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God bless Malawi

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

(1 Thessalonians 3:9)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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Greetings from Malawi in Jesus’ name! In the past few weeks, many of you have heard about the severe flooding in Malawi. Unusually heavy rains have caused extensive damage, especially in the Southern Region of Malawi. About 80% of our LCCA churches are located in this area. Thousands of our Lutheran members have been affected by these floods. Many have lost their homes. Others have lost their fields and gardens. Many have been injured, and some have even lost their lives. With one united voice we cry to our gracious God in heaven that he may have mercy on all who are suffering from this disaster.

But how can we thank God enough for you, our brothers and sisters in America! You have poured out your earnest prayers like a mighty flood before God’s throne. You do not know our names and we do not know yours, yet you have come to our assistance with your generous gifts and offerings. Even now, the affected congregations of the LCCA are receiving disaster relief from the WELS – warm blankets, plastic roofing sheets, nails, and a bucket to carry water. These gifts of love do more than warm our bodies in the cold hours of the night. They warm our hearts, for now we know that you are one with us in Christ!

malawi-02052015-350We thank the WELS Christian Aid and Relief Committee for their generous and ongoing financial contributions. We thank the Kingdom Workers for supplying manpower to assist in the distribution of relief. Most of all, we thank everyone who has offered heartfelt prayers and generous gifts to help us in our need. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

God is always good to us, but these hardships in Malawi will continue for some time. We humbly ask that you will continue to hold us up in prayer, just as we will always pray for you. We ask that you will continue to support us with your financial contributions, just as you have been doing right up to this time. May the God who loves us and who has washed us of our sins in Jesus’ blood bless you for your kindness.

Your brother in Christ,
Rev. Riphat Matope, president, LCCA Malawi Synod

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Deep Water: Update from Malawi

Greetings from Lilongwe, Malawi!

Things have been a bit unsettled since I wrote my last Malawi Update. Our Missionary of Education and Publication, Rev. Peter Martin, has taken a call to serve as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff, KY. He and his family left Malawi in the beginning of December. In addition to this, another of our missionaries, Rev. Stephen Lawrenz, will be returning to the United States by the end of March. Rev. Lawrenz will not be replaced. We are still waiting to see if there will be a replacement for Rev. Martin. So temporarily, at least, the number of missionaries in Malawi has been reduced from six to four. That hurts.

Destroyedhome-01192015-350The Malawi Mission Council has been meeting with the leaders of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) to develop a strategic plan for ministry in Malawi. To be sure, it is a wonderful thing that the LCCA is undertaking this important work. More than that, it’s a great opportunity to structure the work in Malawi in the very best possible way so that the preaching of the gospel can go forward. At the same time, however, it also involves a lot of very weighty questions, and creates a good bit of uncertainty. How many missionaries will be serving in Malawi in the future? Will even some of the remaining four end up going home? If they remain in Malawi, what specific jobs will they be asked to do? Is the national church happy and content with what missionaries have been doing in the past? These are questions that weigh heavily on the minds of world missionaries. It is not a lot of fun when you are the one who needs to wade through them.

If I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, swamped as I am beneath the “grievous burdens” of my supposedly miserable condition, recent events in Malawi have taught me to count my blessings. There are a lot of people in Malawi who are wading through much deeper water than I am. In the past few days, Malawi has been hit with very severe flooding. No one can know at this time the full extent of the damages or loss of life. At the time of writing, at least 176 people are confirmed dead, and perhaps a quarter of a million no longer have a house in which to sleep. The damage to buildings, bridges, roads and crops is immense. Nevertheless, Malawi is still filled with people like those pictured above – people who just can’t help but smile, even as their strong-armed sons or brothers tow them by the hand through waist-deep rushing water. How stupid and arrogant of me to think that MY life was so difficult!

Womanhome-01192015-350Whatever manner of “deep water” you might be in, we have a powerful and loving God who promises to see us through. He has shown his infinite love for sinners like you and me by sacrificing his only Son to pay for our transgressions. He has shown his almighty power by raising Jesus from the dead and seating him at his right hand. This is the God who says to us:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

Perhaps some of those smiling people in Malawi have put their trust in Christ, and appreciate God’s promise even better than I do. I hope so, because for many of them, the waters have just gotten that much deeper.

Sadly, disasters such as this are not limited to Malawi. They happen all around the world and affect many different people. The Wisconsin Synod provides disaster relief assistance through the WELS Christian Aid and Relief Committee. We thank God for all who offer their prayers and support to help suffering people all around the world.

Missionary Mark Panning, Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA)-Malawi

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WELS members volunteer help in Black Forest restoration project

On June 11, 2013 a fire started in the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colo., in a section of the Black Forest. The fire spread quickly to the suburbs and in the end consumed 486 homes and did over $85,000,000.00 in damage.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief

WELS Christian Aid and Relief was contacted shortly thereafter by Pastor James Seiltz of Salem Lutheran Church. (One of two WELS churches in Colorado Springs). Pastor Seiltz reported that the fire came close to his home and the church but, that by the grace of God both were spared. He further reported that only a few members had some damage to their homes and thankfully no members lost their homes completely. With that said, Seiltz also reported that he knew that many friends of the congregational members of both his church and the other WELS church in town, Fount of Life were affected.

Christian Aid and Relief immediately dispatched funds to help those affected. The two WELS congregations created a joint committee to organize relief efforts and to prioritize needs to be addressed.

It has been a slow but steady recovery process for the affected communities but they now are starting to restore public access areas in the forest that were damaged by the fire. The joint committee has seen this to be a wonderful opportunity to help in the restoration project and to reach out in Christian love and compassion for their community. The committee decided to use some for the granted funds to have t-shirts made to help identify their volunteers and to also assist with the cost of feeding the volunteers.

We thank our gracious Lord for providing these opportunities to our Colorado Springs congregations to “let their light shine” in service to their Lord and their communities. And we pray that the Holy Spirit would use these volunteers to share the saving Gospel with those who may not know their Savior yet.

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Christian Aid & Relief is helping to support gospel outreach among the deaf in Russia

Deaf Club in Berdsk

Deaf Club in Berdsk. Gennadi is second from the left in the front row in the brown suit coat.

At age five, Gennadi was thrown from a horse and lost the hearing in both ears. For the next 70 years, Gennadi worked, fished, tended his garden – and knew nothing about his Savior. But God knew Gennadi and had plans for him.

About two years ago, Gennadi’s friends invited him to deaf Bible class in Berdsk, and he started coming to weekly classes. He came to socialize with friends, but he also listened to God’s Word. He heard how God created the world and all things, including our first parents. He heard how Adam and Eve fell into sin, and how God promised them a Savior. For the first time, he heard what Jesus had done for him, how He had died and risen from the dead, and how God promised His believers eternal life.

Then one week’s Bible lesson focused on baptism. We learned that Gennadi had never been baptized. “Gennadi, would you like to be baptized? God wants to give all these wonderful promises to you personally.” “Oh, no, pastor, I’m too old for that kind of thing!”

But Gennadi kept coming, and he kept listening. And God kept working in his heart. Finally, about a year after he started attending Bible class, Gennadi announced that he would like to be baptized. What a happy day that was!

And Gennadi kept coming. And he kept listening. And God kept working. About six months later, Gennadi came to Bible class and announced that he would like to be confirmed. Why? Gennadi wanted to take Lord’s Supper with us.

John Lange and Gennadi

John Lange and Gennadi

I think the Lord Jesus instituted His supper just for Gennadi. Do you remember how Jesus once spoke sign language to a deaf man He intended to heal? He put His fingers into the man’s ears. He touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and sighed before speaking one powerful word: “Ephatha!” “Be opened!”

The Savior does the same thing now for Gennadi. “Look! Take and eat! This is My body, which I gave for you. Look! Take and drink! This is the blood that I shed for you on the cross. Gennadi, go in peace. All your sins are forgiven!”

On Gennadi’s confirmation day, I said, “Gennadi, we all know you like to fish. Jesus is a fisherman too. The only difference is that Jesus catches people. Gennadi, when you catch your fish, you take them home and you eat them. When Jesus catches His fish, He takes them home and gives them eternal life. And now, Gennadi, Jesus has caught you too, hasn’t he!” And Gennadi nodded and smiled. Thank God for the work He is doing in Russia and around the word!

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm

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Sharing God’s Word

Beaver DamPastor Briones and family recently had the opportunity to travel to the United States for two weeks. While there, they gave presentations with regard to the mission work in Mahahual. Some of the people to whom they presented were the students of a Lutheran gradeschool, the ladies at an LWMS circuit rally, the Sunday school children and an adult Bible study group. It was a blessing to be able to share the ministry with all of these people.

One of the joys of the presentations was the chance to share one of our most recent projects – something called Proclaimers. This is a device with the New Testament recorded on it (in our case in Spanish). It can be charged by crank, outlet, or solar panel. As we work with many adults who cannot read, the Proclaimers are a godsend. Pastor Briones gives a Bible study with these folks once a week, but now they have the means to listen to God’s Word all week long. You can read more about these devices at faithcomesbyhearing.com.

One of the gentleman who has been listening to the Proclaimer commented, ¨It’s the pure Word of God. That’s what is important.¨

Please continue to pray for God’s Word to take root in many hearts here in Mahahual.

Pastor Roebke

Blood, Sweat and Capri Sun

Pastor Roebke

Lamb of God, Madison, Ala., pastor Rev. John Roebke shares his account of the recent tornadoes.

Last night, I hunkered down in a storm shelter for two hours with about 150 of my neighbors as tornados tore through North Alabama. People were scanning the Internet with their smartphones, desperate for the latest damage reports. While there was the occasional crying child, for the most part everyone maintined a civil tone. Shelter volunteers waded through the sea of humanity with pitchers of cool water. Their hospitality is greatly appreciated.

As we waited for the atmosphere to settle, I wondered what was waiting back at our cul-de-sac. Missing shingles? Stripped off siding? Splintered wood? Thankfully, all was as we left it – with the exception of our supper, which in our haste was left for the cats to devour.

But others did not fare as well. On a country road about 20 miles west of my home, I saw downed trees and power lines, mud-splattered homes, debris fields and a bare spot where a trailer once stood. Thanks be to God, there were no fatalities on that stretch of road. I was not there to gawk, snap and post, but rather to offer cleanup supplies and our church’s sympathies and prayers. I thank WELS Christian Aid & Relief for the funds to purchase these supplies, as well as our church members for putting these “tornado tubs” together.

In the big picture, this was only a small gesture – but it was greatly appreciated. One resident shared how a neighbor and her daughter had driven up and down the street offering pouches of CapriSun drink to their neighbors. In the midst of tragedy and terror, even the smallest acts of kindness bring relief.

Jesus said, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) Whether it’s a cup of cool water, a bin of cleaning supplies or a plastic pouch of sugar water, we have so many opportunities to show Christian love to others. Whatever it may cost us in time or money to serve others, it certainly will not cost us the place Jesus purchase for us with his holy, precious blood. That is the most precious gift of all.

Spring Storms Sweep South

Dear Lord God, Heavenly Father,

We entrust to your loving care the people affected by the tornadoes in the southern United States.

Bless the relief efforts. Help these hurting families to rebuild their homes and lives. These times of tragedy remind us that we live in a fallen world. Help us to look to you alone as our source of strength and security in a world of hardship. We pray that the hurting people affected by this disaster would turn to you as their refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Amen.

The news has reported 27 people confirmed dead with the latest tornadoes that have swept through the Midwest and South. Many small towns and rural areas have been heavily damaged with the possibility of additional damaging storms in the forecast.

Mark Vance, Director of Operations for WELS Christian Aid and Relief, has been in contact with our WELS congregation, (King of Kings, Pastor Weiss) in Little Rock, AR. He shares that the church facilities and all the members are unharmed. There is one snowbird member who lost both his home and car to the storm. In addition, the surrounding community was heavily damaged and 6 people were killed. The congregational leadership is assessing the affected member’s immediate needs and how they can assist with community recovery. WELS Christian Aid and Relief has offered emergency funding and made them aware of the resources that are available.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief thanks God for your support and prayers on behalf of all who have been affected by the storms.

“Nepal – Where monkeys are gods and many people are blind.”

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Click to watch Nepal Life Line

On February 11th of this year Christian Aid and Relief sent their Director of Operations, Mark Vance to the country of Nepal to assess the effectiveness of the humanitarian aid grant program established with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Nepal. In conjunction with the WELS Board for World Missions, CA&R grants funding for humanitarian aid projects to help the CELC of Nepal leaders and members to build bridges to Gospel sharing opportunities throughout their country. Currently, the CELC of Nepal has funding for 7 different projects that range from health clinics, to fresh water boreholes, to sewing clinics for women, to orphanage support and others.

Vance writes; “Until you actually travel to a country like Nepal and see the culture that Christians are up against, you can’t fully understand the magnitude of the challenge they have in living and sharing their faith.”

Nepal is a country whose religious culture is a mixture of Hindu influence from the west and Buddhism from the North. This mixture of beliefs and traditions has led to a culture of; “there are millions of gods and all are worshiped here.” It is clear to see this culture as you travel throughout the country as you will see shrines and temples to just about anything from monkeys to snakes to even an 8 year old girl they call “The living goddess.” It is sad that so many people are blind in their beliefs.

Most of the Christians in Nepal were once blind too. They tell their stories of how lost and hopeless they were in the emptiness of these beliefs. And now, how thankful they are that their eyes have been opened by the Word of the one true God.

There are almost 4,000 confessional Lutherans now in Nepal and almost all of them were initially brought to the knowledge of Christ their savior through the humanitarian aid projects conducted by the CELC of Nepal.

Purely by the grace of our Lord, the CELC of Nepal is growing daily in its numbers as eyes are being opened.

During this Easter season as we rejoice in the triumph of our Lord over sin and death, let us also rejoice and give thanks for the Christians in Nepal and pray that the Lord continue to strengthen their faith and their burning desire to “go make disciples of all nations.”

Christian Aid and Relief holds first Relief Trailer Coordinators Conference

WELS Christians aid and relief held its first ever relief trailer coordinators conference on April 4-5, 2014 in Milwaukee.

CA&R created their disaster relief trailer program in 2004 after multiple hurricanes hit Florida and the gulf coast that year. Two initial trailers were purchased and maintained at WELS congregations in Bradenton, FL and Mobile, AL. Church member coordinators for those trailers were appointed with the responsibility to coordinate the delivery of the trailer to disaster response sites as needed and to oversee the maintenance and upkeep of the trailers and equipment.

In 2010 a third trailer was purchased and located in Appleton, WI. In 2012 a fourth trailer was purchased and located in Stillwater, MN. And, in 2013 a fifth trailer was purchased and located in Oskaloosa, IA. Until this conference, the coordinators of these trailers had never met in person as a group. All of the trailers and coordinators have assisted CA&R volunteer disaster relief projects over the years except our newest trailer and coordinator in Oskaloosa.

CA&R Director of Operations, Mark Vance, explains the value of the conference this way; “Our trailer coordinators are all wonderfully dedicated Christ-like servants in their congregations. They are true leaders who stepped forward and said “this is a way I want to serve our synod and our Lord.” CA&R has done our best (with the help of some generous donors) to equip these guys with everything they needed to do that, everything except a way to build a network of resources to expand and enhance their relief service opportunities in their local communities. That is what this conference was all about. We wanted to give them a chance to build a relational network among themselves and then give them a network of local and national resources that they could tap into as they strengthened their local disaster relief preparedness and response efforts.”

The conference was seen to be a good foundational start for the coordinators and all agreed that these conferences should continue if possible on a yearly basis with future conferences focusing on disaster relief equipment, safety, and leadership training.

CA&R wishes to thank the Antioch Foundation for funding this conference and all of the presenters listed below who helped make this conference such a success.

Steve and Beth Zambotrailer conference

Mr. Neil Hankwitz (Kingdom Workers)

Pastor Robert Hein

Dr. Myles Tonnacliff (WLCFS)

Pastor Richard Warnecke

Prof. John Schuetze (WLCFS)

Mr. Paul Wittkamp

Also, our deep appreciation for our trailer coordinators:

Mr. Robert Kaylor (Saving Grace, Mobile, AL)

Mr. Jay Franklin (Victory, Jacksonville, FL)

Mr. David Bunnow, (Bethany, Appleton, WI)

Mr. Dennis Palmberg (Salem, Stillwater, MN)

Mr. David Pfeifer, Grace, Oskaloosa, IA)

CO Mudslide

We pray that God be with the families of those who have been swept away in the mudslide in Washington. May the Lord’s name be exalted as we lean on him for comfort and peace during this time of sadness. May we also be reminded of the brevity of life, to number our days aright and seek God while he may be found.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3,4

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;  he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;  I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”  The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46