by Nevin Nitschke

In the cool morning air in northern Thailand, a young woman looks at green rice fields across a flowing stream, all still partly in the shadow of the forested mountains. The lush vegetation that seems intent on blanketing her Lua community village is filled with the sounds of life. So much so, that it is almost possible to hear the growth in the plants that were once home to tigers and elephants.

Khun Daw reflects on her past and the fear her family felt from the tight hold spirit doctors had on their lives. These fears were enhanced by the closeness of life in a small community, being enclosed by nature and surviving as ‘foreigners’ whose forebears came from nearby Laos less than a hundred years ago. She remembers when each day was ruled by what the spirit doctor allowed and demanded.

As Khun Daw rides her motorbike through the valley, she recalls when she first found hope – the moment that led to her freedom from fear. Even at 13 years old she knew her family was falling apart. Her father escaped the harsh reality of his life through heavy drinking, which led to constant fighting between her parents at that time.

Khun Daw’s head and stomach often ached with pain, needing regular hospital visits. The control of daily life by the village spirit doctor felt like a vice.

As she turns her bike off the main road and begins the climb up a dirt track, she remembers the moment she asked for help, not from her mother or the spirit doctor, but from an evangelist who visited their home. ‘Who is Jesus and what is the Bible?’, she had asked.

On her climb up the mountain road, she passes a marked field. It is marked to show that the spirit doctor had once forbidden crops to be planted there. It is another reminder of the fear that once controlled them. At the top of the rutted track, she stops next to a simple building that has become the heart of this community. Only three local families now don’t have a relationship with Jesus, but even they will attend the church service she is about to lead.

Life has changed. Khun Daw first believed 10 years ago. A month later, her mother became a Christian. Later, her father learned to trust Jesus and stopped drinking. Khun Daw’s health improved. Even the local spirit doctors were coming to know the love of Jesus, through the love shown to them by his followers.

As Khun Daw begins to lead the worship service, she does so as part of a team of 11 evangelists. All of them know what it is to be freed from fear. Each one serves with a desire to share with their communities that there is only one God and that he gave his life for them. Fear is fading and God’s love has produced joy, trust and hope.

Nevin Nitschke is an LCA International Mission Program Officer.

For more inspiring articles about how God is changing lives of people throughout PNG and South-East Asia, go to www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories

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by Arlene Zerna Reyes

In 2020, amid the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) began a mission at Tiaong, in the primarily agricultural area of Quezon Province, south-east of Manila.

LCP had plans to begin its Biblical Vocational Lay Institute (BVLI) there, but a mission congregation arose first after Rev Antonio del Rio Reyes, the president of the church, and I were locked down and found people in need living nearby. After a year of faithful teaching, this mission is bearing fruit.

One of those whose lives have been changed by this mission is Jerwin Casayuran. Jerwin is 20 years old and had previously been a member of other churches, including the non-trinitarian Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), a local cult with an estimated 6 million members across the Philippines.

In May 2021, this young man was confirmed by Rev Reyes, who was serving as pastor to the mission congregation. Jerwin was one of the first students enrolled in the BVLI and was hoping to become a lay missionary.

After completing Grade 9, he decided to continue studying at the BVLI. During his biblical studies, he has learnt the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done and is still doing for our salvation.

According to Jerwin, the INC did not allow members to read the Bible, which is why he is so thankful to now have full access to God’s word – a ‘lamp unto his feet and a light to his path’ (Psalm 119:105).

‘I used to believe that Jesus Christ is only a man and not God’, Jerwin says. ‘But now, because of the word of God, particularly the gospel, the Holy Spirit opened my heart and mind that I may know and truly believe that Jesus is true God and true man and my only Saviour.’

He has also learnt that doing good works or obedience to the law does not save us. Instead, saving faith produces good works in a Christian’s life.

One of seven siblings, Jerwin is very active in inviting his family, friends and neighbours to attend our worship services and Bible studies. He also continues with his vocational course in driving and hopes to get a driver’s licence. He leads morning devotions at BVLI and is still praying for guidance for a career path – sometimes he considers becoming a pastor. When he is asked where he will go when he dies, he says he is sure he will go to heaven because of his saving faith in Christ who gave his life on the cross and rose from the grave for him.

Through the experience of this mission, we are reminded that God’s mission is not only about reaching those who do not believe, but also bringing the true gospel to those who have false beliefs.

Arlene Zerna Reyes is a member of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines and the wife of President Rev Antonio del Rio Reyes.

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Living in the physical darkness of the Indonesian rainforest and the spiritual darkness of the religion of their ancestors, the Suku Anak Dalam are a nomadic people from Sumatra who survive by hunting, foraging and trading.

Otherwise known as the Sanak people, their name roughly translates as ‘people of the forest’. With no access to education, health care or any form of support, these people are especially vulnerable as much of the Indonesian forest has been overtaken by rubber and palm oil plantations.

Some years ago, Pastor Hutagalung, a pastor of the Geraja Kristen Luther Indonesia (GKLI or Indonesian Christian Lutheran Church), heard about the needs of these people still living under tarpaulins in the bush and reached out in mercy. offering physical and spiritual care. The sick were given medical attention, the hungry fed and the good news of God’s forgiving love and the hope we have in Christ was shared with these people who had never heard the name of Jesus before. They received the good news with joy and thanksgiving.

Kristian Yanto and Naomi Isa Puri are two members of this tribe who are now also part of the Christian ‘tribe’ to which we have all been called.

Kristian serves as an elder in the mission congregation and says, ‘Before knowing the Lord Jesus, I lived in darkness. I only believed in ancestral spirits, about evil spirits and shamans. I lived in anxiety. But after I became a Christian, I knew and believed Jesus Christ as my Saviour. My heart is peaceful and there is joy’.

Naomi similarly speaks about her conversion to Christianity being a journey from darkness to light. She says, ‘After believing in Jesus Christ and being baptised, I went to the church.

I believe Jesus Christ is my Saviour. Currently, I continue learning the word of God and try to [live a] better life under the guidance of the pastor of Indonesian Christian Lutheran Church’.

With these few words, Naomi and Kristian point to a reality that we often miss in the West. The mission of God is a spiritual battle against ‘the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph 6:12). And the good news is that this battle is already won in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this victory over sin and death and the devil is available to all who call on the name of the Lord.

Pastor Hutagalung now serves among the Sanak people full-time and lives in what is becoming a Lutheran village surrounding the church. The light of the gospel shines brightly in this little community as Kristian, Naomi and their fellow villagers now share not only their ethnic heritage in this life but the sure and certain hope of life together in God’s eternal kingdom.

– Bishop Esra Sinaga (GKLI) and Pastor Matt Anker

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LCA International Mission’s partner churches express gratitude

Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burundi

Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burundi feels greatly honoured to have LCA International Mission as our partner. We thank God for having brought us together. Our partnership has not been a long one, but we note three key achievements. First, the LCA has supported capacity-building events including pastoral training. Second, we have our own church building and funds available to purchase our own church plot. Third, when Burundians were faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the LCA provided relief food and sanitary facilities. From these supports, the church is increasing in number, faith and commitment. Every three months we baptise at least more than 30 new church members. We celebrate the steady progress we have seen, thanks to our partner and mother church, the LCA.

 – Rev Emile Nkurunza

Lutheran Church in Cambodia

It has been about 10 years since the Lutheran Church in Cambodia (LCC) and the LCA became partners. The LCA is really a good motivator for LCC in God’s service. It has helped us in terms of budget, solidarity, ideas and sharing experiences. This plays a big part in spreading the gospel around our church. Helping locals is a great activity to make the community see that everyone cares. Last year students from Tatachilla College [South Australia] came to help repair a road and, after the repair, the traffic was easier, and there was praise from people, [who said], ‘Jesus is very good’. I give thanks to God for bringing us a good partner to exist in God’s mission together. I pray that this relationship will keep moving forward.

 – Rev Touch KeovSreyLiak

Lutheran Church in Singapore

We are thankful to the LCA for the partnership in our local ministry at Thai Good News Centre. Our mission is to outreach to Thais in Singapore. We thank God that 480 people have been baptised and returned to their homelands. Some go on to Bible college in Bangkok and 15 are serving as pastors or evangelists in Thailand and Taiwan. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many members and contacts have lost their jobs. During this time, we have received many who came for counselling, prayers and help. With the help of some members and friends, we provided financial assistance and distributed food to those in need. Do pray for this ministry and we look forward to LCA’s continuing partnership in prayer and support.

 – Rt Rev Lu Guan Hoe, Bishop

Lutheran Church in Malaysia

It is a truly blessed opportunity to be in partnership with the LCA. We are thankful for the support of the LCA in one of the most marginalised communities in Malaysia, the Orang Asli (OA) indigenous people. Especially in the last few years, we have had the opportunity to train our own OA pastors locally in STS (Seminary Theology Sabah) … and have our OA pastors serving in their own communities. That our OA pastors could lead, teach, preach, equip, train and make disciples for Jesus Christ among their own people is truly encouraging. They are now actively pursuing opportunities to reach out to their people, sharing the gospel, praying, teaching others, and setting up new outreach points, with a strong Christian identity among them.

– Bishop Aaron Yap

Lutheran Church of Myanmar

The Lutheran Church of Myanmar (LCM) is privileged to have been partnered with LCA International Mission for more than a decade. A church can only grow when believers around the world work together for his kingdom. [Our] partnership helps the growth and development of the LCM in capacity-building and mobilisation of our resources for mission work. More than 90 per cent of the population in Myanmar are yet to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. The strong collaboration and partnership between the LCA and the LCM for church development, Christian literature ministry and education help many people in Myanmar know more about Jesus. We treasure the fellowship and prayers from the LCA and are looking forward to working together more closely.

– Rev Martin Lalthangliana, President

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea

Our partnership has developed over many years. It was started by selfless and hardworking missionaries from early mission days, some of whom lost their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ and his people here in PNG, and continually supported by many former and current missionaries. We will continue to walk and work side-by-side, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and administering sacraments and teaching his ways. The gospel of Jesus Christ edifies and builds the church spiritually. No-one is an island because as partners in the gospel we also learn from one another and keep ourselves up to date with the happenings in our respective churches and around the world. We will continue to stand together in partnership to profess one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

– Rev Kinim Siloi, Inter-Church Relations and Ecumenism

Lutheran Study Centre Malaysia

I would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to LCA International Mission for its support of the Lutheran Study Centre (LSC) in Malaysia. The LSC was established in 2012 by the Federation of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Malaysia and Singapore (FELCMS) with the LCA, to enhance Lutheran confessional identity among pastors and members. The lack of confessional identity and influence of charismatic theology had impacted the preaching of the true gospel. The partnership with LCA International Mission has been a blessing in providing human resources, advisory support, technical assistance and financial aid. This timely, visionary and proactive support has made it possible for FELCMS churches to strengthen their Lutheran identity through initiatives including training and the publication and distribution of Lutheran resources in indigenous languages.

– Rev Dr Wilfred J Samuel, Director

Lutheran Church in the Philippines

The Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) is truly blessed and thankful to God for giving us the LCA as a partner church. One blessing in this partnership is Rev Dr Michael Lockwood [being called] to teach at the Lutheran Theological Seminary and Training Center. [In 2020] when church gatherings were prohibited and the church offerings were not collected, LCP pastors and evangelists were affected financially. But God touched the hearts of our fellow pastors in Australia [and] for several months, we received assistance. Because of this, our pastors were encouraged and continued their work. As we pray for the strengthening of our partnership, we ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and empower us to work together for the expansion of God’s kingdom.

– Rev Antonio Del Rio Reyes, President

KN-LWF Indonesia

The pandemic has proven that the internet is the most valuable piece of technology the world has ever needed. The LCA granted funds to build three internet towers for communities that needed it most. This allowed 300 students to study online and pastors to lead morning devotions for children. For a long time, the cross has symbolised Christian identity in Indonesia. However, lately, it seems young adults are impartial to the cross. To remind them of its significance, [Komite Nasional Lutheran Church] KN-LWF put together a cross movement, whereby 1000 crosses were nailed to doors around different communities. This will act as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. Young adults are proud to be Christians. The LCA always reminds us to be closer to God.

– Rev Rumanja Purba, former chairman

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by Paul Kerber

‘I’m no longer broken!’ These words, spoken two years ago by a pastor who is a leader in an LCA partner church of 300,000 people in Indonesia, continue to touch my heart and remind me of the power of the gospel.

As I began a four-hour seminar with leaders of that church, along with their spouses, I asked the question, ‘Are you a person of law or gospel?’ This pastor replied, ‘I’m a person of law!’ I then asked, ‘How are you going with that?’ His reply was just as powerfully stated by his body language as his words, ‘I am a broken person, I find I don’t want to live!’

But after the seminar, when I asked him how he was, he said, ‘I am no longer broken. I am seeing how much Jesus has done for me; his forgiveness has healed me, and I have hope to face the future’.

His response is typical of what we have witnessed in Indonesia and Japan since 2014 while accepting the invitation to train pastors, teachers and laypeople in Biblical Reconciliation. In Indonesia, we have trained six seminary lecturers who will continue to teach the joy of living a life of confession and forgiveness, while in Japan, leaders of the Kinki Evangelical Lutheran Church (KELC) have been filled with hope as this teaching takes hold in their lives.

It is difficult to put into words the transformation we have seen as life-long Christians have heard the unadulterated gospel for the first time.

One Indonesian church leader says of the training: ‘There are people here from [13] different Lutheran churches, but this week we have all grown together as one church. We have grown in appreciation of Jesus and his forgiveness, and we have experienced his love for us and our love for each other!’

While Rev Shigeo Sueoka of the KELC says, ‘Through the seminars … we could regain the joy of the true gospel’.

Their responses confirm that the gospel takes hold of the heart, cleanses the conscience and sets us free to be children of God. The training is always pastoral care in action that changes lives.

We have heard from pastors rejoicing that they have been strengthened through Christ’s mercy. And we have seen our brothers and sisters in Christ who were burdened by the impossibility of the law, renewed and empowered to proclaim the gospel in a way they have never known.

Filled with the joy of God’s love for them, those who joined us in the journey are now living witnesses to the transforming power of the gospel. Imagine what God will do with them in years to come!

Pastor Paul Kerber is LCA Assistant to the Bishop for Reconciliation Ministry. LCA International Mission facilitates Reconciliation Ministry training with partner churches in Indonesia, Japan and Papua New Guinea. 

To join in helping to equip our LCANZ partners to proclaim Jesus’ unconditional forgiveness, please call 08 8267 7300 or email lcaim@lca.org.au

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by Pastor Matt Anker

‘Every Lutheran church in Asia should have at least one senior pastor who has trained at Australian Lutheran College [ALC] … Then you will have someone who knows confessional Lutheran theology!’ This was the heart-felt expression of an Asian bishop during a gathering of regional church leaders in 2019.

ALC is recognised by our partner churches as a great gift for its faithfulness to Lutheran, biblical theology and its place in the Asia-Pacific, and the understanding this brings of contextual issues. After a lifetime of mission, the bishop quoted above knows that understanding the gospel as articulated in the Lutheran Confessions is vital in order to bring forgiveness and hope to people trapped in darkness and sin. And he knows that’s exactly what you get at ALC.

For many years, LCA International Mission has worked with ALC to provide theological education to support our partner churches. Many LCANZ pastoral students have benefitted by studying alongside scholarship holders from PNG and Asia, who bring a passion for the gospel and an urgency to mission.

In recent years, ALC has sent lecturers throughout the region to provide short-term intensive courses and provided support to Malaysia’s Lutheran Study Centre. During COVID, ALC has engaged in new ways by delivering online webinars to overseas students.

Our mission partners are blessed with a hunger for Lutheran theology which brings the light of the gospel to their communities. It’s little wonder the bishop said every Asian church needed pastors trained at ALC! With your help, LCA International Mission and ALC can continue to support God’s mission in this way.

Pastor Matt Anker is Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission.

Want to know more about supporting ALC to equip leaders in our partner churches to proclaim the gospel? Please call 08 8267 7300 or email lcaim@lca.org.au

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by Pastor Matt Anker

In large and small groups, Lutheran women regularly gather around Australia as COVID restrictions allow, to study Scripture, pray and ‘conspire’, as they join with LCA International Mission in supporting God’s mission in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and South-East Asia.

These meetings may look humble, but their collective effort, commitment to mission and desire for all people to be saved, has led Lutheran Women of Australia (LWA) to become the single largest supporter of LCA International Mission’s work.

LWA’s support for our partner churches has a dramatic impact on their ability to share the gospel. From providing solar panels on PNG health centres, funding a safe place with Christian care for children in Bangkok’s slums and staffing a women’s shelter in Malaysia, to supporting scholarships for pastors, LWA provides tangible assistance for grass-roots ministry.

President Wendy Habel says LWA members support LCA International Mission because they ‘see the need to share what they have through Christ’. ‘Through the gospel we are members of this ministry, we need to share this and give so that others may receive’, she says. ‘We are blessed by seeing what we can do to help.’

We thank God for these ‘co-conspirators’, who humbly give so that others receive life and salvation in Jesus’ name.

Pastor Matt Anker is Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission.

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by Lisa McIntosh

Serving as a missionary overseas is something Pastor Murray Smith never thought he would do. But then God’s call on our lives can often surprise.

Because that’s exactly what Pastor Murray and his wife Tracy are preparing for, after his call to serve as a lecturer at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea’s Senior Flierl Seminary at Logaweng, near Finschhafen, for three years. They plan to move to PNG in mid-November, to allow time for quarantining and orientation before Pastor Murray starts teaching next year.

‘I came into ministry late, and I guess my view of ministry was being ordained to serve in parish ministry and I thought that was what it would always entail’, says Pastor Murray, who worked in agriculture, floriculture and horticulture at Bowhill in South Australia’s Murraylands before God led him to ordained ministry. He has served parishes at Chinchilla in Queensland and at Bordertown in SA, where he also treasured a role as chaplain to an Australian Men’s Shed group.

Among their preparations for PNG, the Smiths have been completing online LCA training in Biblical Reconciliation, one of the subjects Pastor Murray will teach.

Neither has been to PNG but the prospect of engaging with and serving alongside people of a different culture excites them.

‘For me, it will be exciting to engage with the culture and all that means – the spirituality most of all and the lifestyle’, he says. ‘The only real engagement I’ve had with a cross-cultural setting was in Central Australia on a bush course [run by Australian Lutheran College with Aboriginal Lutheran leaders]. I enjoyed that enormously. Also, during my time in training for ministry at ALC, I was privileged to spend time with three pastors from PNG, including Pastor Hans Giegere, whom I had hoped to visit someday. In 2019 the Bordertown Parish also hosted two Indonesian pastors.’

Tracy, who visited Debora Orphanage in Indonesia through LCA International Mission five years ago and travelled to Korea as a representative for SA Flower Growers, is also looking forward to a new cultural experience. ‘What was mind-blowing in Indonesia was how they expressed their love for Christ’, she says. ‘To be able to go to another culture and to worship with them is life-changing. And this time it’s not just spending time with people, it’s living with them and learning what’s important to them.’

While pastoral ministry involves teaching in many forms, Pastor Murray has not served as a lecturer before – something he views as probably his ‘biggest personal challenge’ in the move.

For Tracy, who has worked in various roles, as well as supporting Pastor Murray in his ministry and serving in community groups and on Lutheran Women’s district executives, being separated from family will be a challenge. ‘In faith, we’re going from our comforts, from the known into the unknown, leaving family, kids and grandkids behind’, she says. ‘But what I keep coming back to is that God will never put upon us more than we can bear. And part of the excitement is not knowing where you’re going to fit but, at the end of the day, seeing what God’s plan is.’

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Through LCA International Mission, over the past eight years the community of Good Shepherd Lutheran College at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory has formed a strong partnership with Bethany Home in Malaysia. A part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia, Bethany is a training centre for young people with disabilities. As well as fundraising for the centre, teacher Anita Synnott has visited Malaysia twice with a group of Good Shepherd’s student leaders.

by Anita Synnott

Bethany Home is a truly awesome place in every sense of the word. The staff who work with the children are outstanding – patient, kind and extremely knowledgeable.

It’s incredible to sit amongst the staff and students and see and feel God’s love permeating every aspect of this amazing school.

Visiting there I have been overwhelmed by just how much each of the children of Bethany Home is truly loved. Not only is there a day program for the students, but there are multiple group homes that enable them to develop life skills and to be housed closer to Bethany Home. The older and more capable students join ‘The Entrepreneurs Program’, which allows them to derive a small income from taking on projects for larger companies – for instance, putting handles onto saucepans or packaging other items for sale.

One of the sayings of Bethany Home is that ‘every day is a good day’, and the community truly lives by this. Instead of focusing on the disabilities of individuals, the abilities are celebrated. Students needs are met on educational, personal and social levels.

But more than all of the incredible educational outcomes, the most astounding thing is to see the fingerprints of God everywhere around Bethany Home. The staff and leadership live their faith and have sacrificed a lot to be working for a Christian organisation. They share their personal journeys, heartaches and the sacrifices they have made to follow the calling to work there. For a lot of them, this has meant being outcast from their families or other educational circles, which has come at a great personal and professional price.

Australian students who’ve had the opportunity to visit Bethany Home always come away saying that they have never seen so much of God’s love in action.

While we go to Bethany Home to serve, assist and be educated about the needs in Malaysia, we have all left as different people.

Visiting Bethany Home is a truly humbling experience that allows us to integrate into their precious community in such a welcoming way. Each time we go we are asked to deliver professional development to the staff and quite often we are at a loss because there’s just so much we can learn from the dedication and commitment of everyone who works there.

Anita Synnott is the chair of the LCANZ’s Committee for International Mission and a teacher and career counsellor at Good Shepherd Lutheran College Howard Springs NT.

If your school would like to discuss an international partnership with a school or support a ministry like Bethany Home, please contact Erin Kerber on 08 8267 7300 or lcaim@lca.org.au

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