Tag Archive for: world missions

Faces of Faith – Eunita

“I want to emulate Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ service to his people.”

Meet Eunita Odongo, a deaconess in WELS’ sister church, the Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ – Kenya. Hear how she’s giving back to her community and spreading the gospel message in this special Faces of Faith video.

Learn more about mission work in Kenya and throughout the continent of Africa at wels.net/africa.

Faces of Faith – Eric

“Surely, when you find the Lord, life changes.”

Meet Eric Kebeno, baptized member at the Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ – Kenya congregation in Soweto. Hear how the gospel has changed his life in this special Faces of Faith video.

Learn more about mission work in Kenya and throughout the continent of Africa at wels.net/africa.

One in Christ

They are home now.

Tired, but home.

Pastor Musa, his wife Mary, and son Nathanael are now back home in Buwembula Village in Eastern Uganda. Back to their family and everything familiar.

For the month of August, they were far from anything familiar. Why? They came to the United States. And what an eye-opening – and taste bud – experience it was! Waffles? What are those? 4-D movie – a what? Cactus? What’s that? Where are all the pedestrians and motorcycle taxis and potholes?

Not only was it their first time in the USA but it was their first trip overseas. If you felt a breeze in the month of August, it may have been from the whirlwind tour that Pastor Musa and his family were on. In addition to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, they visited seven congregations, eight schools, and the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis.

The Musa family at the Ark Encounter

A special thank you to the Musa family for also taking the time to visit Peridot-Our Savior’s and East Fork Lutheran schools on the reservations, as well as Open Bible in White River, Ariz., and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lakeside, Ariz. The kids enjoyed seeing some animals and fish of Uganda, but even more importantly they got to see Ugandan children learning God’s Word, singing God’s praises and dancing for the Lord. Our Apache children had lots to think about after seeing and hearing about the plentiful harvest in Uganda.

God’s Word gave us all something deep to ponder as Pastor Musa based his sermon on Jesus’ prayer found in John 17. One in Christ.

And we think the ark is impressive!? Indeed, it is, but nothing compared to the immensity of God’s grace in Jesus Christ!

One faith. One baptism. One Lord and God. No matter where in the world we are living, as fellow believers we have a tie that binds us: Jesus.

Same Father.

Same Brother.

And that puts us in the same family – God’s family.

After Pastor Musa’s presentation at Open Bible, Rev. Kirk Massey shared his thoughts:

“Over the years I have often been asked to speak about our world mission field here on the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, but this is the first time we have had the honor and privilege to have a representative of our WELS world mission fields come to share with us. What a blessing this has been, Pastor and Mrs. Musa! Thank you!”

President Mark Schroeder, Pastor Musa, Nathanael, and Mary

Indeed, a blessing. Thank you, Pastor Musa, Mary, and Nathanael, for making the trip, sparing your time, sharing the Word, and giving us insights into God’s kingdom work in Uganda.

We thank God that you arrived home.

Rest well, my brother and sister. (and our little brother, too!)

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians counselor for the Native American mission field and former One Africa Team contact to Uganda. 

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Latin America Mission – Quarterly Update

As of July, 2023, Academia Cristo has 1.9 million followers on Facebook, 138,000 followers on Instagram, 18,400 followers on YouTube, and 2,121 followers on TikTok. Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month through their various communication platforms. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,090 people have completed the self-led courses on the mobile app since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 667 people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner. 79 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters. There are 25 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. There is one official congregation from the program.

A snapshot of blessings from May through July 2023:

  1. Academia Cristo follows an hourglass church multiplication strategy. They try to meet as many people as possible on social media, guide them through an intentional training program, and equip them to plant groups to reach more people. Implementation has begun on changes to the bottom part of our hourglass strategy. These changes focus on revisions to their church planter (Grupo Sembrador) program, where groups gather regularly around God’s Word using a two-year packet of worship and Bible study materials provided by Academia Cristo.
  2. Missionaries guided 39 church planters (sembradores) and four adjunct professors through the divine call process. This was done one-on-one. It included a review of the doctrine of the call, best practices for considering a call, and how to accept or decline a call.
    • All four of those called to serve as adjunct professors accepted their calls (three from Mexico and one from Ecuador).
    • 33 of the 39 who were called to be church planters have accepted (two declined, four are still deliberating). The 33 church planters who accepted are in 11 different Latin American countries.
  3. A plan is in place to start a student services team. It will focus on welcoming students into the Academia Cristo program, setting up live courses, and maintaining student records.
  4. On June 18, 2023, eight students graduated from the Discipleship Two portion of the program. These graduates successfully completed 21 live courses, each with a final project. Several of these graduates will be invited to study in Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional seminary test courses.
  5. The new version of Aprendan de mí, our Bible information course, is almost ready to be sent to Multi-Language Productions (MLP) for production. A specific plan is in place to have the course (videos, teacher’s guides, and student handouts) published by October 2023.




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Faces of Faith – Argentina

Come along with Latin America Missionary Joel Sutton to meet two Academia Cristo students from Argentina: Fabian Gabriel Mandracchia from Rosario, and Luis Bello from Baradero. Hear how the gospel message is changing their lives, and how they’re working with the Latin America mission team to share what they’re learning with those around them.

Learn more about how the Latin America mission team is using Academia Cristo to share the gospel message and make disciples in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Reflections on Zambia

I had the incredible privilege to travel to Malawi and Zambia in July with three other members of the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) Stateside Committee, Gary and Beth Evans and Stacy Stolzman, to see the clinics operated by CAMM, meet the staff, and observe clinic operations. Gary is currently the CAMM Field Director and oversees the clinics in Malawi and Zambia. This blog shares some of my reflections on our visit to Lusaka, Zambia and the Mwembezhi Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre.

Beth Evans and Stacy Stolzman packing up boxes from CAMM supporters

Our visit to Zambia began with meeting Alisad Banda, the clinic administrator, whose office is in Lusaka on the same property where the seminary which trains pastors for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa is located. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration and is truly a blessing to the clinic operations in Zambia. Alisad has a gentle and faithful spirit that is on fire for Christ and he is dedicated to serving the people that come to Mwembezhi with Christ-centered health care.

Alisad drove our group out to Mwembezhi, which is in a rural area about a two-hour drive from Lusaka, part of it on dirt roads. Before we departed, we loaded up several boxes which were recently received from CAMM supporters across the country. These boxes contained pill bottles, baby blankets, and baby hats, and we were excited to personally help bring those boxes to the clinic staff. About 160 babies are delivered per year at Mwembezhi, and the new mothers really appreciate receiving the baby blankets and hats that have been donated.

We were met at the clinic by Jackson Kalekwa, the Clinical Officer in Charge, who introduced us to many of the staff and gave us a tour of the clinic buildings, including the pharmacy, lab, examination rooms, and the labor, delivery, and recovery rooms. The onsite staff, which is made up of all Zambian nationals, is led by Jackson, who is very knowledgeable and diligent in ensuring the clinic is run smoothly and that things are in good order. The clinic is part of the Zambian government health system, so the government provides many medications and test equipment to keep the pharmacy and lab well stocked. Mwembezhi has a very good reputation to provide their patients with the medications and health care they need.

Mothers and babies at Mwenbezhi receiving gifts of hats and blankets from staff

It was amazing to walk around the property at Mwembezhi and to learn that it is in the same location where the missionaries to Zambia established a church, Martin Luther Church, and began their outreach in the late 1950s, nearly 70 years ago.

The original church is still in use, but the original clinic building has been renovated and new buildings have been added, some very recently. The new mother’s shelter is bright and clean and is a much improved, comfortable setting for expectant mothers to come for a stay shortly before they are due to give birth. The new staff house, which is modern and well-equipped, looks like it could be a home here in the States. It is waiting for power to be connected before it will be occupied by Mrs. Banda, the midwife.

All of these enhancements to Mwembezhi were only possible due to many donations from churches, schools, and individual supporters, and are critical to continue providing a high standard of quality care at the clinic, which serves around 25,000 patients annually.

As we were leaving the Mwembezhi clinic, a local woman and member of Martin Luther Church named Gertrude stopped by our vehicle to introduce herself and to say “Thank you, thank you so much for all you are doing for us.” Her exuberance, joy in Christ, and her humble thankfulness stands out in my memory. I would like to pass on her words to those of you who have remembered CAMM with your donations and your prayers: Thank you, thank you so much for your support of the Central Africa Medical Mission and the work to address the physical and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Zambia and Malawi!

Written by Vickie Walther, CAMM Development Committee Member. 

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Reflections on Malawi

“You need to be patient!” This is a common phrase used by parents or teachers but what is true patience? During my July visit to Malawi and Zambia with Vickie Walther and Gary and Beth Evans, I was blessed to observe the amazing patience of Central Africa Medical Missions’s (CAMM) clinic patients. Our trips focus was to learn about the Lutheran Mobile Clinic (LMC) in Malawi and Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre in Zambia to better serve our supporters. I am excited to share a few of our amazing experiences with you.

Clinic each day truly started the night prior when Violet Chikwatu, the nurse in charge, and Lusungu Mwambeye, Clinic Administrator, prepared bins of necessary medical supplies and medications. Each morning, the Lutheran Mobile Clinic staff in Lilongwe loaded the ambulance. On the way to the village of Suzi, we picked up additional staff and completed the 1.25-hour drive to clinic. The dirt roads were an adventure in the ambulance. I celebrated the wonderful driving skills of Vincent who navigated traffic in Lilongwe and the bumps and turns of the roads to the villages.

Upon arrival at Suzi, our staff efficiently set-up the clinic in the church buildings and courtyard while patients were listening to a devotion under the trees from a church elder. The mothers waited in line patiently to have their little ones weighed via a scale hanging from a tree outside of the clinic. Beth Evans and I wandered in the crowd to identify any patients who needed to be moved to the front of the line due to severe illness. The Clinic started and ran smoothly and efficiently. I kept thinking about myself headed to a doctor’s appointment in the US and how I would have been frustrated if taken a few minutes late from my scheduled appointment. These patients had traveled many hours by foot to get to our clinic, waited patiently for clinic to open and then proceeded calmly through each step of clinic (triage, immunizations, doctor visits, pharmacy, etc.). I witnessed a man with severe asthma being assessed and treated by our staff. He was able to leave clinic with the necessary asthma medications for the days ahead. Another former patient with a leg wound came to share with Beth his gratitude for her medical care as his wound was now fully healed. A baby with febrile seizures was seen by Violet and Beth who determined the baby required a transport to a local hospital for additional interventions. Our back-up ambulance transported her there while the other staff cleaned up clinic and took the main ambulance back to Lilongwe. What a blessing to have our two ambulances so this could all happen! the Lutheran Mobile Clinic served 250 patients in five hours at Suzi that day.

Patients waiting in line to be helped

There was no chaos and the staff and patients were calm throughout the whole day. It was a true blessing to observe!

The next day started in the same way at Lilongwe with loading of the ambulance and picking up staff on the 45-minute drive to the village of Mwalaulomwe. So many mothers and babies were waiting and listening to the devotion when we arrived. After devotion, clinic was again up and ready to see patients with ease. Within an hour of opening, three babies were identified as potentially having pneumonia. The ambulance was able to transport them safely to the local hospital. We rejoiced that the mothers were able to connect with our staff and receive the necessary triage at our clinic along with transport to the hospital. I again thought about patience. How long had these babies been ill?

What if clinic was not open that day in Mwalaulomwe. As a mother, I am grateful for urgent cares and medical clinics open 24/7 near my home for my daughters. I am thankful God supported these mothers during their infants’ illnesses and connected them to our medical staff for appropriate medical care and transport.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunity to travel to Malawi and Zambia to see our clinic staff in action and the patients served. I rejoice in their patience as they waited for care to nourish their body and soul. Please reflect with me this month the words of Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” The Central Africa Medical Mission’s focus of Christ-centered healthcare supporting gospel ministry occurs every day through the support you provide with prayer and donations. Thank you for your support!

Written by Stacy Stolzman, development director for the Central Africa Medical Mission

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Your gifts are making a difference in London & the U.K.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18

The church has been part of the fabric of British culture since before anyone can remember, yet only 46 percent of the British population today call Christ their own. There is a great deal more gospel work to be done in the United Kingdom! Countless people do not know the story of a loving God who sent his Son to seek and save lost sinners. By God’s grace we do, and our group of more than fifty Christians and two missionaries are following Jesus’ call to tell that story.

Your prayers and gifts are already supporting the ministry in London and the U.K.—thank you! Here are some specific ways we have been carrying out our mission:

  • Organizing regular worship and Bible study among the scattered people we serve
  • Developing a website and program for Bible education
  • Visiting church members to support them as they seek to reach out to their friends and families
  • Researching other churches and charities to find avenues to get involved in our communities

We know that you share in this mission with us. Your offerings provide regular opportunities for our WELS mission in the U.K. to share the gospel. We continually thank God for you!

Please share these updates with family and friends. Pray for us as we evaluate all the possible ways we can go about telling the wonderful story of Jesus and his love. Ask the Lord of the church to open hearts and doors as we reach out to the lost in London and the U.K.

Thank you!

Rev. Conifer Berg
Missionary to London & the U.K.

Learn more about mission work in London & the U.K. at wels.net/london.

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All over the map

Ministry in Thailand is…all over the map.

In January, I became the Asia One Team champion for the ministry in Thailand.  Part of my role is to catch up on the history of ministry in Thailand.  One way to describe Thailand’s past ministry: three-tracked.

In the past 30 years, the WELS helped start three different ministries with three different focuses in Thailand.  One ministry focused on ethnic Thai people, another on Hmong people, another on various people groups around Northeastern Thailand.  As they focused on different people, they focused on different regions in Thailand.  Hence, the ministries were all over the map, literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately in those 30 years, some ministries fell off the map.  Support changed.  Circumstances changed.  Ministries changed.  Thailand also suffered from this change when some ministry fell off the map.  The devil worked hard to push the entire ministry in Thailand off the map.  But, God is good and he kept ministry on the map.  He kept it on the map through the dedication of many leaders, both local and missionary.  Therefore, ministry in Thailand continues today.

But ministry is not just about the past, but also the future!  In the past year, the leaders in Thailand officially decided to pool their knowledge and start working together.  All three-ministry tracks have connected and joined.  The three strands have woven together.  After two conferences of discussion, they started mapping out a plan for ministry going forward in Thailand.  Their main purpose: to strengthen each other in faith, build unity, and spread the gospel.  Their name (translated into English): the Lutheran Christian Confederation.

The Confederation asked the Asia One Team to help support their ministry.  So, the Asia One Team continues to find ways to support.  The Asia One Team supports conferences to encourage and build each other up in God’s Word.  It supports the growth of the local leaders in God’s Word.  It connects local ministry to other resources, such as Multi-Language Productions and Christian Aid and Relief.  Lord willing, the Asia One Team will help the Lutheran Christian Confederation build up local leaders to then add new leaders.

As the various groups in the Confederation use the same ministry road map, Lord willing, he will put more ministries all over the map.  As this happens, the more his Word can lighten the dark places off our map.  After all, that’s what a map is for, to see where we have been and to see where we can be going.  A map helps us see where the light is and where it needs to go.

May the Lord guide the ministry of the Lutheran Christian Confederation and the Asia One Team as they spread God’s Word all over the map.

Written by Missionary Mark Zondag, Asia One Team champion in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

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Summer quarter in Sweden

“To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1).

That’s the way James begins his powerful little book. The apostle wrote to encourage God’s people and to spur them on to renewed service.

That’s exactly why European Summer Quarter is so important. WELS has a dozen sister synods in Europe. The brothers and sisters in these small church bodies are often scattered. Congregations tend to be small. It’s easy to feel isolated. Two weeks of Bible study and fellowship can lift spirits for healthy ministry.

Pastor Holger teaching

This year twelve pastors, seminary students, and church leaders gathered at St. Mark’s congregation in Ljungby, Sweden. These representatives from seven different countries came to dig deeper into God’s word, to grow in personal faith, and rededicate their hearts to service. During the first week, Pastor Holger Weiss, from Germany, led a course on Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. In these letters the Holy Spirit speaks especially to pastors:

  • Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2),
  • And the things you have heard me say … entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm teaches the class; included in the class in Missionary Conifer Berg

During the second week, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm led practical meditations on the life and ministry of Elijah. Participants came to appreciate James’ observation: “Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:2). God’s great prophet faced temptations and struggles remarkably similar to contemporary pressures in post-Christian Europe. Nevertheless, the unchanging LORD equipped Elijah to serve his 7,000 elect. The same mighty God remains faithful to his people today.

Everyone enjoyed the studies, but nothing can compete with the fellowship participants enjoyed outside of class time. Evenings and weekends gave plenty of opportunity for discussions, collaboration, and mutual encouragement. Members of St. Mark’s congregation also enjoyed Sunday sermons from three guest preachers during Summer Quarter.

Hearty spiritual food and unhurried contact with brothers and sisters strengthens European fellowship and reinvigorates zeal to proclaim Christ. Please pray that God would continue to bless pastors and people through ongoing Bible study together.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary on the Europe One Team, based in Leipzig, Germany.

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Welcome visitors from Uganda

One of the highlights of the recent synod convention was the declaration of fellowship between WELS and Obadiah Lutheran Synod of Uganda. The president of Obadiah Lutheran Synod, Rev. Makisimu Musa, had planned to attend the convention in person, but he was unable to receive a visa in time. Instead, he was encouraged to visit as soon as he was able to obtain a visa as a way for him to become personally familiar with our synod.

Those plans became a reality last week when Pastor Musa, along with his wife, Mary, and infant son Nathanael, arrived in the United States for a visit. Pastor Musa and his family were able to visit the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry (CMM) in Waukesha, Wis. While there he was able to meet with various WELS leaders and also had the opportunity to make a presentation about Obadiah Lutheran Synod to the workers at the CMM.

While in the United States, Pastor Musa will preach at several congregations in the Midwest and at two of our Apache mission congregations. He will also visit Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.

Obadiah Lutheran Synod was established in 2008. From a single congregation, it has grown to a church body of 28 congregations and a membership of more than 5,000 souls. Those congregations are served by seven pastors and six evangelists. It also carries out mission work among South Sudanese refugees in the Kiryandango refugee camp.

WELS first had contact with Obadiah Lutheran Synod in December 2017. Soon after that, WELS missionaries Rev. John Hartmann and Rev. John Holtz, along with Rev. Bright Pembeleka from the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi Synod, traveled to Uganda to meet with Pastor Musa. After several years of doctrinal discussions, it was determined that WELS and Obadiah Lutheran Synod were united in doctrine, resulting in the declaration of fellowship at the convention this summer.

We are grateful for the way in which God has enabled this new Lutheran church body to thrive and grow and for the fellowship that he has enabled us to celebrate. Please keep our brothers and sisters in Uganda in your prayers.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about Pastor Musa and Obadiah Lutheran Synod at forwardinchrist.net.

 

 

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Unexpected blessings in Paraguay

The Unexpected
It wasn’t a part of the plan. We weren’t supposed to be there. We were on our third move to another new country, with two kids under two years old in less than a year . . . this was certainly not on our radar.

When my wife and I were sitting in the Seminary auditorium for the vicar call service and we heard that we were assigned to Medellín, Colombia for vicar year, we could not have imagined what lay before us. We could not have imagined ourselves living with a wonderful family in Ecuador for two months and going from asking them what “dinner” is called to a tearful and prolonged goodbye as we left them to go to Colombia. We could not have imagined that in only the first two months of our time there, we’d get to know Pastor Herrera, and his wife, Eliana, well enough to leave our daughter with them so we could go to the hospital and welcome our son into the world on Christmas Day. And we could not have imagined getting to meet the mission team in Paraguay to close out the year.

With the help of missionaries, synod workers, lawyers, friends, and family, the plan was made to start us out in Ecuador for two months to learn Spanish full-time and get to know the Academia Cristo Mission Team based there. From there we would go to Medellín, Colombia for the rest of our time to work with Pastor Herrera and the wonderful congregation there. As we neared the end of our time in Medellín, we had some visa issues and so an impromptu plan was made to send us to Asunción, Paraguay, where another Academia Cristo Mission Team is based.

The Blessings
It wasn’t a part of the plan, and it certainly wasn’t on our radar. But it was a part of God’s plan for us. God put us there and we could not have imagined the additional blessings he had planned for us in Paraguay.

As we went from the city of eternal spring – Medellín, Colombia – to a city in the southern hemisphere in the dead of winter (it was still 50s and 60s Fahrenheit so not too cold) – Asunción, Paraguay – we were blessed with the opportunity to learn about another culture and people. We were blessed to learn some Guaraní words as we met with some local Paraguayans and blessed to worship together at the mission house run by a WELS church in Florida. We were able to see God’s wonderful creation at Iguazu Falls in Brazil right across the border from Paraguay. We were fortunate to travel with missionary Abe Degner to Bolivia and meet with church leaders there, in addition to preaching for the new church formed by an Academia Cristo student in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We were blessed to celebrate our daughter’s second birthday with the mission team and have a Paraguayan-style grill-out after church. I also was blessed to visit Academia Cristo students in Argentina, with missionary Joel Sutton, as they considered starting Bible Study Groups that will God-willing turn into churches someday.

Our experience in South America was filled with unexpected challenges and blessings start to finish. But it’s amazing to see how God turns those unexpected plans and challenges into unexpected blessings.

Written by Caleb Koelpin, vicar for World Missions in Medellín, Colombia during 2022-2023.

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Fishing in French in Cameroon

Fresh fish! Look at these fellas and the catch of the day! For one week in the middle of June, two One Africa Team missionaries got to work by the sea in Cameroon with a group of church leaders, not only in English but also in French. As far as anyone can tell, this may have been the first time WELS World Missions has provided in-person training in Africa in French!

Sweating in Douala
Missionary Dan Kroll, who has many years of experience living in Cameroon, Africa, and I went to the port city of Douala, and the church leaders traveled from their inland homes to meet with us there. Douala is a dank, green city on the Gulf of Guinea—and basically on the Equator. Douala is Cameroon’s biggest city and a major port. Where we stayed was right next to where the huge freighter ships docked and there was plenty of fresh fish to eat—even huge, spicy prawns! We got so much fish on the street that the sellers got to know us. . . and rival sellers would tussle over us, trying to physically direct us toward their stalls.

Fish for Souls
But the real reason Missionary Kroll and I were there was not to eat, but to catch fish. More specifically, we were there to help train some local fishermen: a group of leaders from Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod, whose calling from Jesus—like each of us Christians—was to fish for people, not necessarily for fish.

Holy Trinity is not yet in church fellowship with WELS. They are just beginning their journey of exploring the road to church fellowship. This starts with an emphasis on doctrine—specifically, a comprehensive overview of doctrine like you would find in a Bible information course at a church in North America. I’ve known French since I was a teenager and would read Le Monde newspaper, listen to Radio France Internationale, and collect French films in college.

I am thankful that, back in 2013, the Lord called me at my Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduation to serve as a pastor for nine years in Orléans, Ontario, which is on the eastern side of Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Ottawa is the largest bilingual city in the country. While I was there, seeing and hearing French every day, I soaked up a lot of detailed vocabulary, which is coming in handy serving in Africa, where 167 million people speak French.

Teaching God’s Word in French

When Missionary Kroll and I were out an about in Douala, we both got a lot of exposure to hearing French. French is the language of the city of Douala. Seeing the need, WELS Multi-Language Productions (MLP) gave us permission to create my favorite Bible information course—Basic Bible Christianity, by Pastor Jon Buchholz—in French, and use it in our training workshops. We spent time with our new friends in Cameroon focusing in on such aspects of doctrine, such as: communion, baptism, law and gospel, the history of the Bible, and confession, among others.

It is still a new and fresh experience for us to use French in our ministry. It was also a new and fresh experience for our friends from Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod to explore biblical doctrine systematically with a Bible information course presented both in French and in English. We plan to meet with these very same men at all our upcoming workshops so that we can forge personal relationships and make progress as we grow deeper in our studies and our planning together. Missionary Kroll and I hope we grow stronger in our use of French with each visit we make to Cameroon, and we hope the leaders from Holy Trinity will also grow stronger in their understanding and use of God’s Word—which sounds sweet in any language.

Written by Rev. Keegan Dowling, world missionary on the Africa One Team and living in Lusaka, Zambia

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Prayers answered in Vietnam

Last Sat., July 15, and Sun., July 16, two events in Hanoi, Vietnam, were striking examples of how God answers the fervent prayers of his people.

On Saturday, WELS representatives as well as representatives of the Hmong Fellowship Church gathered to dedicate a new building that will house the theological education of pastors of the Hmong Fellowship Church. Until now, more than 50 Hmong pastors received theological training either online or in temporary locations. But now, after six years of planning, the building is complete and ready to be the permanent site for the training of the next group of pastors—60 now and another 60 next year. The new building has space for instruction and worship as well as residential facilities for the students.

On Sunday, we celebrated the graduation of 55 Hmong pastors from the theological training program. This seminary-level education has been carried out for more than six years, with the result that these men have now been thoroughly trained as Lutheran pastors who will help to shepherd congregations in a church body consisting of more than 140,000 members in more than 350 congregations. A dozen of these pastors were also commissioned to return to their home villages to instruct other Hmong pastors in biblical, Lutheran doctrine.

We are grateful to the government of Vietnam for granting WELS permission to carry out this training and to erect a building in which to do it. We are thankful to the Hmong Fellowship Church for inviting us to train its pastors. We thank the members of our synod for their generous gifts of love and faith to make this possible. Above all, we are thankful to our gracious God for giving us this amazing opportunity to share the gospel in Vietnam.

Learn more about the ministry going on in Vietnam.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

Vietnam - Hmong Outreach

 

 

 

Ukrainian churches connect through the crisis

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues, pastors and members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) continue to gather for worship and find ways to assist and reach out to their communities.

The Holy Spirit has blessed the efforts of the ULC, which has not only provided physical aid to people in need but also the comforting balm of Christ’s gospel message.

The congregation in Ivanivka was able to hold a vacation Bible school this summer. About 25 students from four different villages attended to learn about Jesus’ love as well as enjoy music, crafts, and singing.

In June, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Kyiv welcomed more than 60 people into the family of believers, three through Baptism and 57 through confirmation. Bishop Horpynchuk has been guiding more than 70 refugees and visitors in the study of God’s Word using the catechism. After finishing the course, the people who wished to become members confessed their faith in the Lord, joining in fellowship with the local congregation, the ULC, and all the members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

In just one example of the aid being provided, the church in Kiev is helping a family of five who lost their husband/father in the war. He was the family provider, so the congregation is providing the family food, medicine, and other daily necessities.

In a correspondence with Rev. Roger Neumann, the WELS liaison with Ukraine, Horpynchuk said, “Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we continue with catechism [instruction] and new people enrolled in the catechism class. The Lord is good and faithful; his Word never returns empty. Thank you to all the brothers and sisters in WELS who support us so faithfully in our most difficult times of this war!”

 

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Peace like a River

“Peace like a river” was a fitting theme for the 60th Annual Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society Convention, held this past weekend in La Crosse, Wis., held just steps to the Mississippi River. This convention serves as a an annual opportunity for men and women to come together in one place and serve by increasing awareness of, interest in, and support of the mission outreach of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

This year’s convention included speakers from Wisconsin to Ecuador to Colorado to East Asia. Each workshop leader and keynote speaker had something unique to present as a result of their unique mission fields.

Rev. Daniel Lewig, of Richland Center, Wis., spoke on “upcycling evangelism.” He shared examples from personal experience with their church, Bethlehem Lutheran. He reminded attendees that each congregation has it’s strengths and weaknesses, so why not lean into those strengths. They did just that by leaning into their Live Nativity event that had great attendance, and they never looked back. What began as a well attended event, eventually led the church to settle on Bethlehem as their name. How fitting!

Coming from the other side of the country, Rev. Paul Biedenbender and Vicar CJ Fury from Denver, Col. presented on the Vicar in a Mission setting program, which allows seminary students to serve their vicar year at a home mission, or mission minded, church. Vicar Fury was able to give a first hand account of some of the responsibilities and projects he took on during his vicar year at Christ Lutheran, as well as stories of the ministry he’s been able to do this past year.

To speak about World mission work in Latin America, LWMS had Missionary Elise Gross, the director of Women’s Ministry for the One Latin America team, as one of the keynote speakers. Elise told her story of growing up as a missionary child in Antigua and how she now has a missionary child of her own in Quito, Ecuador. She addressed how her role as director of Women’s Ministry has given her an opportunity to connect Latin American women with Academia Cristo, as they have the monumental task of sharing the gospel with their families, which takes strength and courage.

The convention had many other Home and World missionaries who were able to present and share their stories of faith, struggle, success, and unexpected situations in a mission field. Along the way, attendees were also able to receive Home and World Mission updates from Rev. Larry Schlomer and Mr. Sean Young, a 100 in 10 initiative presentation by Rev. Paul Schupmann and Steve Wolf, members of the 100 in 10 task force, and LWMS Business Meeting highlights.

After four days filled with WELS Missions, the 60th Annual LWMS Convention came to a close. The weekend was spent with over 1,200 attendees sharing their love and support for WELS Missions and all by the hand of God, who made all things possible. God willing we will meet again next year in Sioux Falls for the next Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society Convention!

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Faces of Faith – Clarise

I’m from Bamenda, Cameroon. It was hard not to feel abandoned when my mother passed away when I was very young. I not only lost my mother, but soon found myself caring for my siblings as well. Not only has my family experienced tremendous loss, but now many families in Cameroon are suffering due to the unrest. Yet, I trust that God is working in the background and that I have not been abandoned. The following has kept me going and growing since I was a child: “Every disappointment is a blessing in disguise. . . it might not look like a blessing right away, until the Lord’s work is done and you realize how blessed you were to have been through all those moments you thought he had abandoned you.”

I work for Qatar Airways and on a recent flight from Chicago to Doha, I was reminded of that same truth. During that flight, I met several men who were traveling to Zambia for meetings. At 30,000 feet, I was introduced to the TELL ministry. I read my Bible but don’t always understand what it is saying. Since downloading the TELL app, it’s crazy how I have learned so much in just the first course. I have been using TELL since the day I landed back in Doha. It has really helped in my relationship with God, helped organize my Bible studies, and has changed my life a lot. I see so many things differently now. TELL is amazing. I can’t wait for the virtual classes!

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Faces of Faith – Sandra

Several years ago, Sandra Luz was searching for a way to study the Word of God. Her husband took it upon himself to help her to find a great program. He stumbled upon Academia Cristo online, dug into their resources, and said to his wife, “This one; this is it.” Sandra quickly began working her way through the self-study lessons on Academia Cristo’s mobile app. She was then welcomed into live classes via Zoom led by WELS missionaries. She completed 13 live Zoom courses and officially became a Confessional Lutheran. When asked if she desired to share the gospel message in her community, Sandra responded with, “How can I not?! People must know.”

Now Sandra informally gathers a group of five in her home every Saturday, including the children of these adult students. Guided by a WELS missionary advisor and by her continued courses in Academia Cristo, Sandra is currently leading her group through Bible information classes. Her husband has been regularly attending her gatherings and is now also showing interest in the Confessional Lutheran faith. She prays for a Lutheran church to develop in her border town of Mexico, where there currently is none. She still rejoices in the growth of the members of her group and in those who may soon join her in the Lutheran faith and be able to lead. “Luz” means light, and Sandra Luz certainly is a gospel light in her family and in her community.

From Elise Gross, Dean of Women’s Ministry in Ecuador

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Faces of Faith – Sally

“We’re sending her to a Christian school. That’s how we’re raising her, and that’s what we want for her life.” It was a big moment in life for Sally. Despite attending elementary school at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School, some family members wanted Sally to participate in a traditional Apache religious ceremony. Her father was standing firm in opposition to it. He wanted her to be about the Lord and his Word and walk a Christian path throughout life.

These words stuck with Sally, even through the spiritual detours of life. They stayed with her when she moved to the big city and away from God. They supported her when addiction took her husband out of her life. “Seek the Lord” was the constant advice given to her during tough times, and had she not been in the Word, she’s convinced she would not have made it through the especially difficult time when she lost her oldest son.

Today Sally is still on the Christian path to heaven. She walks with more experience, more scars, and more thankfulness. She’s thankful to walk with Malcolm, a Christian husband who has taken over the role of encouraging her to grow in relationship with Jesus. She’s thankful for a deeper understanding and empathy for the obstacles that people face all around her, and thankful for opportunities to serve the Lord. Her eyes are truly open to see people around her, to pray for those who have gone through what she has, and to pray for everyone to know Jesus and walk the path to heaven.

From Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

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Faces of Faith – Kanon

Kanon Haga is a currently a college student and the son of Pastor Haga in Mito, Japan. For the past year, Kanon has been designing and running his own children’s events and Vacation Bible School programs for Megumi (“Grace”) Lutheran Church, WELS’ sister church. While on break from school, he wondered what he could do to serve the Lord. Around that time, a childhood friend reached out to him to ask if he could come to church. Though his friend didn’t identify as a Christian, he mentioned that when he was little, church was always very welcoming and warm for him. That same feeling is what inspired Kanon to start creating children’s programs. “I wanted to recreate that same feeling for the kids, so they see church as a fun and welcoming place.” After these events, parents often tell Kanon that while they previously felt nervous or scared of church, these events led them to trust Christians and churches. And at these children’s events, they get to hear the word of God. Kanon’s work shows love to the community and gives a positive image of Christianity to the city, while also sharing the message of the Savior with young hearts.

From Peter Janke, Asia One Team missionary

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Faces of Faith – New Zealand

Over three years ago, Pastor Titus Tse, then president of the South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong, began meeting online with some SALEM members who had immigrated to New Zealand. They also happened to be former students of Asia Lutheran Seminary. Over time, the original members invited their friends—some Christian, some non-Christian—to join the group. This group has now decided to start a Cantonese-speaking church in Auckland. They began monthly worship in January 2023 and continue to meet weekly online.

Another mission group started by another SALEM member has sprung up in Queenstown as well. In early 2023, the Auckland group leaders met several local pastors from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other locations to learn how to reach out and form a legal church in New Zealand. Please pray for this exciting work among our Chinese-speaking brothers and sisters who, like the scattered believers in the early church, are carrying the gospel with them wherever they go!

From Matt Doebler, Asia One Team missionary

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Faces of Faith – Perry

God has taken Perry Wong on an interesting journey to our church in London. Perry was born in Hong Kong. She was not raised Christian, but she attended Christian primary school. It wasn’t until she started lecturing at universities in Hong Kong that she realized there was something missing in her life. She insists, “It was the Holy Spirit’s work. I am a very stubborn person.” At the encouragement of her brother, Perry got involved with a Christian reformed church. She was later convinced by a friend to study at Asia Lutheran Seminary. There, Perry learned that “it is not about what we should do for God, but what he has done for us.”

In November 2021, Perry moved away from Hong Kong. She needed a break from teaching fashion at the university level. The school board had begun to discourage conversations about cultural and historical topics. She felt she could not do her position justice under the new restrictions, and she worried about how her students might be affected. Perry chose to come to London because it was a familiar place that she knew from her own college education.

Upon her arrival, one of Perry’s professors from Asia Lutheran Seminary connected her with the new Lutheran group meeting in London. The church immediately welcomed Perry in like one of the family. Perry is excited to see what work God will do through her and others in London and the U.K.!

From Conifer Berg, missionary in London & the U.K.

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Faces of Faith – Einarsson Family

Anders and Stella met in Germany at an opera production for children. Anders was from Sweden. He was studying music at the university in Stuttgart and played trumpet for the children’s performance. Stella sang in the choir.

The two shared a love for music and concern for spiritual matters. Anders grew up knowing his Savior, but Stella had many questions. They spent hours talking, and Pastor Jonas Schroeter and his fiancé also helped. Together the two couples dug deeper into God’s word.

After their wedding day, Anders began inviting others to their home for Bible studies. Naturally, Stella participated too. She said, “I always listened, and became more and more convinced. When our oldest was a very little child, it hit me: this is true! Jesus died to save me. It was like a door had opened in my heart. And then there were no doubts and no questions. That was in 2007.”

Today Anders and Stella live in Sweden. God has blessed them with four musically inclined children. Anders directs a children’s orchestra and is working through seminary training. He teaches youth Bible classes and occasionally preaches for his congregation in Ljungby, Sweden. Stella adds to worship by playing the piano and singing in the choir.

The family is thankful for the purpose and meaning that Jesus brought to all the parts of their lives. Anders and Stella also want to offer encouragement and ask you to pray for others wrestling with spiritual questions. “We need young people in church. And we need to encourage young men to think about being pastors.”

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Faces of Faith – Makisimu

Pastor Makisimu Musa (Moses) is the leader of the Obadiah Lutheran Synod (OLS) in Uganda. God has blessed him with the opportunity to bring together and grow congregations around the eastern and northern parts of the country. The church had very humble beginnings—three men meeting in one of their homes in 2008. After 15 years, they had worked with very limited resources to gather and shepherd 21 congregations with a total of more than 4,000 souls! Of course, only by God’s blessing. Some of that blessing comes in the form of Pastor Musa, a humble leader who has a strong passion for the truth of Scripture and for sharing that truth with more people. He also recognizes the importance of sharing the work with others and training new leaders within the church. With God’s continued blessing, Pastor Musa’s leadership will continue to benefit the Obadiah Lutheran Synod for years to come and will bring many more to learn the truth about their Savior.

From Benjamin Foxen, missionary in Zambia

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Faces of Faith – Wilfred

Mr. Wilfred Bendabenda isn’t a Lutheran Mobile Clinic patient or a Lutheran Church of Central Africa pastor, but he does have an important role serving the Malawian clinics. Born in Lilongwe, Malawi, his faith grew through encouragement from his Christian mother and WELS missionaries. He was confirmed as an adult at Chikhulupiriro Lutheran Church in Mwalaulomwe. Recently, his strong faith and the work of the Holy Spirit brought his father to faith as well. Wilfred’s favorite Bible passage is The Lord’s Prayer because, “I feel like it has got the whole procedure of a Christian life.”

Through prayer and a WELS missionary’s encouragement, he started his own construction business. He trusted God who rewarded him with a successful business. Now he lets his faith shine through construction work. Having built the new CAMM Msambo clinic and renovated the clinic buildings at Suzi, Thunga, and Mwalaulomwe, he has become the go-to guy for repairs or construction work at the nurse’s house. Wilfred was amazed by the work of the Lutheran Mobile Clinic, which is “just simply out there to help people, not to make money or treat only those that can afford clinical care.” He also valued the cooperation and relationship between the church and the clinic.

We rejoice for his spiritual faith and his construction talents, which helped renovate multiple clinic buildings. We look forward to seeing his faith and business grow in the years ahead!

From Angela Sievert, Chairman of the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM).

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Breaking down barriers

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has treated over 70,000 patients a year and has been operating in Mwembezhi, Zambia, since 1961 and in Malawi since 1970. The goal of CAMM was to work side-by-side with the missionaries. CAMM would assist in the physical needs of the people and the missionaries would preach God’s love and nurture the spiritual needs. When the clinics opened, the idea of nationalizing the clinics seemed incomprehensible, but was still part of the charter when CAMM was originally created.

The missionaries, staff ,and the CAMM stateside board made nationalization a reality in 2007, when the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Center in Zambia was transitioned to being fully run by national staff under the direction of a chief clinical officer. Since that time, the clinic has run efficiently and even dedicated an additional clinic building in 2015. Patients continue to rely on the clinic in Zambia for wellness visits, immunization, and labor and delivery.

During the pandemic, our American clinic staff, living in Malawi, were sent home for their safety. It was during that time that the CAMM stateside board realized how reliable our Malawian staff were and that American staff were no longer needed in Malawi on a full-time basis. Careful planning and proper trainings were completed in the months that followed. In 2022, God blessed CAMM with a successful Malawian nationalization! The Malawian clinics are now fully run by national staff under the direction of a stateside field director. What an amazing blessing!

According to Violet Chikwatu, Lutheran Mobile nurse-in-charge, there have been many positives seen in the clinic since nationalization. First, communication is no longer a barrier between the people in the village and the nurse-in-charge. The patients are able to fully express their feelings and symptoms about their conditions since the language is the same between patient and provider. No longer does the patient have to explain the condition multiple times to different people. Another positive impact that continues to grow is the community is looking after and maintaining the clinic property. Through this, the community feels they have a sense of ownership to protect the clinic property and ensure the day-to-day clinic operations run smoothly.

Since the clinics operate fully on donations and grants, CAMM wants to ensure the nationalization of Malawi and Zambia clinics continues to maintain Christian values and operate at its fullest potential with good efficiency. To aid in operation, our stateside based field director, Gary Evans, provides ongoing leadership and financial management. He also travels to Malawi and Zambia regularly to meet with the staff and medical councils, address issues and confirm all medical and clinic equipment, and ensure that the overall properties are being taken care of and maintained.

It has been almost a year since the clinics have been run fully by Malawian staff and over 16 years since Zambia was nationalized. We continue to see God’s blessings through the clinic, staff, and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) pastors at work. Many bodies and souls are being nourished through the work of CAMM. May God continue to bless CAMM and the possibility of future clinic sites in different areas of Africa.

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations for Central Africa Medical Mission.

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What goes around, comes around

As a WELS pastor, I have been blessed with three overseas calls. In between stateside parishes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, I served in Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Indonesia again. The first two deployments included moves with our children. On those occasions, I vividly remember my wife, Connie, and I informing our parents that we were taking their grandchildren and moving around the world.

As “Third Culture Kids,” our three daughters have carried their overseas experiences as children into adulthood. The international travel and lifestyle bug especially bit our youngest, Grace. During her college years, she volunteered with Kingdom Workers, which landed her in Brazil and Mexico. Later, as a young wife, she and her husband, Jeremy Seeger, spent time with Friends Network in East Asia. While there, they also visited Connie and me in Indonesia. Their return to the U.S. was via Bulgaria, where they connected with friends from Grace’s childhood.

Fast-forward to early 2023, when Facebook Messenger chimed on my wife’s iPad. It was Grace and Jeremy. They informed us that Jeremy, a WELS teacher, had accepted a call to serve as a Tech Missionary on the Asia One Team. They soon will be moving with their daughters to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although retired from the full-time ministry, I am still serving in a part-time capacity as the WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia. This means that my son-in-law and I will be serving on the Asia One Team at the same time! As the sun sets on my time with WELS World Missions, Connie and I feel truly blessed to see it rising on Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters as they prepare to join the Asia One Team in Thailand. Like all our WELS workers at home and abroad, they have answered the Lord’s call to serve by humbly saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Bey family in Indonesia in 1992

As we begin retreating into full retirement, we will be joining the ranks of those who also serve as they sit and wait prayerfully for the furlough visits of their children and grandchildren. As we do so, any number of clichés come to mind: “The shoe is on the other foot!” “Like mother, like daughter!” “It takes one to know one!” Or perhaps the most fitting, “What goes around, comes around!” Just as we took our children around the world so that we could live and serve in places initially foreign to us, our son-in-law and daughter will be taking their children around the world to Asia. Now, we are experiencing emotions that our parents must have felt so many years ago when we announced that we were taking their grandchildren around the world to live in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

Together with so many other Christian parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones, we give thanks to our gracious God and Savior for raising up a new generation of called workers who are willing to go wherever the good Lord calls them. We place them solely into his loving hands and under his watchful eye as we pray for their safety and health, and for their spiritual well-being.

To Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters, and to all our families in fields across the globe, allow me to say, “Thank you for your service, for your ministry!” As you travel around the world to do the work to which the Spirit has called you, we pray that these benedictory words of Solomon might always fill your hearts and minds: “May the Lord our God be with us, just as he was with our fathers” (1 Kings 8:57). You will be in our thoughts and prayers continually. But of far greater importance is the fact that you will always be held securely in the arms of Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria!

Written by Rev. Gregory Bey, WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia 

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Back home in Asia

It was May 2008 – 15 years ago. I sat in the auditorium of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for assignment day. My name was read, “Jonathan Bare, Graduate Mission Associate – East Asia.” By the middle of the next month, I had been commissioned and was on a plane to Asia. Asia became my new home, the place my wife Kim and I would meet (she was serving there as a Friends Network missionary) and get married, where our son Josiah would be born, and where we’d serve until taking a call back to our new home in the U.S. in 2016.

Fast forward seven years. In January this year, my family moved “back home” to a new home in Asia. My current call is to serve as the president of Asia Lutheran Seminary and the Integrator of the Asia One Team. Before my arrival, Asia Lutheran Seminary was asked to transition from being a seminary for only East Asia to being a regional seminary for all of Asia. To facilitate that pivot, my family and I are stationed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which serves as the hub of the Asia One Team.

So, what’s it like to be “back home” in Asia? First off, many things have changed.

There’s the obvious – my family situation has changed. When I moved to East Asia in 2008, I was single. An international move meant boxing up a few belongings that would stay in my parents’ basement, packing two suitcases, and getting on a plane. Now Josiah is ten and we have a six-year old daughter, Elina. Moving meant giving away trailer loads of stuff, packing up a few dozen boxes that would be stored, selling vehicles, and finding a way to get 12 suitcases to the airport (not including our carry-ons). Moving meant tearful goodbyes to family, friends, and coworkers and finding a new house, a new school, a new car. . . the list goes on and on. In the process, God taught us to be patient and flexible every step of the way. He still teaches us that a bit more every day, it seems. Moving “back home” with a family means a daily resetting of expectations, working through sadness over the loss of friends, and figuring out new lives in Thailand.

The team has changed. Missionaries have come and gone – some to new calls or retirement in the U.S., and a few, home to heaven. East Asia was its own field in 2008. Now all of Asia is served by one WELS team of missionaries. The Asia One Team serves over 16 different countries with a unified vision for reaching out and serving all of Asia. The work of the team is divided into three main branches: Explore, this includes following up on new opportunities and expansions. A second branch is Asia Lutheran Seminary, which coordinates the training and equipping of leaders throughout Asia. Finally, support, which provide the tools and expertise our missionaries and our sister churches can use to carry out their work. It’s a growing team too – this year alone, two new missionaries have already accepted calls to join us. God willing, by the end of this year we’ll welcome three more to their new home in Asia!

Asia Lutheran Seminary has changed. When I first arrived, Asia Lutheran Seminary was focused on training in Hong Kong. That expanded to East Asia and our first cohort of East Asia students graduated in 2016. Since that time, Asia Lutheran Seminary became a fully-accredited, Master of Divinity-granting seminary serving all of East Asia, and now Asia Lutheran Seminary is pivoting to serve all of Asia (all while continuing to focus on Hong Kong and East Asia). We have initial plans in place to establish a regional branch of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Chiang Mai. We’ve also created a Regional Theological Education Program within the seminary to assist with meeting the needs of our sister churches throughout Asia. And in addition to all those changes, I came in and am now the president of these efforts – humbling, to be sure.

But not everything has changed, this is still home – and it’s good to be “back home.” We know it’s home because it’s the place that God has called us to be. He has placed us here – and we know that he is with us each and every step of the way. It has not changed that his word is still going out to all the world – and we are still his witnesses. As his word goes out, he is accomplishing his purpose through it and strengthening us for the task in front of us. Because of that, it’s good to be “back home.”

Written by Rev. Jonathan Bare, president of Asia Lutheran Seminary

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Rural training program in Vietnam

Jesus taught, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). WELS’ ministry to the Hmong in Vietnam trains leaders to train other leaders. Efforts have focused on small groups of leaders, one group of 55 students and a second group of 60 students. The Hmong Fellowship Church has almost 1,400 leaders serving their 145,000 members. How does WELS training reach other leaders and the church members?

When COVID-19 restrictions stopped training in 2020, the Vietnam ministry group—led by full-time professors Bounkeo Lor and Joel Nitz—decided to add new training. They shifted to online Zoom training and started a new program to reach more of the leaders and more of the members in the rural congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. Most congregations are in rural areas of northern Vietnam, where leaders and members operate small subsistence farms. Many of these leaders and the members have not enjoyed much formal Bible study or training.

The new rural training program consists of 30 courses for training over a three-year period. They began the program in the fall of 2020. Salvation History 1 and 2 covers the Old Testament. Salvation History 3 is based on the Gospel of Mark, and Salvation History 4 was added to cover the Book of Acts.

Professors Lor and Nitz taught the courses to 57 church leaders, who then taught the course to 700 other leaders, who then shared the course with all congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. The teachers and students have enjoyed the teaching so much that they continued the program by using other courses taught to them in previous training.

Leaders and students shared the blessings they have received through this training:

  1. The training for the 700 leaders helps them understand the law and gospel, and have comfort and confidence in their salvation.
  2. Members understand more about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are more confident in the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins.
  3. The leaders can distinguish between the true and false teachings of other people.
  4. The program helps church leaders love the Word of God more, hold on to the true teaching of God, know Christ as the center for their teachings, and have less legalism in most churches.

Hmong Fellowship Church members thank WELS for training their church leaders in the rural areas. Now they understand more about the word of God. Praise God for the tremendous blessings of teaching God’s Word to the Hmong in Vietnam!

 

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Moving forward in Vietnam

In 2011, leadership from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), a church body in Vietnam numbering more than 140,000 members, invited Rev. Bounkeo Lor, a WELS pastor in Kansas City, to train their church leaders in the truth of the Scriptures. They desired not only to be trained in the Scriptures but also to know thoroughly Lutheran doctrine and practice. Regular theological training of dozens of HFC pastors began. In 2018, WELS was invited by the Vietnamese government and the HFC to build a theological education center near the capital city of Hanoi, an unexpected and unprecedented mission opportunity for our synod. While the COVID pandemic and other hurdles delayed initial plans, we’re thankful that God has now made it possible for us to move forward. Just as God wisely and graciously guided the apostle Paul to carry out his mission efforts when and where God chose, so he has changed our plans—all for the good of his church.

The new Theological Education Center was completed and passed inspection at the end of January 2023. WELS took full ownership of the building at that time. The new center includes a chapel, classrooms, and dormitory/cafeteria space for up to 60 visiting students at a time. A formal building dedication and graduation ceremony for the first class of 57 pastors who have completed their seminary training is scheduled for July 2023.

The theological education of Hmong pastors in Vietnam, led by full-time professors Rev. Bounkeo Lor and Rev. Joel Nitz, trains those pastors to train other spiritual leaders. When COVID began, instruction shifted to online Zoom training, and a new three-year rural training program was started in order to reach more leaders and members in the rural congregations of the HFC. Until now efforts have focused on the first group of 57 students, who have completed their instruction in biblical and Lutheran doctrine. Now a second group of 60 students have begun their training. These men are taking what they learn and sharing it with nearly 1,500 local spiritual leaders of the HFC. The new education center will be a great blessing to the hundreds of rural HFC congregations as Lor and Nitz continue to equip their leaders to bring them the truth of God’s Word.

Future plans are for Lor and Nitz, who so far have been making intermittent trips to Vietnam or using Zoom for training, to relocate to Hanoi to oversee the theological education program. Residency visas for Lor and Nitz and HFC government registration are still pending, but it is our prayer that paperwork will be finalized by the July trip.

Stay up to date on progress and learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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