Highlights-Des Moines 2019

Highlights from the 57th Annual LWMS Convention
June 27-30, 2019
Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center
Iowa Events Center
Des Moines, Iowa

Supporting Our Home and World Missionaries—Sean and Kirsten Young
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).”

Sean opened the session by giving a brief overview of his background and career path and telling how he met Kirsten.

Sean then explained his role as director of Mission Operations at the Center for Mission and Ministry. He oversees all aspects of the Home and World Missions offices and manages the Joint Mission Office staff. Sean admitted that he really doesn’t care to travel and would prefer to be home in his own bed every night, but then he shared that, from July 2018 to July 2019, he was away from home more than 100 nights. In that time, he traveled to Vietnam, Bulgaria, Malaysia, and many cities across the United States. Sean was quick to point out that he couldn’t do this important work or travel all those miles without the support and strength of his wife, Kirsten. Along with running the household, Kirsten works as a nanny for several families and volunteers at their church.  She uses all these opportunities to share her faith every chance she gets. Kirsten then told the group that she was able to travel with Sean recently on a mission trip to Russia. She pointed out two valuable lessons she learned from that trip. First, sitting in the church service in a foreign country, she realized what it must feel like to be an outsider or a newcomer at a WELS church or church service. Second, the trip gave her a window into what international travel is like. After that realization, Kirsten became more determined to make their home a haven when Sean returns from these trips. Sean concluded by saying that because Kirsten manages their home and keeps things in order in his personal life, he is able to focus on the work to be done for Home and World Missions. In that way, they both do their part to support our Home and World Missionaries.
 
“Stepping out of My Comfort Zone” by Anita
Anita, a Christian therapist, and her husband, a theological educator, lived a comfortable life in a new house in a mid-sized midwestern American city. She had a fairly predictable routine in a familiar location, with her children and beautiful grandchild nearby. She was in her comfort zone. Although she had gone on a few mission trips, she was always able to return home, to her comfort zone.
Then came the call. Her husband was presented with an opportunity to teach in East Asia. Both he and Anita could list several reasons why they should return the call, but after prayerful consideration, they decided to accept it. That’s when Anita entered the fear zone. She would be leaving the home, the community, and the routine she was familiar with and moving to a place where living conditions were uncertain. She would be going to a country she had never visited. She didn’t even speak the language! She would be leaving friends and family members, not knowing when she would see them again.
Next came the transition. They sold their house, disposed of their belongings, and said their good-byes. They endured the long flight and reached their destination, an Asian city almost 600 times the size of their hometown. They moved into their small urban apartment, and Anita’s husband began teaching. Although the venue and the students were different, the tasks associated with his profession were very similar to those in the United States. Anita had a different situation. She had to discover how to manage a home, shop for food and other essentials, familiarize herself with the currency, and navigate the transportation system in a very unfamiliar environment. She had entered the learning zone. In the weeks and months that followed, she began working as a counselor, primarily with other transplanted Americans. She learned to concentrate on the basics: food, sleep, exercise, and a connection to God. She asked for help and support when she needed it. And she prayed.
Anita then found herself in the growth zone. She became more patient and more grateful. She was open to a new culture; she met new people, tried new foods, celebrated new holidays, and traveled to new places. And, as always, she studied her Bible and she prayed. Two of the passages that she found especially comforting were these words of Jesus: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Let’s remember these verses when we step out of our comfort zone. And let’s also remember to pray for all the workers and the students in East Asia.
 
Moments with Missionary Wives

The Moments with Missionary Wives breakout session was moderated by Pastor James Douglas. The panelists included Susan Nitz, Linda Marquardt, and Chao Yang. After a brief introduction by Pastor Douglas, the panelists began their presentations.

Susan Nitz and her husband, Paul, serve in Malawi. When they first arrived in Malawi in the 1990s, there were only 9 million people in the country. Susan shared pictures of those early days and talked about learning to be ready to go without things we take for granted in the United States—things such as electricity. When the Nitzes arrived in Malawi, the country was in the midst of an AIDS/HIV epidemic, and it still is. Susan spoke about God’s provisions during their service and about their children growing up in Malawi. Currently the country of Malawi has 18 million people and God is working amazing things through the Nitzes’ ministry.

Linda Marquardt and her husband live in a South Asian country. Her husband is a friendly counselor in the area. Linda teaches English to students at the seminary and serves as the “school nurse.” She shared pictures of her students and told us they were sending her messages saying that they missed her while she was at the convention. Linda also shared pictures of the children’s homes in the area where she volunteers. There are five homes, each housing 25 children. Linda spoke of the cultural challenges of the ministry as well.

Chao Yang and her husband, Pheng Moua, serve a congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota. Pheng has been in the ministry 20 years. There are 45 families in their congregation, Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church. Chao is a teacher for a local charter school, the music director for the congregation, the choir director for the congregation, and a Sunday school teacher. She also assists her husband on home visits and prays for the members of their congregation. Chao shared her plans to travel to Thailand in July and August to teach Bible studies for women. She shared how the Hmong community expects actions along with sharing the gospel. They expect to see those sharing the gospel leading by example.

The workshop wrapped up with questions for the panelists. Many questions pertained to the risks associated with serving in another country. All the panelists shared that God has always provided and kept them from harm, and they know he will continue to do so.
 
“God’s Grace Reaching Vietnam” by Rev. Jon Bare, International Recruitment Director, Pastoral Studies Institute, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

    If you share any mission story from this year’s convention, may it be this one! Jon Bare’s narrative aptly illustrates an often-repeated statement from other speakers: What they have the least, they need the most, and we have the best.
    In Vietnam, a Communist country, the Hmong are one of several minority groups, with about 2 million souls. Since the 1990s many Hmong have come to faith in Jesus. However, their churches were isolated, and their leaders had little training or doctrinal knowledge, sometimes doubting, as one said, if they were “doing enough to earn salvation.”
    In 2011 a group of Hmong leaders gathered to try to find some way they could get reliable training, preferably from a single, biblically sound source. Enter Pastor Lor. After graduating from the seminary, Pastor Lor had put several of his Hmong sermons online. Years later, one of the Hmong church leaders discovered a Lor sermon. It was exactly what they’d been searching for. He shared Lor’s other sermons, and eventually one man contacted Pastor Lor and asked him to come visit the Hmong Christians. After that first visit, Lor began using his free time to travel three times a year to Vietnam, training sixty men each time, and tasking those men to take what they learned back to their own churches. Over the next few years, Lor made twenty such trips on his own volition to Vietnam.
    In 2016 Rev. Bare was invited to meet with a group of Hmong believers to ascertain their needs and to see if this might be a legitimate connection for WELS to support. Bare found that Lor’s training had greatly changed the men he’d served and the teaching they had taken back to their churches. Now they knew they had God’s grace. One pastor’s mother said, “My son is a completely different person now. . . . There was no peace. . . . He’s applying the good news of Jesus. There is joy.” Bare reported back to the WELS: “We can’t miss this opportunity.”
In 2017, WELS called Pastor Lor to oversee the teaching of Hmong leaders and traveling to Vietnam four times a year for several weeks each time. The results of his work: the Hmong believers now numbered 70,000 and, as Pastor Vang described, “The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the villages.” The Vietnamese government also noticed this.
    Government leaders appreciated how much the Lutheran religion seemed to have helped the Hmong, but they also wondered whether the WELS was just some fly-by-night organization. To find out, the government arranged a meeting between Vietnamese leaders and our synod’s president stateside. After they left, knowing of our synod’s long and stable history, the astounding result was that WELS received word that it would become the only Protestant church officially allowed to carry out religious training of minority groups in Vietnam!
    In 2018 WELS sent men over to assess possibilities. Now the Hmong church had 100,000 believers. How could we provide training for all of their pastors? WELS formulated a plan to reach 2,000 church leaders a year. In 2019 the Vietnamese government signed a document allowing WELS to own land and develop it for a school. As of now, land has been purchased, trees cleared, and plans drawn up for a four-classroom building. Pastor Lor accepted a call to serve the school on-site, and Pastor Cherney currently holds a call to accompany him there. As of today, church membership has swelled to 120,000 souls. “Why wouldn’t we grow?” one leader said. “We have the Gospel!”
    What they have the least, they need the most, and we have the best. Spread the word!