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African music by African composers for African worship

One of the exciting highlights of this year’s WELS synod convention was the welcoming of the LC-MC Kenya into full fellowship. The relatively new Kenya synod is currently producing its own hymnal and worship music accompaniment recordings for use in Sunday services. One of the goals of the hymnal committee is “to encourage the creation of African music by African composers for African worship.” The hymnal project has set a target of having 90% of the worship songs composed by Africans.

At the request of LC-MC Kenya leader Pastor Mark Onunda, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) of WELS World Missions hosted a music workshop in Nairobi from November 4- 15 to assist in moving the hymnal project forward. Fifteen individuals from throughout Kenya participated in the workshop.

The music workshop took on a formidable number of tasks. Consider the following factors regarding the current worship music situation in the Kenyan church:

  1. Many of the churches do not have musicians or instruments for Sunday services.
  2. A Kenyan Lutheran hymnal does not exist. A few of the congregations make use of songs from a Lutheran hymnal from Tanzania, produced several decades ago.
  3. There is no organized system for recording, sharing, and storing worship songs and liturgies among Kenyan congregations.
  4. There are many church year events and many biblical doctrines for which the LC-MC has no worship music resources.
  5. The LC-MC does not have a musical setting for a common service or communion service based on the historic Lutheran liturgy that they find attractive for use in Sunday services.
  6. There are virtually no worship music resources in a contemporary Kenyan music style for use in evangelism campaigns among the unchurched youth.
  7. There is a desire among the LC-MC members to have a particular contemporary music style that would be identified as “Lutheran church music.” In Kenya, most church denominations have specifically identifiable music styles.
  8. There is a desire to make greater use of technology in recording, distributing, and implementing professional recordings of accompaniment music for Sunday worship. Some congregations are already using accompaniment files during worship.

At the same time, the LC-MC Kenya has the following extraordinary musical assets at their disposal as they address their worship music needs:

  1. There is an astounding availability of composers for the LC-MC. I counted at least seven composers at the workshop. The compositions of the seven were so well received that every composer will have one or more songs included in the first group of recorded accompaniment files.
  2. Among the workshop participants, two had completed three-year music degree programs at a prestigious church music school in Tanzania. Two of the young women had completed vocal studies at a premier music conservatory in Nairobi. Having such trained musicians available is a huge asset in producing quality accompaniment tracks for use in Sunday worship at churches that do not have musicians.
  3. Steve Onunda (son of Pastor Mark) is a brilliant professional musician (guitar, bass) with arranging and studio recording experience. His professionalism has created confidence and excitement in the entire group that quality recordings will be produced.
  4. Steve has contacts with many professional musicians (vocalists and instrumentalists) in Nairobi, several of whom are assisting us with these recordings. Four of the workshop participants are pursuing careers as professional musicians.
  5. We are able to make professional recordings in Nairobi at very reasonable rates at a studio staffed by Christians who specialize in contemporary African worship music.

Among our workshop participants there is an extraordinary level of energy, excitement, and commitment to this worship music project. There is a deep awareness that the Lord is blessing the LC-MC with an historic opportunity to create African music for African worship. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless our efforts to create worship music to his glory and for the furthering of his Kingdom throughout Africa!

Written by Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for WELS Multi-Language Publications

 

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Pursuing a Kingdom culture

As my friend Bo and I watched our kids play together on the playground, Bo turned to me and said, “I’m not afraid to lose my culture.”

Bo is an important member of a successful business, owns his home, is blessed with a wonderful wife and 2 kids, is well-liked by his neighbors, and finds many joys in the life he has been given. Bo and his family have invited us to celebrate their cultural holidays and festivals with them. Bo has been a quality language partner who genuinely wants me to learn his native language. His hope is that we can continue to be neighbors for a long time.

What would cause a man like Bo to be at peace with losing his culture? Especially considering this man has many visible blessings and opportunities from growing up in his culture. He has not been turned away or forgotten by his own people. Instead he is respected and enjoyed by many.

Bo spent a few seconds smiling at the surprised look on my face before explaining the joy he has in his heart from his family pursuing a new culture: a Christ-centered culture.

My friend has no plans to stop speaking his native language or befriending his fellow countrymen. He will continue to celebrate local holidays and enjoy the unique foods that accompany the festivities. But Bo simply has bigger things on his mind and in his heart. He is pursuing a Kingdom culture. His family reads the Bible together, prays together, worships together, and enjoys living life with their Christian friends.

Many of our contacts in East Asia initially pause when presented with the teachings of Christianity, because to them Christianity is a cultural way of life in the West. Bo would say you could count him as one of those skeptics in the past. In the present, Bo is quick to speak on how Christianity isn’t pursuing a Western culture at the expense of losing an Eastern culture, but instead it’s a new culture altogether. In a Kingdom culture, God reigns supreme in the hearts of God’s people, the followers of the Way speak truth from Scripture and build each other up in love, and we all walk together with our Good Shepherd on the narrow path to eternal life.

Bo’s way of thinking has moved away from being set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and is now pursuing his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Only the Good News of our Savior Jesus can change a human’s heart to pursue God and want to follow His Word. My prayer is that we keep our eyes fixed on our Savior as he desires to lead us to our true home and citizenship in heaven.

How might that affect our own cultural practices? Does our way of thinking in our earthly culture ever cause us to lose focus on the life God calls us to lead?

Ask God in prayer to help you know the way in which you should go. Listen to him as he speaks to you through your Bible reading. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in the faith who are willing to walk with you home to heaven. Invite others to join you and enjoy the warmth of a Christian community.

Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). May God bless you with his peace and joy as you pursue a Kingdom culture.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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MLP hosts translation expo in Africa

WELS Multi-Language Publications (MLP) sponsored a conference in Lusaka, Zambia, in August to equip and inspire representatives from our partner synods in Africa. The MLP Expo 2019 brought 17 Africans from 6 countries and 3 American missionaries together for 4 days. The two main objectives of this event were to give participants linguistic tools to translate confessional Lutheran literature from English into their local languages and to produce a prioritized list of the publications needed in each sister synod.

Missionary John Roebke of the One Africa Team, says, “Our partners in Africa are looking for the essential tools needed to conduct gospel ministry. Thankfully translations of the Bible in their native tongues already exist. But how confidently can someone call himself ‘Lutheran’ if he never read anything written by Martin Luther?”

Both the Ethiopian and Kenyan Lutheran synods want to translate the Small Catechism into a total of seven languages between them. Other goals include adapting MLP’s “Bible Stories in Pictures—Expanded Version” for Sunday schools in the African churches as well as creating doctrinally sound hymnals, evangelism tracts, and prayer books for special services such as funerals and church dedications.

Roebke reports, “Our African brothers and sisters in Christ want to walk with us in the same faith, yet they have a much more difficult path to follow than we can even begin to understand. In Cameroon, armed rebels shut down the country every week on Mondays and are threatening to make this a permanent arrangement until they get independence. Pastor Mathias walks six hours to preach at one of the congregations he serves and then another six hours to get home. Pastor Mweete struggles to increase attendance at Bible class and to keep from losing his members to the Pentecostal church. Pastor Onunda tries to communicate the Bible’s timeless truth to the youth of his church, even though they don’t understand his Lutheran style of worship and he doesn’t speak their ‘Sheng’ (a type of slang that is popular among Kenyan youth).”

Reading materials printed on paper are still the primary method of receiving information about the world in these regions of Africa. Although some older smartphones and social media apps are starting to appear in the capital cities of Africa, internet access remains an expensive luxury for most people.

“WELS congregations across the United States make use of hymnals, Sunday school lessons, and other educational books without any thought of where those materials come from. Each one of our sister synods in Africa also has a great need for high-quality, scripturally faithful materials printed in at least two or three of the languages spoken by their members. God’s servants work diligently for months and even years before their manuscripts come into print. Tight budgets, untimely illnesses, and armed conflict stop publications projects in their tracks,” says Roebke.

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

 

 

 

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Faces of Faith – Matthew Cephus

“We have not received the true gospel. Will you oversee us?” begged the caller from Liberia, Africa to Matthew Cephus in Champlin, Minn.

Matthew Cephus sharing the gospel in Liberia

“I couldn’t say ‘No.’” reports Pastor Cephus, who at the time was newly enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. He saw this as an opportunity from God to share the teachings he was receiving in the United States with the leaders of 27 congregations in Liberia. “They are faithful to what they know,” says Pastor Cephus, “but, they have received little to no training.” Since that time, Pastor Cephus, Pastor Dennis Klatt (Matthew’s Anglo partner), the Pastoral Studies Institute, and One Africa Team missionaries have made three teaching visits to build up and encourage this group of pastors who are eager to grow in the knowledge of God’s word and become better equipped to shepherd the souls under their care. Pastor Cephus, himself a Liberian immigrant, shepherds a flock consisting primarily of African immigrant families that gathers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in New Hope, Minn.

Training visits to Liberia to have been taking place since 2016 involving our missionaries, stateside pastors, and the Pastoral Studies Institute to two groups in Liberia. In 2019, one trip has already been made and one more will be made in November 2019. Three more trips are being planned for 2020. To learn more about African outreach in Liberia and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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Christ for all, Great News for Africa!

Dear Friend,

Africa is BIG. The land mass itself is phenomenal. Insert three USA’s within her borders and there is still plenty of room to spare. The continent also boasts BIG things: wide plains, long rivers, high mountains, deep gorges. Big describes anything from crocs to craters, buffalo to baobab trees; even some of Africa’s insects can leave a person, well, open-mouthed and bug-eyed!

And so can something else—something far more important: the opportunity for WELS gospel outreach on the African continent. The need is so enormous right now that it staggers the mind and stirs the soul. It’s not just that the door is big; it’s also open. Wide open!

Liberia. Uganda. Zimbabwe. Mozambique. Rwanda. The list goes on.

But amazingly, and maybe surprisingly, it’s not that One Africa Team missionaries are beating the bush in these far-flung countries looking for wandering sheep and lost lambs. Instead, they are rushing around, scratching their heads trying to do their best to answer every knock on the door and every cry from the dark: Come and help us!

The stream of requests for visits and teaching keeps flowing; the e-mails and phone calls keep landing on the desks of WELS World Missions and the One Africa Team. We are all standing wide-eyed and tippy-toed, eagerly awaiting to see what God will do with all these opportunities he’s handing to us. And yes, we are more than willing to go!

We’ve already made some inroads into Zimbabwe, and we’ve started teaching in Uganda and Liberia. We are working on a national church registration in Mozambique and made initial visits to Rwanda.

To say we are excited about these gospel outreach opportunities is an understatement. The reality that Christ can come at any time energizes us to work while it is still day. The One Africa Team has bound our core focus and passion around these monumental words: Christ for all, Great News for Africa!

But we need your help! Come and help us is not only their request to us—it’s ours to you. Can you “come and help us” in these outreach opportunities in Africa with your prayers and financial support? By God’s grace, we can take the truth that is so desperately needed and so disappointingly absent­—Christ crucified and risen—into these parts of Africa.

We are so grateful to God for the generous past support of our WELS members. Thank you! For many of you, it’s the time of year to celebrate Thanksgiving. I don’t know how big your turkey or table or gathering will be, but I do know that we all have reason to give thanks to our God who has given—and continues to give—bountifully. Yes, Africa is big (you should see some of the spiders!), but God and his love are bigger still. Unfathomable. Unimaginable. In one of those “hand-over-my-mouth” moments, I can only stand in awe, pondering “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18).

Huh? I just heard something. Oh, excuse me, I’ve got to run. There’s a knock on the door. Another cry for help . . .

In his service,
Missionary John Holtz, One Africa Team

P.S. Check out the November edition of Forward in Christ to learn more about all the amazing outreach opportunities happening in Africa.

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Faces of Faith – Pastor Marinagaba, Rwanda

God used Google to bring WELS missionaries to Rwanda, a tiny country in the heart of Africa with a dark past and a bright future. Rev. Jean Claude Marinagaba, the leader of the Reformed Lutheran Church of Rwanda (RLCR) had learned about Martin Luther while he was a student at Westminster Presbyterian Seminary in Uganda, and he wanted to connect with Luther’s true spiritual heirs. Most church bodies that still use the name “Lutheran” have unfastened their teachings from the Reformation’s moorings of sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura and the Lutheran Confessions, the historical documents that established the Biblical teachings of the Lutheran Church. A Google search of “confessional Lutherans” led Rev. Marinagaba to the website of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) located 8,000 miles away in Brisbane, Australia.

So what did ELS Missionary Daniel Finn think when he received an email from a stranger living halfway around the world?

“Jean Claude seemed sincere in his desire to learn how to be more Lutheran,” writes Missionary Finn. In justifying his own expenditure of time and effort working in a mission field so far away, Missionary Finn says, “I began to think of ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ in terms of having Jesus’ permission to go to Rwanda. That is, Rwanda is a nation. So, it’s included in ‘all nations.’  Our Lord told us that we canand shouldgo to all nations. I knew was that there was this guy (Jean Claude) asking that somebody from our fellowship would visit him and help him. Nobody else was going. So…  I figured ‘Why not me?’ I knew that I wasn’t the most qualified man to make this trip, but I figured that I had to be better qualified than nobody.”

From left to right: Rev. Bernard, Rev. Birner (WELS missionary to Zambia), Rev. Maniragaba, Rev. Shamachona (LCCA-Zambia pastor), Rev. Finn (ELS Missionary in Australia), and Rev. Felicien.

And so the Fond du Lac, Wis., native turned missionary to “Down Under” struck up a long-distance correspondence with Rev. Marinagaba in 2016. Their relationship blossomed, and one year later on a trip back to the United States, Missionary Finn made a side trip to Rwanda. He also reached out to his like-minded confessional Lutherans, WELS missionaries stationed in Africa, and offered to introduce them to Rev. Marinagaba and the RLCR. Missionary Phil Birner and Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Zambia (LCCA-Z) Rev. Forward Shamachona met up with Missionary Finn in Kigali, Rwanda, in September of 2017. The three of them traveled to the city of Nygatare, Rwanda, and spent a week visiting various congregations of the RLCR and teaching Rev. Marinagaba and his fellow church leaders about the history of the Lutheran church and Confessions. Since Rwanda is a French-speaking country, and only Rev. Marinagaba speaks English, an interpreter had to translate all of the lessons for the rest of those present.

Missionary Birner made a second trip to Rwanda in August of 2018. Joining him were LCCA-Z Rev. Chibi Simweeleba and WELS Pastor James Krause, who speaks French. The three of them gave presentations on the Sacraments and the worker training program of the LCCA. Observing that more intensive training would be useful, the One Africa Team formally invited Rev. Marinagaba to attend the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia, for one year, but he declined to leave his family and his congregations for such a long time. Rev. Marinagaba agreed to attend a Multi-Language Publications conference in Lusaka last August, but was involved in a traffic accident just before the conference began and was unable to travel. Please pray for his swift recovery, and the ability for WELS to strengthen its connection with RLCR, where an altar to the Lord is being built in the heart of Africa.

To learn more about African outreach in Rwanda and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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Unrest in Ethiopia affects WELS and sister churches

Recent political unrest in the country of Ethiopia caused some frightening moments for missionaries and pastors of WELS and our sister church bodies in Africa.

Last week, two events scheduled to take place in Ethiopia had to be canceled when riots broke out in several cities. Representatives of the African churches belonging to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference had planned a meeting in the city of Bishoftu. That meeting was to conclude with the dedication of a new building to house a theological training school operated by the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia.

When the rioting broke out, the U.S. State Department issued a strong advisory that all U.S. citizens should return, if possible, to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, by air travel or take shelter immediately. After some rather close encounters with armed mobs, World Missions Administrator Larry Schlomer and Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens, who were already in Ethiopia for the planned events, were able to follow WELS Risk Management’s plans and make their way safely out of the country. WELS President Mark Schroeder, who arrived in Ethiopia just as the rioting began, was also able to return safely to the United States. All representatives from other African countries and WELS missionaries were also able to depart safely.

News reports indicate that the decision to leave was a wise and necessary one. More than 60 people were killed and more than 200 injured when the rioting spread to Addis Ababa.

We pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia and for the end of the violence in a normally peaceful country.

 

 

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Help us reach our goal!

“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.” PASTOR CHAPLAI, HMONG FELLOWSHIP CHURCH

In 2018, God’s grace opened the door to an unprecedented mission opportunity for our synod. The communist Vietnamese government invited WELS to build a theological training facility in the capital city of Hanoi.

In December 2018, WELS began collecting a special offering with the goal of raising $2 million to purchase land, construct the campus, and cover the initial two years of operational costs for the training facility. Since then, WELS members like you have contributed $1.7 million towards our $2 million goal. Thank you for your generous support!

THE TRAINING CONTINUES

Rev. Bounkeo Lor has accepted the call and was commissioned to serve as permanent Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator in July. Pastor Lor will continue to oversee the education program that he and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) are currently developing and implementing. Other calls are currently being made to staff the theological education center in Hanoi once it is built.

CONSTRUCTION UPDATES

In April, a memorandum of understanding was signed by WELS and Vietnamese Fellowship Church representatives confirming we can move forward with all land purchase, construction, and training plans. Land has been purchased and cleared, and construction negotiations are currently underway. Construction begins in October.

WILL YOU HELP US REACH OUR GOAL AND SHARE THE LOVE OF JESUS WITH OUR HMONG BROTHERS AND SISTERS?

WELS and Vietnamese Fellowship Church leaders at the construction site for the future theological training facility.

There are more than 120,000 members of the Hmong Fellowship Church and 2 million Hmong people throughout Southeast Asia who are hungry to hear the truth of God’s grace. Our synod has the unique opportunity to train 3,000+ pastors within the Hmong Fellowship Church, who will take the message of God’s grace to the nine districts throughout Vietnam.

This mission opportunity was completely unexpected. Our WELS World Missions team is working quickly to ensure funds are in place to take full advantage of the time the Lord has provided. We need your help to make the most of this opportunity. Will you offer a gift today to help us meet our $2 million goal?

Your prayers and gifts will assist us as we share the message of God’s grace with even more Hmong people in Vietnam and the surrounding countries. Join us as we watch the Holy Spirit change earthly lives and open the door to eternal life for our Hmong brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.

Thank you for your consideration in support of this unprecedented opportunity!

“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. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants. I am very happy that I can come to Hanoi to learn more about the Lord. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy.” PASTOR LONG, HMONG FELLOWSHIP CHURCH

Gospel outreach opportunities in Africa

Opportunities for gospel connections are flourishing across Africa. Christian groups in Uganda, Liberia, Mozambique, and more are learning about WELS and Lutheran doctrine and reaching out for fellowship. One of these church bodies, Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for Christ in Kenya, reached out to WELS and was officially welcomed into fellowship at this summer’s synod convention. More small and scattered church bodies that hold true to confessional Lutheran doctrine are working toward that same possibility.  

The One Africa Team, working under WELS World Missions, assesses the teachings and validity of these groups and how WELS may help. They work closely with the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) in Zambia and Malawi, which started as WELS world missions decades ago and are now independent church bodieson this process. 

“The One Africa Team appreciates the cultural insights that our brothers in the LCCA have,” says Missionary John Hartmann, member of the One Africa TeamComing from the United States, we may not so easily pick up on some nuance, or understanding, or misunderstanding, which comes naturally to them. When we are visiting new places and new groups of people, we appreciate taking a pastor from one of our established church bodies in Africa along so that we can more adequately assess the situation. To be honest, not all groups come because they want Gods Wordsome are only interested in social programs and money. African Christians help see through what is being said to help assess true motives. And in teaching, they might be able to share an African story that helps illustrate a point. 

Representatives from the One Africa Team and the Pastoral Studies Institute met with leaders from the two church bodies in Liberia earlier this year to offer training and to discuss how to combine the two church bodies into one group for training in the future.

The genesis of theschurch bodies and their initial contact with WELS differsbut mostly they are seeking a larger organization with which to partner to share in the truth of God’s Word and to gain insight beyond the training they have access to locally. 

I am sure there are a combination of factors that God is using to build his church,” says HartmannOne thing is the Internet, which makes communication so much easier than ever before. More interested people know about WELS and its insistence on holding onto the Bible as Gods Word as the basis for our faith and lives. There are so many Christian churches out there that do not offer the comfort and certainty of God’s love and forgiveness as we have in the Lutheran churchThese groups [that are contacting WELS] are looking for the truth and appreciate finding and fellowshipping with a like-minded church body that holds onto something sure and stable.” 

He continues, Along with that, many of these groups are new to good biblical teaching and want training for their pastors in the firm Bible foundation that we have and have had for so many years. 

From Uganda, Pastor Makisimu Musa of the Obadiah Lutheran Church first contacted WELS via the Internet in December 2017. WELS and LCCA representatives have visited twice, following e-mail and phone correspondence. They are planning a third visit this year. Obadiah Lutheran Church comprises more than 700 baptized members, 7 pastors, and 11 churches.  

Mozambique has an entirely different story. Over the years, pastors of the LCCAMalawi and LCCAZambia started mission churches across the border into Mozambique. However, since the start of these missions, the Mozambique government has demanded official registration for churches, and the mission work has been suspended until registration is completed. The One Africa Team is working with the LCCAMalawi to register as a church body in Mozambique so work can continue. 

Liberia also has its own unique beginning. Two men from Liberia immigrated to the United States almost 15 years ago. Over the years they joined WELS churches and then studied under the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a program of the Wisconsin Lutheran SeminaryMequon, Wis., to become pastors serving fellow immigrants in their local areas. In time, they were summoned by their own people in Liberia to bring God’s message back home. Since then, two Lutheran church bodies have been registered in Liberia, and numerous trips have been made in the past few years for trainingAbout 5,000 Liberian Lutherans worship in these two church bodies. 

Hartmann says that the One Africa Team and LCCA leaders hope to have three face-to-face visits a year with these emerging Lutheran groups if funding is available for travel. During these visits, they present the basic teachings of the Bible found in Luthers Catechism, which serves as the basis for fellowship discussions. 


Learn more about outreach work in Africa in this month’s edition of WELS Connection and at wels.net/africa. 


Working with refugees 

WELS has declared fellowship with two new African church bodies in the last two years: the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia in 2017 and the Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for ChristKenya in 2019.  

Left to right: Grace and Mark Onunda and Martha and Peter Bur

These connections are offering new opportunities to work with members of the Nuer tribe from South Sudan who live in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Five Nuer men from Gambella, Ethiopia, are studying with Dr. Kebede at Maor Theological Seminary in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, and Pastor Mark Onunda from LCMC–Kenya is assisting with visiting and training refugees living in Kakuma, KenyaThis ministry is being coordinated with the work being done by Pastor Peter Bur, a Pastoral Studies Institute graduate who serves as the South Sudanese ministry coordinator for the Joint Mission Council. 

Onunda and Bur were able to meet to talk about ministry plans at the 2019 synod convention in New Ulm this summer. 

Learn more about Sudanese ministry in North America and around the world at wels.net/sudanese.


Central Africa Medical Mission update 

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been operating a clinic in Mwembezhi, Zambia, for almost 60 years. Part of its 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.  

The Banda family

Banda first came to the clinic in 2005 in conjunction with 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 teachings of the Lutheran church. Alisad lives in Lusaka with his wife, Cecilla, and their two children.  

Besides the clinic in Zambia, CAMM operates a mobile clinic in Malawi. Medical services include preventive health care for children and expectant women, as well as treatment of patients with illnesses such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis. The clinics in Zambia and Malawi serve over 80,000 patients a year.


Learn more about CAMM at wels.net/camm.


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 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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The gospel produces fruits… upon fruits

Koilo Vidal lives about a 5 hour drive from Quito, Ecuador, in the city of Quevedo. He has a small farm—about 9 acres of different fruit trees.

I’ve never been to Quevedo, and I’ve not met Koilo face-to-face yet. A few months ago, Koilo signed up for our online courses through Academia Cristo. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. He was so overjoyed about the classes that he said he wanted to send me a gift of fruit. I didn’t think he was serious. . .  but he was! He sent the packages and I picked them up at a distribution center in Quito . . . two boxes filled with 66 lbs of oranges, watermelon, and papaya (pictured above)! What a tasty gift! And from someone I have never met. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

The gospel is producing other fruits in Koilo too. I sent him a digital copy of the Catechism, and he stayed up until the middle of the night studying it. “I just love these classes I’m taking,” he told me, “and I knew from the very first sessions when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’ I knew I was in the right spot.” He told me how the classes were already helping him in his conversations with neighbors. “When my neighbors press me on issues such as tithing, fasting, and other issues, I can defend myself more and more with the Bible. I never knew that before. I also love how the teachers always pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. That way of praying was completely new to me, and I loved the explanation.”

By God’s grace, Koilo continues in the classes. We pray that they be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

The gospel produces fruits . . . upon fruits. 🙂

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary in Latin America

To learn more about world mission work in Latin America, visit wels.net/latin-america.

 

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New partners in Christ through Convention

Representatives from church bodies in Kenya and Taiwan traveled a long way to be at the synod convention in Minnesota this summer—and not just in miles. 

Their journeys were very different but their destination the same—to work hand in hand with WELS in spreading the Word to their homelands. Delegates welcomed these two church bodies into confessional Lutheran fellowship at the convention. 

Kenya 

My wife and I have traveled far to be with you these few days,” said Mark Anariko Onundapastor and chairman of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for ChristKenya (LCMC) when addressing the delegates. “Our short time together will secure a lifelong partnership to advance our positions in many fields of battle.” 

The LCMC–Kenya, 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 AfricaZambia, WELS’ sister synod, declared fellowship with the LCMC–Kenya last September. 

“We are like youThat is why we are coming to you—so we can work together,” says Onunda. “With our blessed partnership in place, your brothers and sisters in Kenya can now attend to our most pressing challenges.” 

Onunda’s first goal is to work to restore confessional Lutheranism in Kenya through better and continued education of pastors and leaders. The LCMC–Kenya also wants to be aggressive in its outreach within Kenya. This includes providing physical and spiritual aid to South Sudanese refugees living in Kakuma, Kenya. 

But Onunda isn’t content with just focusing on Kenya. “Our partnership is going to give birth to more churches outside Kenya,” he says. He mentions Rwanda and Uganda and South Sudan—all areas WELS and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa, WELS’ sister synods in Africa, are working to reach.  

“This man will become our partner in expansion throughout the entire continent of Africa, so we’re gathering up church bodies and our team becomes larger and stronger,” says Sorum. 

Taiwan 

Pastor Peter Chen and Mr. Michael Lin attended the convention to represent the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church (CLEC) in Taiwan. The CLEC started as a mission of WELS, with missionaries serving there from 1979 through 2013. Now it is 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 in the CLEC. 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.  


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 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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25 years of autumn blessings

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

Decorating church for the Harvest Festival

Autumn is a beautiful time in Siberia! Graceful birches are dressed in gold. Rugged apple trees are weighed down with their small, red fruit. Markets overflow with sturdy pumpkins, plump tomatoes, and mounds upon mounds of potatoes and cabbages. Delicate mushrooms pop up in the forests. Once again, our gracious Father has filled our vegetable cellars and pantry shelves with the fruits of a bountiful crop. Our Russian congregations have the tradition of thanking God for his good gifts with a Harvest Festival the beginning of October.

But our thankfulness doesn’t end with vegetables! This fall marks the 25th Anniversary of our Russian Lutheran Church. In 1994, the very first members were confirmed. Now, 25 years later, we have much for which to be thankful:

  • Four national pastors faithfully preach and teach God’s Word to any who will listen.
  • One talented seminary student serves as an apprentice to Missionary Wolfgramm, studying in the classroom and practicing his skills in the Iskitim and Tomsk congregations.
  • Active men lead the congregations, taking care of practical matters like building maintenance, finances, and fire codes, all the while insisting on sticking to the truth of God’s Word.
  • Gifted women show their love for the Savior by teaching Sunday School, bringing vegetables and flowers from their gardens, playing and singing for worship, encouraging each other, and helping their neighbors. When their eyes are weak and their bones are feeble, they continue to show their love for Jesus with their encouraging words and faithful prayers.
  • Energetic children learn Bible stories, sing for worship, listen to children’s sermons and grow in their understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ love.

On November 3, our congregation in Akademgorodok will host a joint service celebrating the Reformation and commemorating our church body’s 25th Anniversary. We will give thanks for these blessings and look to the future. How can we best use the time, talents and treasures our Heavenly Father has entrusted us with to serve our congregations and those around us? How can we share the Good News with others in our community and throughout Russia?

Autumn blessings are readily apparent to all of our senses. See the vivid colors at the market. Smell the pumpkin baking. Feel the horseradish burning in your eyes. Let’s make time this fall to remember these blessings, both physical and spiritual. Please join your Russian brothers and sisters in thanking God:

  • for his providence. Thank him for nourishing food, warm clothing and homes, sunshine, and even snow.
  • for spiritual blessings: for forgiving our sins, hearing our prayers, and giving us eternal life for Jesus’ sake.
  • for pastors and leaders who remain faithful to the Bible.
  • for places where we can worship God and encourage each other.
  • for the blessings he has given the Russian Lutheran church these past 25 years.

Please pray that God would continue to bless the Russian Lutheran Church with strong, spiritual leaders and faithful members who work together to share Jesus’ love.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

To learn more about world mission work in Russia, visit wels.net/russia.

 

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Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.

A friendly counselor shares what the message of the Reformation means to him and to those he serves in South Asia.

As soon as they opened the door of my plane, I could tell the air was different and that I was in a place I had never been. At one in the morning it was as warm and as humid as the hottest day of the summer back home. Hundreds of people—awake in the middle of the night—begged to carry my suitcases to a taxi. On the darkened streets I saw people sleeping on the sidewalks with their heads only a couple feet from the wheels of our car. Cows rummaged through garbage. At 3 in the morning in my hotel room I wondered, What am I doing here?

I could not drink the water. I had to close my eyes when I took a shower. The food tasted different. The lights worked only some of the time. The toilets were . . . well, that’s another story. Yes, what am I doing here?

Everything was different, except for one thing: “Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura.” “Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.” These are the great truths of the Reformation. I saw them for the first time in my life on the cornerstone of our seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin, as I prepared to change my field of study from a doctor to a pastor. As I looked at those words, I thought, This is something I can dedicate my life to.

From that time on, I appreciated those words. But they came to mean more to me during my years of service in foreign lands. I serve two countries in South Asia—one is a Hindu nation, and the other a Muslim nation. The circumstances of these two countries are infinitely different from the world in which Luther lived more than 500 years ago. But the message of “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone” is the one thing the people of these countries need most of all.

God’s truth for all nations

Hinduism believes in reincarnation. According to Hinduism you must be reincarnated 8.4 million times before you can escape the cycle of life. You return to earth because you have not suffered enough for your sins in your past life.

How different—how comforting—is the message of the Lutheran Reformation! Only Jesus’ suffering will pay for your sins. He took the full punishment for your sins when he died on the cross. “There is now no condemnation [punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Not 8.4 million lives, but one life—the life of Jesus—will give you peace with God.

In Islam there is no certainty of salvation—unless one is a martyr for jihad. Young Muslims are sometimes told, “Abraham gave up what was most dear to him, his only son. If you truly love God, you will give up what is most dear to you.” When they explain what is most dear to them—a family member or their own life—they sometimes will be asked to sacrifice that person. Some young men have gone home and killed their mothers in order to show their loyalty to Allah. Others will strap on a suicide vest and detonate it in a crowd of innocent people. By dying for their faith, they believe they will enter paradise where they will have 72 virgins.

Again, how different is the message of Christianity, the message of the Reformation! It is not our sacrifice that gives us peace with God. It is Christ’s sacrifice for us. He was sacrificed once for all to take away all our sins (Hebrews 9:28). In him we are made perfect (Hebrews 10:14).
A Hindu Brahmin told me how a traditional wedding ceremony begins in the evening and then goes through the night and into the next day. When I asked him why, he said, “We want to invoke as many gods as possible to provide protection for the young couple.” Hinduism believes in 300 million gods (or in 1 god who manifests himself in 300 million ways).

The Lutheran Reformation shows that we do not gain God’s favor even by speaking endless words in prayer. God’s favor is a gift of his undeserved love. Jesus said, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7,8).

Hinduism believes in karma, which most define as “good for good and bad for bad.” Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad. In South Asia those who are rich are sometimes told, “You were good in your past life, so you are being rewarded.” If you are poor—and the Hindu nation I serve is filled with people who are indescribably poor—you are told, “You were wicked in your past life. You deserve to suffer.” Karma is completely work-righteousness.

Now think of the message of the Reformation. God does not give us what we deserve. He gives us what we do not deserve—the gift of salvation in his Son. Whether you are rich or poor, high caste or low caste, male or female, through faith in Jesus you are God’s dear child. And when you die, you will not come back to this world with its suffering, you will be with God in glory.

The name of God in Islam is “Allah,” which means master. The name “Muslim” means “one who submits,” that is, a servant or a slave. The relationship between God and the sinner in Islam is that of a master and a servant or slave. Some teachers of Islam claim it is blasphemous for a Muslim to claim to have a personal relationship with Allah. Allah is too great, too holy, too distant, for a sinner to have a personal relationship with him.

In Christianity we are not simply servants; we are God’s dearly loved children. We dare to call him Father, yea, we are invited to call him Father (Romans 8:15).

Sharing God’s truth

In seminary classes in these countries we teach the Lutheran Confessions. At first it might seem that this will be dull and have little or nothing to do with the world of Hinduism or Islam. But the students often remark how the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in Luther’s day are surprisingly similar to some of the teachings of Hinduism and Islam today. The Lutheran Reformation restored the truth of God’s Word. The Confessions give maximum comfort to the sinner and maximum glory to God.

The people in South Asia hunger for these truths. They will travel for days by foot and by bus to attend a seminar where they will sit on the floor from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. to learn the truths of the Reformation.
“Why am I here?” They know the answer, and I do too: To know his love and to make his love known so that others will be brought out of darkness into his wonderful light. Even with the threat of imprisonment or death, they happily proclaim these truths: “Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.”


The author’s name is withheld to protect him and his work of sharing God’s truths.


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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:  
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 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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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


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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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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).

 

 

 

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