Tag Archive for: world missions

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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Joy in Dunavtsi

On the last weekend in March, believers from six countries gathered in Dunavtsi, Bulgaria, to dedicate a church building.
God gave us more than we expected.

Anticipated Joy
Six years earlier, a generous WELS donor provided funding to construct a chapel in the hometown of Pastor Iliyan Itsov in northern Bulgaria. Finally, after delays of every kind, the church stood ready to welcome the first worshipers.

I was looking forward to seeing Iliyan and the saints in Dunavtsi. It had been four years since I last visited them. I was also looking forward to meeting friends from Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Albania. These churches (and others) have taken special interest in supporting Iliyan and his outreach to Roma peoples scattered throughout central Bulgaria. I couldn’t wait to preach, to praise God for this new house, and call God’s people to keep building the Lord’s Church.

Experienced Joy
Guests began arriving Friday evening. As travelers greeted each other, I was struck by the sacrifices they and their churches had made to attend our celebration.

• A German transportation strike wreaked havoc on Pastor Holger Weiss’ itinerary. He would now have to leave Dunavtsi early Sunday morning before the worship service he had prepared. Yet he still made the trip to spend 36 precious hours with us.
• Pastor David Åkerlund, a tent minister, took time off from work, family, and church responsibilities to bring greetings from his congregation in Finland.
• Five representatives from Sweden flew first to Serbia, then drove the final leg in a little red car. They carried a special gift, a bronze altar crucifix, that a church member had purchased on an earlier business trip to Poland.

And there was a last-minute surprise. Missionary John and Nancy Roebke joined us from Malawi. The Roebke’s had served in Dunavtsi 20 years earlier. This was their first opportunity to revisit the people they had served.

Missionary Roebke, having not forgotten his Bulgarian, was able to facilitate a dual-language worship service where guests and local members joined together to glorify Christ. Worshipers – including Pastor Iliyan – were eager to reconnect with “their” pastor who first brought the Lord Jesus into their lives. We meditated on the account of Zacchaeus and worshiped the Savior who transformed the tax-collector’s house into a powerful base for proclaiming God’s good news.

Left to Right: Rev. Iliyan Itsov, Rev. John Roebke , Rev. Luke Wolfgramm

For a brief moment, God gave us a foretaste of heaven when believers from every nation will join in one tongue to praise our Savior forever.

Lasting Joy
The German transport strike delayed our travel back to Albania. So, Pastor Nikolla Bishka and I had an extra day to explore Bulgaria’s capital. As we walked and observed different houses of worship in downtown Sofia, we discussed the work the Lord Jesus has given us. “The most beautiful building in the most convenient location is not enough to build God’s house, but the Holy Spirit constructs God’s splendid temple wherever we proclaim Christ. Jesus is God’s great gift to fallen people. Niko, we have the best news, the news people need to hear!”

Niko thoughtfully took this statement in, and from there, we started making plans to proclaim our Savior’s suffering death and resurrection back home in Albania.

Written by Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary on the Europe mission team. 

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“Thank you” from the Ukrainian Lutheran Church

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church Synodical Council wished to make a statement of thanks to you, and to the many people who have prayed for them and given gifts. This is what was expressed at their meeting:

We wish to thank the many people who have helped us since the time this war began. In many congregations your help has enabled us to survive. Without your help much of our ministry would not have been possible.

Your aid has helped members and their families, pastors and their families, villagers, volunteer workers, etc. With your help nearly, if not all, requests for aid have been met. Money for vehicle repairs and fuel have enabled pastors to travel and reach out to many people. The ability to get medicines have in fact saved lives. Food assistance has kept some of the elderly from starvation. For all of this we are so very thankful to you. But most of all, we thank our Lord for you.

Thank you for your love and concern for us during this difficult time.

 

Submitted by Rev. Roger Neumann, WELS liaison to the ULC

 

Pictured: Members of the Ukrainian Lutheran church with cards from WELS Sunday school students.


WELS is supporting the Ukrainian Lutheran Church with emergency needs as their country is torn apart by war.

 

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Exactly where God wants us

“The school doesn’t even teach us about Jesus. Why would anyone want to go there anyway?”

My boys had many questions. What would the weather be like? What kind of foods would they eat? What wildlife would they see? Would there be any playgrounds? How long would we live there?

Since accepting the call to serve as the TELL Missionary to Africa, the questions had been coming daily. We had answers for some of the questions. For others, we couldn’t say much more than, “I guess we’ll find out together.” But when one of my sons asked why we would ever want to go to a school that wouldn’t teach about Jesus every day, I had to pause before answering.

At the time, I was serving at Trinity in Neenah, Wis., and we were blessed to have a Christian elementary school right across the street from our church. Our boys had built close relationships with their classmates as well as their teachers. My wife was involved with the fundraising for the school and a significant portion of my ministry was focused on the school ministry. The school, faculty, staff, and the families connected with Neenah Lutheran had been a blessing and joy for our family for the past four years.

So why leave? Why move to a country so far away and so different? Why move to a place that didn’t have a school that won’t teach about Jesus every day? Why would anyone want to go there anyway?

We have been in Lusaka, Zambia, for two weeks now. My boys have experienced new things every day. To our shock, they’ve tried many new foods. To their delight, they’ve ridden on bumpy roads and discovered lots of new insects. Before the end of our first month, we hope to have them enrolled in a new school for the remainder of the school year.

Since we arrived, we’ve also been blessed to meet many new people. Elizabeth works at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka and helped us fill out the proper forms when three of our luggage pieces didn’t arrive when we did. George is studying medicine and happened to worship with us at the Lutheran Church of Central Africa at M’takwa. Clarise is a flight attendant with Qatar Airways and was looking for ways to grow in her faith and study of God’s Word. By God’s grace, these three will enroll in the TELL program and begin their journey of studying God’s Word and one day become trained TELL Bible leaders.

I honestly can’t tell you the exact words I shared in response to my son’s question. Yet every day we’ve met someone new, they have really been the answer. We are here – at this place and at this time – to tell others about Jesus. And that is how it’s always been. It doesn’t matter if you live in Wisconsin or Zambia, you are exactly where God wants you to share the love of Christ with others.

I don’t know what school will be like for my boys, but I do know that it will be one more thing that is different for them. I also know that they won’t hear about Jesus in the classroom. So, why would anyone want to go to a school that doesn’t teach about Jesus? Good question.

Perhaps, my son, because the Lord will provide opportunities for us to be His witnesses and to share with others the hope that you have through Jesus.

Written by Rev. Joel Hoff, new TELL Missionary on the Africa One Team.

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A warm welcome in Tanzania

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog. Subscribe to future updates from Africa at oneafricateam.com.

Missionary John Roebke and I received a warm welcome to Tanzania last month, as part of One Africa Team’s Four-Stage Outreach process. We came to Tanzania to continue discussions with a local Lutheran church body, the Africa Mission Evangelism Church (AMEC). We wanted to discuss if our church bodies share the same Scriptural beliefs and practices. We hope that one day we will be able to work together united in faith.

AMEC’s leader, Bishop Baltazar Kaaya, met us at the airport late at night and showed us to our lodgings. The next day he gave us a tour of a couple congregations up in the foothills of Mt. Meru. As we drove, he explained how the lack of rain had been starting to affect their crops. “We’re praying for rain so that our people will have food to eat,” he said. Eventually, though, the dry areas began to give way to more green. Bishop Kaaya explained, “As we get higher on the mountain, we find areas that receive more rain.” It was quite a contrast.

Later in the day, we had the opportunity to witness an interesting piece of culture. The elders of a village were recognizing a man as the new leader of his family. This was a celebration somewhat reminiscent of a new pastor’s ordination or installation. All the other family heads gathered to speak their blessing upon this man in the presence of the entire clan. Many people were gathered. Though we felt a little out of place at this event, we were treated as honored guests. We were even asked to speak blessings of our own, as if we were part of the clan.

Throughout the week, the Tanzanian people continued to show us their warm welcome and hospitality. The church members gave us places of honor at their worship services. They made us feel at home with them, and that feeling increased. As the week progressed, we saw a familiarity in how the people approached the Word of God. In our daily workshop sessions, we explored that Word together. We used Luther’s Small Catechism as a guide to see whether we were on the same page. Ultimately, we found a group of people committed to the truth and zealous to put it into practice.

AMEC is made up of a group of almost 100 Lutheran congregations in northern Tanzania. Most of the congregations are concentrated near Mt. Meru, with a few more around Mt. Kilimanjaro to the east. These congregations are reaching out to other areas as well. AMEC’s newest effort is the coastal business center in Dar es Salaam. Islam is the dominant religion in this area, but the pastor there is working to bring the soothing peace of the gospel to the city’s people. It is living water for thirsty hearts!

At the end of our time together, the workshop participants surprised us with another warm gesture. They presented us with shukas, the traditional garment of the Masai people. Many of the people in this area of Tanzania belong to this ethnic group. It was a wonderful gift that expressed a deep truth: they wanted us to be part of their “tribe.” This is something that we want too! And what a blessing it was to see all the things on which our churches agree!

The weather isn’t the only thing keeping Tanzania warm; the faith of these people is a warm welcome in this cold world. It is a faith in the same God we serve and worship. We pray that our visits with the people of AMEC will continue to bear fruit of a common faith watered by God’s Word.

Written by Benjamin Foxen, a world missionary on the One Africa Team, serving in Zambia. 

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A celebration in Cochabamba

The streets were packed with tourists, vendors, and colorfully dressed dancers. It was carnival weekend in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and thousands had flocked to the city to celebrate. We were there to celebrate, too – but not because of carnival. We had something so much better to celebrate: the planting of a new church.

This is the goal of Academia Cristo. We give free online Bible studies to students all over Latin America, but the end goal is not online Bible study. Those studies help us identify and train people to plant biblical, Lutheran churches where they live.

That’s how a new church was born in Cochabamba. In April of 2020, a maxillofacial surgeon there named Eduardo Milanesi saw an Academia Cristo ad online and began studying with us. The Holy Spirit used the gospel he was learning to bring newfound peace and purpose to his life. He wanted to share what he was learning with others. He started bringing his Bible with him into check-ups and surgeries and telling his patients about Jesus. In less than a year, Eduardo finished the 13 courses in our discipleship program, confessed doctrinal agreement with us, and started gathering a group in his medical office to study God’s Word. We call groups like these “grupos sembrador” – planter groups.

It wasn’t easy. Eduardo was still working full time as a surgeon while leading his group in worship and Bible study. His group wrestled with COVID restrictions, addiction problems, and marital struggles. Academia Cristo provides study and worship materials for our church planters like Eduardo to use with their groups to help ease their workload, as well as a “consejero” – a missionary who counsels them as they navigate tough situations.

For the next two years, Eduardo’s group met every week, and by God’s grace, they began to grow – not just in numbers, but in faith and knowledge of the Scriptures. In January, they completed the studies we’ve prepared for planter groups and were received by WELS’ newly formed sister synod in Latin America – Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional – as a congregation.

That’s what brought us to Cochabamba on carnival weekend. Representatives of WELS, Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional, and our sister church in La Paz all traveled to celebrate. It wasn’t a celebration of our work or Eduardo’s work at all. It was a celebration of God’s saving work in the hearts of all present – especially in the hearts and lives of the new believers in Cochabamba. As Eduardo likes to say: “A Dios sea toda la gloria.” To God be all the glory.

The new church in Cochabamba is the first one planted through Academia Cristo. But over the past three years, God has blessed us with 51 other church planters and 21 planter groups – all on the same path Eduardo and his church took. God-willing, there will be many more celebrations like the one in Cochabamba in the future.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, missionary on the Latin America mission team stationed in Asunción, Paraguay. 

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Severe storms ravage Malawi

In Malawi, where the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi has many churches and members, floods caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy swept away entire villages earlier this month. Many homes have collapsed. Police officers and soldiers have been digging for victims buried under the mud and rocks as the death toll rose sharply. In the three countries affected (Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar), more than 500 people have been killed and hundreds are still missing. Those numbers will likely rise as information comes in from places that have been cut off from communication.

More than 300,000 people have been displaced. More than 280,000 children have been affected by the storm.

In addition to the destruction of homes and roads, the storm has inundated farmlands and destroyed crops, just as farmers were about to harvest the only crop of the year. This only increases the food crisis in Malawi, where 3.8 million people were already in need of food assistance before the storm.

Many governmental and private relief efforts are already underway to address the immediate needs. No doubt, there will be need for longer term assistance once the immediate crisis has passed.

As of today, we are waiting to hear how the storm has affected the congregations and members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi. There is no doubt that our sister church body has been impacted. As we wait for word, WELS Christian Aid and Relief is ready to provide assistance in whatever way it can. If you would like to help in this effort with a financial gift, you can do so by making a gift online.

Please keep our brothers and sisters in Malawi in your prayers.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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New Academia Cristo church plant in Bolivia

In February, representatives from WELS and partners throughout Latin America gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to welcome a new church plant into fellowship. The new church in Cochabamba is the first one planted through Academia Cristo outreach efforts, a milestone for mission work in Latin America.

“The goal of Academia Cristo has always been the planting of new churches, not just offering free online Bible studies,” says Rev. Matthew Behmer, Latin America missionary. “It was a blessing to celebrate the gospel changing hearts of those in Cochabamba, and we’re excited to see who else might learn about grace and what Jesus has done for them through other future church plants in Latin America.”

This new church is led by Dr. Eduardo Milanesi, a surgeon and Academia Cristo student who began studying in the program in April 2020. In less than a year he finished the first part of the program, confessed doctrinal agreement, and started gathering a group in his medical office to study God’s Word using study and worship resources provided by Academia Cristo. This “grupos sembrador,” or church plant group, was also guided by a Latin America missionary. You can read more about the path of Academia Cristo in this article from the January 2022 edition of Forward in Christ magazine.

The church in Cochabamba declared fellowship with Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional, a new synod that was formed in 2021 through the partnership of WELS sister churches across five countries throughout Latin America. This new synod allows these churches to do mission work together, train pastors together, and support each other with prayers and fellowship. It also provides a place to go for new churches formed out of Academia Cristo training efforts, just like the one in Cochabamba. WELS will be affirming fellowship with Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional at the synod convention this summer.

Currently 51 other church planters and 21 church planter groups are on the same path Eduardo and his church took to fellowship. “This seed-sowing path took years to bear its first fruit, and today we see it happen!” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions administrator. “God has answered our prayers: More member churches are on the way. Church planting groups gathering in hotels, garages, living rooms, and patios are all following this same path. Each of these sites is a lightning rod for the power of Jesus’ gospel as it is preached to many more. God’s Spirit is at work.”

Learn more about Academia Cristo at wels.net/latinamerica.

 

 

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Pray that I…

How would you complete this sentence: “Pray that I. . .”

If you knew of fellow believers in Jesus who were full of faith and love, and you asked them to pray for you, for what would you ask?

Pause and think about it. What’s going on in your life? What need do you have? What is something you want to do? Is there something you’d like to see happen? Anything important? Urgent?

There were some Christians in a city called Colossae. They were grace-saturated and God loving. They were faith full and faithful. They were bearing so much fruit and showed such a great love to their fellow brothers and sisters that it was becoming known even in far off places. News of their faith and love even seeped into places where you’d think it couldn’t or wouldn’t reach: a Roman prison 1300 miles away.

That’s where Paul was: under arrest and in chains. But he knew of their faith because he had heard of their faith. The word had spread. It reached even him.

But did it matter?

Yes, it did. Because by it, Paul was greatly encouraged. He was beaming with thankfulness and joy. Even though Paul didn’t personally know many of the people in Colossae, Paul was filled with the confidence that he could ask these Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith Christian brothers and sisters to do something important and urgent: to pray for him.

It was important, because, well, that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. It’s a matter of life and death. It was urgent because he had only so much time to share the Good News. So Paul makes the bold request:

Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

This too is Pastor Gary Lupe’s request, to you. Even though he won’t know everyone who has read his message, he knows they are Colossae-like brothers and sisters. People who are Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith, and prayer ready.

Maybe you have heard of Gary Lupe, a Native American pastor living on an Apache reservation in Arizona’s White Mountains. Pastor Lupe was married in 2004 and blessed with six children and fourteen grandchildren. Then in 2011, Pastor Lupe became ordained. Since then, he’s attended WELS synod conventions, spoken at Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) rallies, and preached at mission festivals. He serves as the pastor for two congregations, Cibecue and Cedar Creek, and teaches classes in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS).

Why this request and why now? Because it’s both important and urgent.

Important, well, because that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. (Have I mentioned that before?) Urgent, because he’s teaching a class in East Fork, Peridot, and Cibecue. The class? Apache Traditional Religion.

To put it mildly, Apache traditional religion is a controversial issue. It’s divisive. It splits families. It divides congregations. It pits one person against another.

It’s a battle ground, and it’s being waged in full force.

Pastor Lupe has taken up arms. Spiritual ones. He’s done what every Christian is urged to do:
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Ephesians 6:11-12).

There we have it. God reminds us of where the real battle is and who the battle is really against. The lines are drawn.

So, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-18), Pastor Lupe stands his ground and stands before anyone who will listen.

And some are.

He is teaching his Apache Traditional Religion class to the Apache in Apache.

Not many do this. Not many can. Pastor Lupe is gifted with the Apache language but so much more. He’s got the first-hand experience in Apache traditional religion; he has many years of first-hand experience in gospel ministry. He knows the people and the people know him. He’s got the knowledge to share and the reputation that makes him credible.

That doesn’t mean everyone will listen. In fact, some have walked out of his church and out of his life. It doesn’t mean everyone will attend the class. In fact, many do not.

What it does mean is that Pastor Lupe will be a target. He already is. People have already taken aim with sharp tongues, harsh words, and decent sounding arguments.

But even such arsenal as these can’t penetrate the armor of God. In fact, the flaming arrows of the evil one are easily extinguished. (Ephesians 6:16).

By teaching this class, Pastor Lupe knows that he’s setting himself up to be attacked. He knows because God said he would. Even you, when you witness your faith, don’t think you can be attacked or might be attacked, but know that you will be attacked.

It comes with the territory. But the territory is Jesus’. It’s a battleground. Remember who your enemy really is.

Satan doesn’t like Jesus’ forgiveness being clearly proclaimed. He hates the gospel being clearly shared. He despises it when Baptisms take place or when Communion is received. He cringes when the gospel truth is being clearly declared and fully believed. It angers him when someone takes a stand on the clear Word of God. Pastor Lupe is going against his own culture to speak on this issue.

Since this is the case, will not Satan, with his own clever schemes, deceptions, and decent sounding arguments, try his best to dishearten Gary and stop him from clearly proclaiming the mystery of Christ?

Hence the request comes humbly, but boldly, to you. Confident that you will pray. Trusting that God hears and answers your prayers. Believing that the power is not in the one saying the prayer but in the One listening to it and answering it.

Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should. Pastor Lupe can proclaim the mystery of Christ but cannot change the hearts of the people. But God can. Didn’t he already change our hearts?

By the way, have you thought of something important and urgent that you’d like someone to pray about for you? Is there a need you have? A desire for something to happen?

I don’t know what it is and maybe you still need to think about it more, but know that there are brothers and sisters in faith in Christ who would find it an honor to pray for you. Ask them. You’ll have to tell them your request, but here’s a few words to start:

“Pray that I…”

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians Counselor

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New and old brooms

The difference between new and old brooms is summarized in a proverb. “The new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners.” The meaning is that while youth brings energy to a situation, people with experience bring more knowledge.

A fresh set of eyes helps you see things you’ve overlooked or grown accustomed to. The Africa Regional confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) gathering in Lusaka, Zambia this month brought together both new and old WELS mission partners. The former brought fresh perspective and energy. The latter brought experience and encouragement. The exchange was invaluable for all.

A Practical Conference
The agenda presented real-life ministry struggles before the delegates. The first presentation addressed the pros and cons of church-run businesses. One of the “new brooms” represented at the conference was the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC-Kenya). Its president, Rev. Mark Anariko Onunda, delivered a paper on this topic. He wrote, “Our churches are poor and the poverty of the church workers leads to a crisis of the spirit.” Generally speaking, African pastors are poorly compensated by their members, due to various factors. Many African pastors operate small business ventures to help support their families. Some are more skilled at managing their time and money than others.

The first community of believers chose seven deacons to manage the financial affairs of the church. They left the apostles free to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Ac 6:4). Rev. Onunda noted that skilled laypeople can run church businesses well and pastors can concentrate on the spiritual needs of their flocks.

Training Shepherds

One Africa Team Leader Rev. Howard Mohlke led a Bible study on Christian service, both private and public. The number of organized African congregations is much higher than the number of ordained clergymen available to serve them. Many view the term “pastor” as a title of respect rather than as a calling to serve. Rev. Mohlke noted that the word “pastor” is a verb that means “to shepherd.” The shepherd’s job is to care for the needs of the sheep. All Christians have the gifts and responsibility to personally serve one another as members of Christ’s body. Some Christians have been called to serve in public ministry on behalf of the congregation. The essence of their work as public ministers is the same as that of all Christians. It is a humble, Spirit-filled service that focuses people’s attention on the gospel of Christ.

 

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Zambia (LCCA-Zambia) is one of the “old brooms.” One of the WELS’ oldest gospel partners in Africa has Rev. Davison Mutentami as its president. His presentation touched on the kind of training needed for a healthy church. In his words, “Africa has been invaded by prophets and preachers from all walks of life. Africans have been invaded by teachings that are likely to deny them a chance to receive the true message of salvation by grace.” Many churches are led by people with no formal or informal Biblical training. Several African governments are considering legislation to require that pastors obtain a degree from an accredited institution.

 

But training should not be limited to members of the clergy. One size does not fit all. There are many local church leaders who would benefit from training tailored to their needs and abilities. The curriculum of many Lutheran seminaries is a treasured heritage to be sure. However, there are other practical skills to learn that will benefit both pastors and their congregations. One of the delegates, a layperson, made the following insightful comment.

“Theological education’s purpose isn’t to turn a man into a gospel minister, but to help him do gospel ministry.” That kind of training will certainly result in a healthy church.

A Layperson’s Perspective
An accountant by trade and a former treasurer of the LCCA-Zambia, Mr. Zororai Shoko delivered the fourth presentation. He very effectively demonstrated the need for financial accountability and transparency in the church. Mr. Shoko made his case by citing examples from both the Bible and recent case studies. He wrote, “whenever a person in power – especially the power of handling finances – tries to avoid transparency and accountability, the Church is in danger.”

When Mr. Shoko served as the treasurer of a local congregation, members asked to borrow funds from the general offerings. He refused, even though this had been standard practice in the past. Some congregations did not have bank accounts, but offerings were handled single-handedly either by the treasurer or the pastor. This lack of checks and balances has damaging consequences for the pastor and the church. According to one study, in 2019 Christian organizations were estimated to have lost $68 billion due to fraud. In the same time frame, donors were expected to give $60 billion for worldwide mission work.

Part of the reason for low offerings is a spiritual problem, but another is the lack of accountability. Fiscal malfeasance is endemic in the government. Nevertheless, Mr. Shoko remarked that “people expect more from the church than from the government.” The solution to these problems is simple. The church must establish clear procedures for counting, depositing, and accounting for funds entrusted to them. In the absence of such procedures, sinful human beings will take advantage of the opportunity. Mr. Shoko shared this final anecdote: A thief was asked if he would give up stealing. His reply? “Not if they remain so careless.”

Prayer Requests
Delegates from each of the seven synods attending the CELC Africa Regional meeting presented a brief history of their church bodies. They also mentioned requests for prayers. May I ask you to join me in praying for our African brothers?

  • The Lutheran Church of Cameroon: pray that God end the current war that has led members from seven congregations to flee the region
  • The LCMC-Kenya: pray that God will relieve the current famine and grant peaceful relations between various ethnic groups in the country
  • The LCCA-Malawi Synod: pray that God will empower the leaders of the congregations and the synod as a whole to use offerings in a transparent and accountable way
  • Obadiah Lutheran Synod (Uganda): pray that God will help them train church leaders and build up their church body’s infrastructure
  • The LCCA-Zambia Synod: pray that God will grant pastors the courage to serve under extremely difficult circumstances and give the church body spiritual growth
  • All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria: pray that God grant church members spiritual maturity
  • The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia; pray that God grant more faithful leaders and financial stability for the church
  • Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria: pray that God bless the church body’s leadership to serve both God and the members faithfully

May God bless the efforts of both new and old brooms to sweep souls into His Kingdom everywhere!

Written by Rev. John Roebke, world missionary in Malawi, Africa.

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Equip believers to serve

Last month I finished teaching the course, “Equip the Believers to Serve” to a group of nine men and women. It’s a course that I love teaching for two reasons. First, in Asia there is some misunderstanding about serving God. Many students come into the class thinking it is going to be a course about how they will dedicate more of their lives to church work. I  suspect this is everywhere, even in my own heart. How often do we realize we do a poor job of balancing all the callings God gives us in our lives by over valuing some and undervaluing and abandoning others? And for the students, in the face of long hours at their jobs, busy family lives or relationships, assistance or leadership in small groups and house churches, and the classes they take in the evenings at Asia Lutheran Seminary; it sounds like another burden on an already strained set of shoulders.

But right from the first chapter, I get to see the students’ perspectives change and their hearts lighten as they see that serving God doesn’t mean dedicating yourself to long hours in the church sacrificing time with family and friends. Serving God is loving others through the opportunities and relationships God has given at the moment. That means showing love to your family is serving God, spending time with a friend is serving God, helping your neighbor is serving God, being a good citizen is serving God. . .  and yes, you can serve God in the church too. It’s a great way to love others! When the light turns on and students “get it,” I thank God I get to take part in teaching it. And there’s a second reason I love to teach the course. I get to see them passionately use what they learn right away. Each student shared with other brothers and sisters in their church or small group what it means to serve God. They equipped believers to serve! I could say more but why not let you hear it from the students in their own words:

Q: In your own words, define serving God.

Student: “My identity is as a child of God, a new creation of God. So, to serve God is to love the people God puts around me with a grateful heart, to serve the vocations God has given me at the moment, and to use the life of an ordinary person to show God’s love in family, friendships, work, and church. I shared this with three sisters, and I want to do it again with more!”

Q: What aspects of this course can you start to apply tomorrow?

Student: “There are many aspects that I can apply in this course: First, I will pass on the concept of “what is serving God” to more co-workers, brothers and sisters, and my family around me. Because when I understand what it means to truly serve God, I feel that my life is so meaningful, and I am willing to serve God with more dedication in the future. I hope more people understand this and change. Second, on a concrete level, I will apply how to serve God in my family, work, church, relationships with friends, and relationships with neighbors.”

Q: Name two of the most useful chapters in the course and explain why they were most useful to you.

Student: “Chapter 1, understanding the meaning of serving, let me understand that serving is not only in the church, family, workplace, but also in a wider field. Chapter 6, seeking God’s help while serving God, let me understand that in fact, everything I do needs God’s help. I need to be humble and rely on God.”

Q: How has this course affected your work as a church worker?

Student: “I used to be under a certain amount of pressure when doing church work, and it was easy to focus on the results. But after taking this course, I understand that as long as I do my best, God will be pleased. I don’t look at the results to receive rewards and praise from people, but to please God. This course made my ministry easier and more joyful.”

Student: “It made me see that I am not just serving as a certain position in the church, but that I am the first to realize that I am a child of God, a newly created person of God. My calling is to be a good spiritual Christian, to be a real new creation. Then do my duties in various aspects, such as in the family, in the country, in the work, in the neighborhood. . . these are the fields of service every day. When I do these identities well, I am also expressing God glory, as members of the church of God, shining as a light and being salt. If I fail to be a good Christian, a citizen, a child or a neighbor, then even if I do a lot in the church, I will be like a Pharisee, not living a real Christian life.”

Student: “My wife and I shared the course with a sister from our church and her husband. We talked together for a long time about how serving God doesn’t just mean serving in the church and that Jesus makes us a new creation. Finally, we were going to leave, but they stopped us several times and said, ‘Stay for a while, his daughter is happier, she has long wished that her father could be with her and her mother. We served and worshiped God together.’ We made an appointment for the next meeting, and I said, ‘Next week, take time to come to my house as guests and invite your family to my house for dinner, and they readily agreed.’ My wife and I bid farewell to them and returned to my home. We recalled the process together, we prayed, thanked God, and prepared for the next meeting.

Written by Peter Janke, a world missionary in East Asia. 

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Building fellowship in Europe

Relationships don’t idle in neutral. Either they get stronger, or they grow weaker. With the blessing of God, our relationships with our sister churches in Europe are growing stronger.

Our oldest European relationship is with our sister church in Germany, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK), which dates back to 1876. For years the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) has been representing WELS at the ELFK conventions. In addition, for over 40 years ELFK families have been sending children to one of our WELS prep schools. Some of their pastors have also studied at our seminary. Generous WELS members provided support as the ELFK established a grade school, and one of their first teachers was a WELS member. ELFK pastors read our Forward in Christ and Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly magazines, and sometimes translate articles into German for their church publications. One of their pastors also translates books by WELS authors into German. It’s a strong relationship that, as we’ll hear below, is now growing even stronger.

Pastor Martin Wilde (ELFK) and Professor James Danell

That’s not our only strong relationship in Europe though. Nearly every year, the Commission on Inter-Church Relations has visited sister congregations and brother pastors in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, often providing a doctrinal paper at one of their conventions. It has also maintained relationships with our sister churches in Ukraine and Latvia.

Recently the Commission on Inter-Church Relations shifted the work of maintaining these relationships to our World Mission One Teams. The result in Europe is strong relationships growing even stronger. The Europe mission team now has stateside representatives who support and encourage our other sister churches in Europe, too—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Albania, and Russia.

In addition, the Europe mission team is moving Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife Jennifer to Leipzig, Germany. From here, Missionary Wolfgramm will be able to support and encourage all of our sister churches in Europe.

One of the ways he will do that is by partnering with the ELFK and its 100-year old seminary in Leipzig to provide seminary training throughout Europe. Missionary Wolfgramm will also partner with Sweden’s seminary to provide pastors with continuing education.

Ukraine provides another example of strong relationships growing stronger. Since war broke out, our stateside Europe team representative has been in almost daily contact with the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). In October, members of the ULC and ELFK came together to reach out to Ukrainian refugees.

Relationships have been growing stronger in other places as well. When the Wolfgramms were forced to leave Russia, they headed for Albania where Missionary Wolfgramm has been providing pastoral support and encouragement as well as seminary training. At the same time, he has been doing all he can to let our brothers and sisters in Russia know that we will support and encourage them in any way we can.

In Bulgaria, Pastoral Studies Institute professor Allen Sorum stays in regular contact with Pastor Iliyan Itsov as he reaches out to the Roma. He also joined Missionary Wolfgramm and ELFK seminary president Holger Weiss on a recent visit to our sister church in Latvia, where the three taught and encouraged the Latvian pastors and seminary students. Missionary Ben Foxen maintains contact with Pastor Petr Krakora in the Czech Republic, letting him know of our desire to support the Czech Ev. Lutheran Church and its Martin Luther School in their gospel work.

Then there is our brand-new London mission. We are excited to see how God will bless the gospel proclamation of Missionaries Michael Hartman and Conifer Berg as they bring the good news of Jesus Christ to this international city.

Working in partnership with our brothers and sisters in Christ across Europe, we pray for God’s blessing on each of our sister churches there and on our growing relationship with them.

Written by Rev. James Danell, Commission on Inter-Church Relations representative to the Europe mission team & Europe mission team representative to the ELFK

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Mother’s shelter renovations in Zambia

It is not uncommon to hear babies crying in the village of Mwembezhi, Zambia. In Psalm 127:3 it reads, “Children are a heritage from the Lord; offspring a reward from him.” The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been helping protect the Lord’s gifts and their mothers for over 60 years. The Lutheran Rural Health Centre in Mwembezhi is located about 60 miles west of Lusaka, in Central Province of Zambia. The clinic provides Christ-centered healthcare services to people within its region. One of the primary functions of the clinic is pre and postnatal care: monitoring pregnant women throughout their pregnancies and then through labor and delivery. In 2021, 197 babies were born at the clinic. In fact, the Zambian government mandates that babies be born at health centers such as Mwembezhi, rather than at home.

Unlike the United States, people do not have cars or have easy access to ambulances or taxis to transport a mother to the clinic quickly when she goes into labor. To address the problem, the clinic created a mother’s shelter where expectant mothers can come two or three days before their due date then safely deliver the baby at the clinic. This is followed by proper postnatal care in the critical 48 hours after giving birth and resting before returning home. Before leaving, mothers are given gifts of baby blankets, onesies and baby hats, which are donated by our supporters in the United States.

Before renovations

The mother’s shelter, which consisted of two rooms—an open space and a storeroom (which the local police occasionally used as a jail cell)—had fallen into a state of disrepair. The roof leaked, windows were broken, masonry was cracked, doors were made from rusty iron roof sheets, the paint was peeling, woodwork was rotting in places, and there was no electricity or running water. It was clear that the building needed significant improvement and so a renovation project was proposed.

Additionally, because of an inspection of the clinic conducted by the Health Professional Council of Zambia in June 2022, it was decided that the clinic did not have proper and separate male and female observation rooms as required by Zambian health standards. Men and women were sharing the same observation room. So as part of the renovation project, it was decided that the old storeroom would be extended to create a larger mother’s room that could accommodate up to four mothers at a time, and the two previous mother’s rooms would be converted to male and female observation rooms.

CAMM was blessed to receive grants to fund the project from WELS Christian Aid and Relief and students from Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, Wis. Construction began in September 2022 for the renovation and remodel of the building.

After renovations

The building received a new roof, windows were reglazed and repainted, rotting woodwork was replaced, cracked masonry was repaired, drainage around the building improved, walls and floors were replastered and repainted. A new concrete walkway was built between the mother’s shelter and the main clinic building. The shelter was connected to the clinic’s solar system and lights and electrical outlets were installed. Wash basins were also added. The building was re-opened in December 2022.

With the completion of the mother’s shelter, CAMM has now renovated all of the buildings associated with clinic operations. CAMM leadership wants to ensure that patients are treated with respect and quality in the facilities and staff who help them. The Lutheran Rural Health Centre is regarded as the best health center facility in the Shibuyunji health district. Most importantly, our patients hear the good news of the gospel and receive true Christian love from our staff during their care.

Written by Gary Evans, field director for the Central Africa Medical Mission

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Counting the stars in Uganda

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog. Subscribe to future updates from Africa at oneafricateam.com.

Uganda is a special place. “The Pearl of Africa,” they call it. It’s a beautiful country of rolling hills, mountains, and vegetation. The source of the Nile River is there, bubbling up from underneath Lake Victoria. During the day, my eyes couldn’t get enough of all that they were seeing.

It was when the sun went down, though, that I saw and was reminded of something even more beautiful.

My colleague, Missionary Keegan Dowling, and I had the privilege and honor of traveling to Uganda just before Christmas 2022 to teach about the life of Jesus to a group of pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders in the Obadiah Lutheran Synod (OLS). The OLS is a church body with whom WELS will be declaring formal fellowship during its 2023 synod convention. The workshop took place on the property of the church president, Pastor Musa (Moses), located in a village away from modern conveniences. The only electricity around was produced by a generator sparingly after night fell. This might not sound very pleasant, but it revealed something often hidden from our eyes.

The night sky. . .

Seeing that sky and the starlight that pierced its veil is something I will never forget. Thousands upon thousands of the great starry hosts twinkled above us, casting their soft light and dispersing the gloom. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the conversation God had with Abraham about the stars. . . “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).

Pastor Dowling and I were blessed to be introduced to about 40 of those believing stars at this workshop. We taught many stories from the life of Jesus, from his birth to his ascension, and these stars soaked it up. Then they showed us their own capacity for light-bearing as they taught and retaught the same lessons in our practical sessions. Our goal was not only to teach them more about Jesus, but to teach them to teach their people more about Jesus.

Who could have guessed that we would meet some of Abraham’s descendants in this remote village in a country halfway around the world from the home we knew? Jesus can count the stars.

He knew he’d be introducing me to Tony, a persistent optimist and a man trained to be an educator. He sees many challenges facing their church body (lack of Bibles, for one), but he sees more opportunities for doing gospel ministry. He wants to give Bibles away, show films about Jesus to the community, start a Lutheran school for children, travel to Sudan to do missionary work there, and more.

Jesus knew about Jaka, a refugee from South Sudan due to the war going on there. He lives and serves in a refugee camp on the Ugandan side of the border. Jaka lives separated from his parents. In spite of his experiences, he praises and glorifies God. He also keeps his sense of humor and was often the one making everyone laugh.

Jesus introduced me to another star, Isaac, one of the few men there who has been seminary trained. He had been doing work with another church in Uganda, but eventually left for doctrinal reasons and has been in touch with WELS for some time. I was privileged to be part of the meeting where he and his two companions officially requested to become a part of the OLS in Uganda. Three others who weren’t able to make it to the workshop will also be joining. More stars. . .

Finally, Jesus knew about Pastor Musa, the current president of the OLS, shining brightly for all of them. He and two others started this church body back in 2008. They had neither congregations nor resources. Today, the OLS has nearly 30 congregations in spite of still having very few resources. Their motto has often been: “We will make use of whatever resources are available.” That goes for money and people as well. Many of the workshop participants were young, in their late teens or early twenties, and they had very little training. But Musa is determined to train them and have their gifts put to use to teach the people in their congregations. That way the light of Jesus may shine all the more brightly, and more and more stars of Abraham might make themselves known as they pierce that blanket of night.

As you look up at the night sky, wherever you are, count the stars you so often can’t see. Count these descendants of Abraham who shine with the light of Jesus. Pray that our Savior would cause them to burn ever more brightly, that the whole world may be bathed in the light of God’s fulfilled promise to Abraham.

Written by Rev. Ben Foxen, Outreach Missionary on the One Africa Team




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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions!

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55: 10-11

What gifts will you get this Christmas? What gifts will you give? This time of year, we tend to focus on so many earthly things, but we know these things do not last. The truth of forgiveness in Jesus IS what lasts. He came down from heaven and lived a perfect life to give us the only thing we need: eternal life in heaven with him. This gift is ours. For free. There is no greater gift.

We here in Home, World, and Joint Missions are humbled to serve God and his family of believers. It is truly a privilege to share the message of God’s greatest gift to all believers, Jesus Christ, with all people. It is through people like YOU that God enables this work to continue. Thank you! Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we see the miracle of faith sprouting up all over the United States and world. May we all strive to plant seeds of faith and share God’s Word, because he promises it will not return empty. The Word goes out and always achieves God’s purpose.

Merry Christmas from your brothers and sisters in Christ serving WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions!

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Update on the Ukrainian Lutheran Church – Dec. 13, 2022

As I write this update about the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), it is day 288 since the war began on February 24. Throughout Ukraine there has been much damage to property—vital infrastructure, hospitals, schools, train stations, to mention just a few. While there are no official figures, there have been many casualties, both soldiers and civilians. But as of today, no ULC members or pastors have lost their lives. Praise be to God!

In the face of war, the ministry continues, relatively uninterrupted. The ministry has actually expanded as pastors and congregations are now helping refugees and members in need, along with their friends and neighbors. Christians are not only speaking of their faith in Jesus, but putting their faith into action. People and communities are witnessing the love and concern Christians have for others in their time of need.

Much of Ukraine now is without electricity or is experiencing periods of blackouts lasting for hours. Some of the effects of this are the loss of heating, charging phones and computers, running refrigerators and freezers, and lights at night. Winter always has a shortened period of daylight time, but without lights it makes the days longer and depression settles in quite easily. Many people buy candles, but now candles are hard to find and the cost of a candle which used to be ten cents is as high as two dollars and 50 cents (American currency). There are very many cases of stress related illnesses among the people. Bishop Horpynchuk says that at present their greatest concerns are heat and food.

Many people have been praying for Ukraine and the ULC since the outbreak of this war. Gifts from CELC churches have enabled pastors and congregations to buy generators, which have been a big help for them. Now there can be at least some heat in the buildings for their worship services. They also are able to buy food, medicines, fuel, warm clothing, blankets, shoes, and hygiene products. They thank you for your gifts that enable to make these purchases.

I’m often asked to pass along, from the members and pastors, thanks for all that people have done for them with their prayers and gifts. They appreciate these very, very much. In times of need, and at all times, Christians work together, laugh together, cry together, but we cherish the truth that we are all one in Christ. Our times are in his hands, and what better place can there be. The ULC extends wishes for God’s blessings for all of you, our fellow believers. Thank you for your prayers.

Submitted by Rev. Roger Neumann, WELS liaison to the ULC

This update was shared from the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference website.

 


WELS is supporting the Ukrainian Lutheran Church with emergency needs as their country is torn apart by war.

 

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Thinking creatively

Last month, Asia Lutheran Seminary attended the Hong Kong Christian book fair. Tony, the connections missionary attended the event and made for himself a personal goal: to get our materials into the hands of as many people as he could. At the end of the day he had handed out over 7,000 Time of Grace booklets, small devotionals ranging on a variety of topics. The Hong Kong Christian book fair is held every year, selling Asia Lutheran Seminary publications, including books from Dr. Thompson and other various Lutheran resources. Attending the annual book fair is just another way for Asia Lutheran Seminary to get its name out there. Tony said, “I just wanted to hand out resources, I never expected that many people would walk away with materials and learn about Asia Lutheran Seminary.”

Despite the fact that most of the world is living in a post-COVID world, the COVID policies are still in place in Hong Kong, which has led to many opportunities to think creatively about how to continue to search for students and connect to others, the book fair being one of them.

And it’s not just Tony who is thinking creatively. The resilience of the church in east Asia is also impressive. Tony said, “Historically and again now in the present we are seeing how resilient the church in East Asia is. And how, despite that fact, they have found creative ways to continue to grow and find lost sheep.”

Written by Peter Janke, missionary on the East Asia mission team

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Happy Thanksgiving from WELS Missions!

Sometimes it takes a bad situation to bring out the best in us.

Medical advances are taken for granted until someone in your family desperately needs help. Peace and prosperity aren’t seen as gifts until a country is plunged into war. A roof over our heads is not given a second thought until a hurricane rips it off. Food on our plates is expected, but that expectation can melt away in an instant where drought or famine hit hard. When help arrives in a desperate situation, thanksgiving can shine. Doctors, soldiers, emergency crews, and aid workers can fill pages with accounts of people filled with gratitude when help arrives.

Help in a bad situation can bring out the best in us. This is why thanksgiving should never be far from our lips. We were all in the most desperate of circumstances. Born into a sinful world and determined from birth to rebel against our Creator, we were in the most horrible situation imaginable. We deserved to be separated from our Maker for eternity. But God intervened. He sent his Son and saved us. He redeemed the entire world from sin by his death on the cross. He proved his success, and ours, by his resurrection from the dead. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul encourages all believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We in the WELS Missions office have the great honor of seeing God’s amazing grace reach the far corners of the world. Aid for families touched by diseases, wars, disasters, and famine are always welcomed with expressions of thanks and joy from our Christian family around the world. That thanksgiving is raised to the highest heights as we rejoice with them in the greatest gifts of all: the gifts of God’s eternal grace, mercy, and peace. Thank you for helping us bring the life-giving gospel to the world. Enjoy this short video that shares how God blessed that work in 2022.

Join with us this Thanksgiving to rejoice at what God has done for us all. Rejoice that many are helped when life in this vale of tears gets tough. Shout praises to God for the blessing of being able to share this good news with the world.

From all of us in WELS Missions, we thank God for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions

 




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Visit to Kenya and Ethiopia

Along with Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions administrator, and Missionary Howard Mohlke,  head of the WELS One Africa Team, I was privileged to visit two of our sister synods in Africa in October. The experience is one I will never forget.

The first visit took place in Nairobi, Kenya. There we were greeted at the airport by representatives of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ–Kenya (LCMC–Kenya). The LCMC–Kenya was received into fellowship with WELS at our synod convention in 2019.

We had the opportunity to worship in the new partially constructed church building (made possible by the generous support of WELS members). We spent the next two days attending the synod convention of the LCMC–Kenya. The faith, zeal, and commitment of the pastors and laypeople attending the convention were truly moving. In the days after the convention, we visited several congregations where members themselves are erecting new church buildings.

Later in the week we traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There we were greeted by Dr. Kebede Yigezu, the president of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). The LCE is also a relatively new sister synod of WELS, with fellowship declared at our synod convention in 2017.

One of the priorities of the LCE is Christian education on all levels. In a building in Bishoftu (also made possible by the generous gifts of WELS members), Dr. Kebede operates a school where three levels of theological training take place. We were privileged to attend the graduation of four men who had completed their training in one of the levels and are now ready to begin seminary training.

With his emphasis on Christian education, Dr. Kebede also has permission from the local government in Dukem to operate a Lutheran elementary school there. It will have an enrollment of 900 by next year. We visited the school at the start of the school day and were impressed by the enthusiasm of the students and the commitment of the teachers.

God is blessing the gospel ministries of these two growing sister synods. Your prayers and offerings have been a special blessing to them.

 

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Growth and partnership in Indonesia

In July 2022, WELS Friendly Counselor Rev. Gregory Bey made his first visit to Indonesia since the pandemic began. Bey attended the convention of WELS’ sister synod in Indonesia, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI currently has about 1,650 members in 29 congregations served by 30 pastors and 5 vicars.

The GLI convention was held on the new seminary campus on the island of Java. Construction of this seminary, called Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), was completed in 2021. Seminary classes are taught by Indonesian pastors with support from Bey. The seminary currently has 27 students, many of whom are graduates of a Lutheran high school that was established in July 2018.

“Walking through the new campus evoked emotions of exhilaration and excitement coupled with thankfulness to God for this beautiful blessing,” says Bey. “But it was interacting with the students, staff, and faculty that brought to mind these words of St. Paul: ‘Entrust the things you heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, to faithful men who will also be able to teach others’ ” (2 Timothy 2:2 Evangelical Heritage Version).

Bey concludes: “God-willing, STTL will produce a steady stream of qualified national pastors for many years to come.”

GLI continues to grow in number and maturity. In 2015, a plan was set in motion to transition a significant amount of financial support from WELS to GLI. Pastor salaries for men in established congregations will, prayerfully, be fully supported by local members by 2025. In some cases, GLI pastors may need to serve as “tent ministers” who support themselves with secular jobs. WELS would continue to provide funding for seminary professors and possibly the synod chairman. Savings could then be used to support building projects for existing churches as well as exploratory work in new regions. This is a huge step toward self-sufficiency and independence as a stand-alone church body.

WELS’ Asia One Team is in the process of calling for a full-time friendly counselor to support and advise the work in Indonesia. Bey has been filling the role on a quarter-time basis since he retired from full-time work in 2019.

Learn more at wels.net/indonesia.

 

 

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