The 1,000-year storm

They’re calling it “the 1000 year storm.” To give you an idea of how weird it has been, much of South Carolina received the equivalent of half the annual rainfall within 48 hours. South Carolina was pinched. From the west, there was a slow moving low pressure system that brought moisture from the gulf. Then on the east, 200 miles off coast, sat Hurricane Joaquin. While it was too far away for the winds to affect us, it fed moisture into the atmosphere which was drawn toward that low pressure system. And so it just came down in buckets non-stop. For comparison, Hurricane Hugo, the big disaster of 1989, dropped about seven inches of rain inland and about 14 at the coast. This storm dropped about 20 inches of rain inland and about 24 at the coast. The ground was so saturated that even without much wind, trees would fall over because there was nothing solid for their roots to hold onto. Coffins/crypts began popping out of the ground in some cemeteries.

It’s a bit too early to tell what the impact will be. So far we know 13 people have died. But there are a bunch of people missing. Tens of thousands of homes are flooded. How many of those are salvageable? Who knows right now? But they’ve turned Summerville High School into a shelter for people who can’t live in their homes right now. There were amphibious water vehicles doing rescue missions within three miles of the Summerville Church on Saturday night. There are bridges that are just gone. Some roads too, as erosion took out the soil under it. But it’s still going on. As I write this, the rain is really almost nonexistent. (Though we’re expecting more.) But as all this water moves to low ground, it’s expanding rivers and creeks and canals wider and wider. So this will take a couple days. There have been curfews in place, where no one can be on the streets after 6 p.m. for non-essential reasons.

Church wise, the members are all fine. A few have water in their homes. However, at this time, I haven’t heard of anyone whose home will be unsalvageable. Just some clean up. The church was pretty much unaffected – tiny bit of water leaking in. When the district mission board bought this property decades ago, there was nothing on Trolley Road. They looked at a plot map and picked the highest spot. Wise.

The bigger impact to our church is just people trying to help their neighbors. We have some members who have taken in displaced people. We have others who are helping neighbors with cleanup.

It actually could have been MUCH worse. When you see the pictures and videos, it’s breathtaking. There are videos of people driving down a street, not realizing that what they think is a puddle is four feet of fast moving water. It would stall the car, then the car would start to float away as people jumped out the windows. Every human measure—sandbags, trenches, water pumps—could not deal with it. It was so frustrating to people as they watched water very quickly encroach upon their homes, and then engulf it. It serves as a useful reminder of how completely unable we are to REALLY control our situation. We THINK we have life under control, and then our powerlessness is proven dramatically by something like this. Which is good. It forces us to better rely on the one who IS in control.

Rev. Jon Hein, Beautiful Savior, Summerville, S.C.

With God, A Little Maize Featured

With God, a little maize can go a long way!

As I reflect back on my 15 years of relief work with WELS Christian Aid and Relief, I think of all the times volunteers would come up to me and say, “They need so much, and what we are able to give them seems so little. I wish we could give them more.” This is the heart of a compassionate Christian speaking out in love for the victims of a disaster. To comfort that heart we must remind them that it is not the amount of what is given that matters most, but the motivation in which it is given. Christ gave us the ultimate gift of eternal life by giving his life on the cross. We then are compelled to show that same love and compassion to others out of thankfulness for that gift Christ gave to us. If we have that motivation in our hearts, amounts and material challenges become insignificant.

With God, A Little Maize Article 1As I watch the trucks get loaded with their 40Kg bags of maize for this food distribution project in Malawi, I say to myself, “That is a lot of maize.” But when we get out to the villages and the families get their 20Kgs (which is about a medium sized bucket full), I say, “That seems like so little.” As I relayed this thought to one of the Malawian pastors he said to me, “You must remember, ten minutes ago this family had no maize and they don’t have much money at all to buy maize. Now they have more than they had and it was given freely to them. Remember, nothing is free in Malawi so, this is a huge blessing to them. And, to know that this gift of love and compassion came from their Lutheran brothers and sisters from around the world, is for many of them more than their emotions can handle.”

So, when we catch ourselves saying; “When Lord, did we see you hungry and fed you?,” remember what Christ said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40. With God, a little maize can go a long way.

With God, A Little Maize Article 2To date, the food distribution project has delivered 4,018 bags of maize to Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) congregations that were affected most by the floods back in January. We have another 5,977 bags to deliver before the rainy season starts in November. So far, by the grace of God, we are on track to do that. Please keep this project of Christian love in your prayers.

This project has only been made possible because of the generous donations made directly to the WELS Christian Aid and Relief flooding fund for Malawi. On behalf of the members of the LCCA, we thank you so very much.

Mark Vance
WELS Christian Aid and Relief
Director of Operations

Bags of Wheat FI

Food for Malawi

Greetings from Malawi!

These are bags of maize. A full one weighs 50 kilograms, which is just over 110 pounds.

Yesterday, we bought a bit of maize… about 881,500 pounds of it, which is about 441 tons, or roughly 8,000 of the bags you see pictured here. I’d love to show you what 441 tons of maize looks like, but I don’t think that I have ever seen that much maize collected in one place.

Maize is the staple food of Malawi. Grind it into flour and boil it into a stiff porridge and it is called nsima (NSEE-mah). You can eat it with your hands for lunch and supper. Or make it a little runnier and people will call it phala (PAH-lah). You can eat it with a spoon for breakfast, or just scoop it with your fingers and feed it to the baby.

I said, “Yesterday, WE bought maize,” but actually, I should be more precise. YOU bought all this maize… 441 tons of it for the members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA).

Earlier this year, the southern region of Malawi was hit by very severe flooding. Thousands of LCCA members had damage to their homes, and many lost their homes entirely. Some fields were completely eroded. Others were buried under several feet of sand. Fertilizer was washed away. Crops failed. Even in other areas of the country, the harvest was very small. Everybody in Malawi knew what this would mean. These people are subsistence farmers. They depend upon their harvest to survive. But for many Malawians, this year’s harvest did not come. There will be hunger in the coming year. Malnutrition. Even some starvation. Nsima

 So “we” went out and bought some maize. Mr. Mark Vance, the Director of Operations for WELS Christian Aid and Relief, was the one who manned the pen. He signed both copies of the contract and initialed every page. So did Mr. Lawson Tewesa, the Malawian maize vendor with whom we made our agreement. Mr. Stefan Felgenhauer and I were looking on as witnesses. So was our lawyer, Mr. Elton Jangale.

Hundreds of hours of work had preceded the actual signing of the document. The WELS Christian Aid and Relief committee tirelessly discussed the various options for relief together with the leaders of the LCCA. They considered all the possibilities. Kingdom Workers gracious donated Mr. Stefan Felgenhauer’s time and considerable expertise. We grilled the vendor with questions and inspected his warehouse. We hired the lawyer and hammered out a contract. Stefan, almost singlehandedly, arranged the complicated logistics of buying, storing, treating and shipping almost 450 tons of maize to something like 20 different distribution sites. LCCA national pastors were assigned to oversee the handouts and to conduct devotions and prayers at the time of distribution. There were many, many planning meetings, personal visits and conference calls. Gradually, a plan came together that almost 4,000 families in the LCCA would receive 20 kilograms of maize each month for the months of September, October, November, December and January. It was a ton of work… actually, more like 441 tons.

Yesterday, we signed the contract. But we have never forgotten that none of this could have happened except that hundreds just like you donated thousands and thousands of their own hard-earned, personal dollars to make this project possible.

Some surly and unhappy people might wonder why you did that. But as for us over here in Malawi, I think we all know why.

Thank you.
Missionary Mark Panning Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa


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,


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


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


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.


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


Humanitarian Aid grants released

At its June meeting, WELS Christian Aid and Relief approved grants worth $324,460 for fiscal year 2014-15 humanitarian aid in home and world mission fields.

“Many of the people we wish to reach with the gospel in our world mission fields have great physical needs,” says Rev. Robert Hein, chairman of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “They lack fresh water, medical care, food and nutrition. Christ’s love compels us to lend a helping hand in their time of need. As our missionaries provide humanitarian aid, they also develop caring relationships with the people of their communities. As we build relationships, we also build bridges to proclaim the gospel to them.”

This is the third year in a row that grant money for humanitarian aid has increased. “We rejoice that God has moved the hearts of his people to provide the special gifts needed to increase our funding of humanitarian aid grants,” says Hein. “We are eager to ‘tell our stories’ of how humanitarian aid is building bridges for the gospel, and the members of WELS have responded generously.” Christian Aid and Relief relies entirely on special gifts and is not funded through Congregation Mission Offerings.

Hein says more aid also is being distributed because there are more opportunities. Besides continuing aid in countries like Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Russia, Mexico, Haiti, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Japan, new projects are being funded in Thailand and the Dominican Republic.

A new project here in the United States is refugee/immigrant outreach in Las Vegas, Nev. Several WELS churches in Las Vegas have been working with Chapel of Improvement Christian Fellowship, a group of 90 souls from 16 different African nations being served by two men who are training to be WELS pastors through the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI).

“Pastor Isaac David (one of the men we are training with PSI materials) was himself the first African refugee brought to Las Vegas through the immigration agency ten years ago,” says Rev. Matthew Vogt, pastor at Water of Life, Las Vegas, Nev. “Now he and the other refugees he serves feel blessed to be in a position to pass on the Lord’s kindness to them by showing the love of Christ to the newest refugee immigrants. They seek to share the love of Christ by providing useful items as a gift from the church to help these families set up a home, which will then also—prayerfully—serve as a wonderful bridge to the gospel and an opportunity to witness to Christ’s love for us.”

With grant money from Christian Aid and Relief, this African ministry hosted a gathering July 4 for 35 new immigrant families. Each family received a voucher that they could use to buy discounted household items. Says Vogt, “A number of those families have since been attending the church for worship and Bible study.”

Christian Aid and Relief works closely with the WELS Boards for Home and World Missions, WELS missionaries, and sister congregations in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference in determining humanitarian aid grants. It also provides money for disaster relief efforts and people dealing with extreme medical emergencies, distributing more than $300,000 in 2013 for these purposes.

To learn more about the work of Christian Aid and Relief, watch this month’s edition of WELS Connection or go to www.wels.net/relief.


The WELS’ Wells of Tadipatri

Dedication of India Well

Dedication of Bethany Calvary Lutheran’s new well – May, 2014

WELS Christian Aid and Relief supports Gospel bridge building projects in India and around the world. Danamiah, his congregation and the people in Tadipatri, Andhra Pradesh are just a few of the people who are benefiting from the generosity of our WELS members. Through the giving and building of this well, there is clean water to drink and, at the same time, the living water of the gospel is able to be shared with the people dying from spiritual thirst.

The Samaritan woman of John 4 was very familiar with the well outside the village of Sychar. She carried water from it every day. But she had a greater need. She needed living water from the Gift of God. Through the power of Jesus’ words she got it.

A gospel worker named Danamiah from Tadipatri, Andhra Pradesh, India had the opposite problem. He had freely dispensed living water for a number of years. He had gathered a group of believers on the edge of Tadipatri. Through the generous donation of an individual, the group was able to construct a humble worship facility and parsonage. The land wasn’t great, but you couldn’t beat the price. It was free. The only problem was that lots of living water was being dispensed, but there was no regular water to drink.

Danamiah’s land was near a railroad track and across the road from a government “new colony.” “New colonies” are government land development sites in which lots are given away and foundations are put in, if people agree to finish the house themselves. Electricity and city water will follow at an indefinite time in the future. That future never came for the empty colony across the street from Danamiah’s parsonage and church. With no drinking water available, Danamiah’s family and congregation had to order water from a government truck. It was expensive and its purity was questionable.

Danamiah & Wife

Danamiah and his wife in front of Bethany Calvary Lutheran Church

There is one more interesting piece of the story that led to Danamiah and his church being approved for a WELS Humanitarian Aid well. At a time when salary subsidy to gospel workers was being cut back by our mission board, Danamiah came in one day and said, “Stop giving me subsidy. Give it to someone who needs it more. My congregation can support me. God will take care of us.” Now there’s a faithful worker with a faith-filled service attitude!

So when Danamiah applied for a well installation in his neighborhood, he was approved. His family and his congregation now have clean drinking water. They no longer have to buy it from the government. If the new colony develops across the road, the neighbors too can help themselves to water from the well put in by WELS. And living water from Danamiah and his congregation will also be available. That too is free of charge!

Beaver Dam

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.