Watching a mission church mature

Sharon Hartmann

There’s no doubt about it. Raw mission work—sharing the gospel message with people in a foreign country for the very first time—is exciting. Seeing the dramatic change in peoples’ lives after they hear and believe the gospel message for the first time is amazing and visible to all.

A maturing church body

Seeing the growth and maturing of a relatively young church may not be quite so obvious, but it is just as amazing. The maturing of a church takes a long time, a strong commitment, and experience. The WELS mission in Zambia, through the Holy Spirit, has been working for more than 60 years to establish, build, and assist the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Zambia (LCCA–Z) in growing and maturing a strong evangelical Lutheran church that can withstand the tests of an everchanging, sinful world. It is a mission field with four WELS missionaries who have well over one hundred years of combined African experience (and another hundred if you include the wives!).

View and download a PowerPoint slideshow about WELS mission work in Zambia.

The LCCA–Z has been blessed with a membership of more than 12,000 souls and continues to grow and mature in the service of its Savior. It is exciting to see the following blessings:

A 40-year-old established congregation calling and supporting its own national pastor for the very first time.

A congregation—without any help from the outside—adding on to its worship building because it needs the room.

Relatively poor, rural congregations giving heartfelt offerings to help support their synod.

Second- and third-generation church members being active in their home congregations and on synod-level boards and committees.

National pastors participating in the translation and review of vernacular Bibles and study Bibles.

A national pastor and his wife comforting a grieving family.

Sons and grandsons of national pastors studying to be pastors themselves.

Members standing firm in their faith and belief in the Bible against deep-seated traditional beliefs and cultural pressures.

Congregations standing firm on their foundation of Christ alone when the pressures of a materialistic world are trying to tear them down at every turn.

God’s Word continuing to work through enthusiastic participation in worship, Bible studies, Sunday school, lay-leadership training workshops, camp meetings, choir gatherings, youth gatherings, ladies’ group conventions, and regular pastors’ meetings.

These things could sound like everyday life in congregations in the United States, but all this is taking place thousands of miles away in a place much different from our own world. It takes place where most people do not have access to a car or public transportation, a place that probably does not have electricity or running water, a place where most people live on $1 a day. God has done amazing things!

A thriving worker training program

God also has moved the hearts of WELS members to support a strong combined worker training program in Zambia and Malawi. The program starts at the congregation level by identifying candidates for pastoral training through a pre-Lutheran Bible Institute program consisting of several weeks of training over two years’ time. These candidates then study for three years at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Malawi and then another three years at the Lutheran Seminary in Zambia. They spend a final year of supervised vicar training back at the congregational level.

This is just the basic training. Each year a week of pastoral continuing education is offered, taught by visiting professors from Martin Luther College or Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A high percentage of pastors in both Zambia and Malawi participate in this program. An advanced, four-year theological training program called GRATSI (Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute) offers pastors further training. Professors from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary together with resident seminary professors teach these courses. All these programs, along with ongoing mentoring and support by missionaries, provide the national church with well-trained men to shepherd the souls of their congregations and teach the truths of the Bible.

A unique partnership

In our fast-paced world of instant gratification, we might be tempted to give up on an old mission field or think there is nothing more to do because we’ve been there for so long. But a maturing mission field is still fragile, and it takes time, energy, and resources for work that is not always immediately obvious.

Relationships are everything in Zambia, and good relationships take a long time to build. Because of the long-term commitment, the presence of resident missionaries, and the support given by WELS, good relationships have been built, maintained, and are flourishing. These relationships have allowed for a unique partnership arrangement with the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Zambia. The WELS mission in Zambia works with the national church to tackle the challenges that come with being a maturing church. Each missionary serves on LCCA–Z synod boards and committees to help with the transparent and orderly administration of the synod. On behalf of WELS, they offer experience and resources for complicated issues involving land titles and deeds so that congregations do not lose their land and buildings to illegal squatters. They also work alongside national pastors to tackle unique tribal or traditional challenges in the light of the gospel. They give ministerial and logistical support for regional outreach, campus ministry, and prison ministry. The work of the church is tackled within the partnership framework of mutual love, honesty, and trust created throughout the past 60 years of mission work in Zambia.

As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1). Zambia is moving on to maturity. At first glance, it may not seem too exciting, but it is extremely important and long lasting. As God wills and with the prayers and support of WELS members, this exciting work in Zambia will carry on for many years to come.

Sharon Hartmann, wife of Missionary John Hartmann, lives in Lusaka, Zambia.



Baptized national members: 12,473
Organized congregations: 121
Preaching stations: 14
Missionaries: 4
National pastors: 35
Unique fact: God continues to prepare his people for doing works of service in Zambia as well as for reaching out to the nearby countries of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.




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Author: Sharon Hartmann
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

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