, it doesn’t make a difference. We are one.”

Chen was also impressed by the theme of the convention, “For the generations to come.” He is training Lin to be a leader for one of the four CLEC churches. Lin will finish his training this year. “This is a good chance to pass on the whole idea of who we are and who we belong to for the next generation,” he says.

This was Lin’s first trip to the United States. He was amazed by the opening worship service. “I will go back [to my congregation] with lots of pictures and stories. I can tell them this is the way our mother church is,” he says.

The CLEC has four congregations, one pastor (Chen), and about 100 members. Three men, including Lin, are training to serve congregations as tent ministers. It is reaching out in a country of 23 million people, of which 5 percent are Christian. “Please pray for us,” says Chen.

Delegates celebrated the declaration of fellowship by joining together to sing, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” (Christian Worship 531).

 

 

 

View all convention information, including news, videos, photos, election information, resolutions, and more.

 

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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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