Sermons after Kristallnacht

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

The Sunday after a shooting at a gay night club in Florida, it was interesting to see which preachers changed their sermons to respond to the situation. The same for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, or Alton Sterling. Pastors who write sermons early in the week sometimes have to toss it out when the national consciousness shifts due to a major event. Still others ignore it completely.

In the 1930’s life was getting difficult for German Jews. In his effort to promote a pure white Germany, Hitler and his Third Reich had passed laws forbidding Jews to hold public office or teach in schools. They could not move freely, without permission. Laws were passed for bidding Jews to wear eyeglasses or winter clothes.

On the night of November 9, the German Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers) unleashed hell. Hundreds of Synagogues were burned. Hundreds were dragged to concentration camps. Many were killed. It was called Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. The Nazis liked to used evocative names for their atrocities. Today Germans prefer to refer to it as the November Pogrom.

Kristallnacht burning building

I got to wondering what pastors preached about after Kristallnacht, especially those who had the courage to address it directly. Fortunately, we have some of these sermons.

A lot was at stake.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been decrying the dangers of Naziism as early as 1933. When Bonhoeffer gave a speech on the church’s responsibility to care for and advocate for the Jews, a group of pastors stormed out of the room while he was speaking.

More to the point, pastors could be arrested for preaching against the Reich. In March 1935, the Second Confessional Synod of the Old Prussian Union church issued a declaration that stated the nation was threatened by the great danger of a new religion: National Socialism. Pastors were going to read the declaration from the pulpit, until the government got wind of it and forbade the reading of the declaration. Furthermore, pastors were required to notify the government in writing that they would not read the statement. Many pastors refused to comply. Over 700 pastors were arrested, including Pastor Paul Schneider, the first pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp, according to Dean Stroud in Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow. 

Pastor von Jan
Pastor von Jan

Pastor Julius von Jan served in Oberlendlingen. On November 16, 1938 he preached a sermon on Jeremiah. The kings of Israel had trampled on justice. He quoted these words from Jeremiah 22:

‘Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place… But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become desolation.

Julius von Jan plaquePastor von Jan said God had sent prophets like Jeremiah, but they had been put in concentration camps. Those who have spoken out against the injustices have been ridiculed and have lost their income.

The sermon ruffled some feathers. After this sermon, he was beaten a large group of Nazis, then dragged to City Hall and arrested. He was convicted of misuse of the pulpit and insidiousness. In November of 1939 he was sentenced to 16 months in jail. He was released in May of 1940 after serving five months. (Behind Valkyrie: German Resistance to Hitler, Ed. Peter Hoffmann.)

Helmut Gollwitzer
Pastor Helmut Gollwitzer

Another pastor, Helmut Gollwitzer, had studied under Karl Barth. He served in Berlin-Dahlem after Martin Niemöller was arrested. On November 16, 1938 he preached on John the Baptist.

“Have not our mouths been muzzled…?”

“How, following all the years and centuries of preaching, have we come to this place where we find ourselves today and as we find ourselves today?”

“Our sins have earned us this.” (Jeremiah 14:7)

He knew he could not preach without addressing the current darkness: “It’s not as if I enjoy any of this, but rather it’s that I cannot evade the task—that’s the reason I am speaking like this to all of you.”

“All of you certainly want God to come into your life, to care about our church and about this nation (Volk), just as He cared about the Jewish nation (Volk).”

Gollwitzer addresses John’s question to the baptismal candidates: “O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

“It is a time when no one wants to repent, and yet it is precisely in this unwillingness to repent that we find the secret to the misery of our time. Because ours is a time that cannot tolerate this word, the most vital thing linking people to each other lies broken and shattered: the ability of a person to give another his rights, the ability to admit one’s own error and one’s own guilt; the ability to find the guilt in himself rather than in the other, to be gentle with the other but strict with oneself.”

“These people who have a true desire to be baptized are addressed in this way and are welcomed with the news: God is disgusted at the very sight of you. Surely we today are familiar with the disgust we feel where evil is not simply evil, but rather dresses itself up in a repulsive manner as morality, where base instincts, where hate and revenge, parade about as great and good things.”

“… this truth, that upright men and women can turn into horrible beasts, is an indication of what lies hidden within each of us to a greater or lesser degree. All of us have done our part in this: one by being a coward, another by comfortably stepping out of everyone’s way, by passing by, by being silent, by closing our eyes, by laziness of heart that only notices another’s need when it is openly apparent, by the damnable caution that lets itself be prevented from every good deed, by every disapproving glance and every threatening consequence, by the stupid hope that everything will get better on its own without our having to become courageously involved ourselves.

“In baptism we find death and resurrection, no and yes, fear and joy, hell and heaven—all tied up together. That is why it is a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ With the forgiveness of sin a lifesaving wall is erected between your present suffering and misery as the foreshadowing of the coming wrath and the wrath itself.”

Then the pastor addresses the baptismal candidates’ question to John the Baptist: “What then should we do?”

“Repentance rebuilds the bridge leading to your neighbor.”

“This neighbor does not excel in any way that would cause the world to find him worthy of help—nowhere is it said that he deserves our help. Nowhere are we told that between him and you there is a common bond of race or a people (Volk) or special interests or class or sympathy. He can only point to one thing, and it is that one thing that makes that person your neighbor—he lacks what you have. You have two cloaks, he has none; you have something to eat, he has nothing left to eat; you have protection, he has lost all protection; you have honor, honor has been taken away from him; you have a family and friends, he is completely alone; you still have some money, his is all gone; you have a roof over your head, he is homeless. In addition to all this, he has been left to your mercy, left to your greed (see yourself in the example of the tax collector!), and left to your sense of power (see yourself today in the example of the soldier!).”

There is a clear imperative in baptism, to love and care for your neighbor.

“Now just outside this church our neighbor is waiting for us—waiting for us in his need and lack of protection, disgraced, hungry, hunted, and driven by fear for his very existence. That is the one who is waiting to see if today this Christian congregation has really observed this national day of penance. Jesus Christ himself is waiting to see.”

Afterwards the Gestapo expelled him from Berlin and forbade him to preach or speak anywhere. He escaped the situation by serving as an army medic. Later he lived in a Russian prisoner of war camp. His memoirs became a best seller.

He wrote of preaching: “…in no other form of speech are things taken so seriously, is our whole existence so challenged, even put at risk. In no form of speech does our word itself so much take the form of action, of intervention in the history of the hearers, as in this.”

Rulers frequently demonize and scapegoat minorities to build support for themselves. I often think about the risks pastors took during this era. They risked being arrested or even losing their lives for what they preached. Thank goodness we do not live in such an era. So what excuse do I have for being afraid to speak the truth?

Quotes in this post came from Dean G. Stroud’s Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons un Resistance of the Third Reich.

Chaplain Lisa Gaye: Tending to Spiritual Needs in New Orleans

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Pastor Lisa Gaye

Pastor Lisa Gaye used to serve St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Metairie, a suburb northwest of New Orleans, on Lake Ponchartrain. Now she serves a diverse group of people at Oschner Medical Center’s main campus a little over a mile away. Her work there is primarily in three areas of the hospital:

The Pediatric Unit
Pediatric Intensive Care
Pediatric Emergency


This is challenging and soulful work, more with the parents than with the patients, most of whom are infants. Chaplain Gaye has worked here one year, along with five other resident chaplains, who together provide 24-7 coverage. Oschner also has ten CPE students and four CPE residents.

mapFounded in 1942, Oschner Medical Center is one of 25 Oschner Medical Centers in Louisiana. With the acquisition of a hospital in Lafayette, LA, Oschner is the largest hospital system in Louisiana.

As we walked the corridors of the 11-floor Oschner, we bumped into Jesse the therapy dog and Greta his owner. Hospital doctors, nurses and other employees stopped to pet and get some therapy from Jesse, who roams from room to room, giving and receiving love.

We step into a room where we encounter a mother holding the hand of a 3-month old infant with a heart condition named Katie. Katie has already had two heart surgeries. Chaplin Lisa greets the mom and baby by name. Clearly she has been in this room before. After a little conversation about the surgeries and an upcoming echocardiogram, Lisa anoints the child with oil and prays for the child and family with the laying on of hands. It is a soulful moment laden with an acknowledgement of the weight of the situation.

Lisa Gaye 2Lisa has performed emergency baptisms and has accompanied families through that greatest of all griefs, the death of a child.

“They don’t recommend we wear a collar,” Lisa tells me. “It creates a barrier since we are called to serve people of all denominations and even all faiths.” Not everyone can do that, but because of our focus on grace, we can.

Lisa 3When visiting Muslim patients, she always walks through the door with a prayer rug. “It opens doors.” This is a deep kindness. “We give it to them as a gift.” It’s one thing to bring a prayer rug. It’s another to bring a beautiful prayer rug, and then gift it to the patient. “They always cry.” We are a people of prayer. So are they. It is something we have in common.

“We give rosaries to all the Catholics.” 50-60% of those in Oschner’s emergency room are Catholic, in this heavily Roman Catholic city.

Chaplains carry out a different kind of ministry than parish pastors. There are some similarities, but also does significant departures. The next time you make a hospital visit, stop by the chaplain’s office and offer a warm word of thanks.

Health is a Spiritual Matter

By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Misison

My dear friend, I pray that all is well with you,
and that you are as healthy physically as your soul is spiritually.”
-3 John 2(INCL)

Chris Markert
Pastor Chris Markert

In April I joined a gym. This was after a surprise stay in the hospital in January. I came to realize that I have spent years not taking care of my body. I ate whatever I wanted and rarely exercised. And it finally caught up to me.

However, joining the gym wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I started utilizing the services of a personal trainer that things began to shift for me. My personal trainer has been supportive, kind, challenging, and encouraging. He has helped me channel my attitudes about diet and exercise away from size and looks and about loving myself enough to care for my body.  My personal trainer has become an accountability partner with me as part of a total health care team that also includes my physician, spiritual director, and occasionally a mental health counselor.

And that’s the point. We all need support systems that help us practice healthy living. As the ELCA Social Statement on Health Care states, “Caring for the health of others expresses both love for our neighbor and responsibility for a just society. As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.”

For pastors, deacons and other ministry leaders, this is especially important. offers some statistics about professional church workers:

  • 70% say they do not have someone they consider a close friend;
  • 50% do not meet regularly with an accountability person or group;
  • 72% only study the Bible when preparing for sermons or lessons;
  • 21% spend less than 15 minutes a day in prayer;
  • 44% do not take a regular day off;
  • 31% do not exercise at all, while 32% exercise less than twice a week or do less than moderate exercise; and
  • 85% have never taken a Sabbatical.

So what can we do? First, if you haven’t been for an annual check-up, there’s no time like the present! And if you don’t exercise regularly, it’s a good time start (but only after consulting with your doctor). Here’s a great article for how to incorporate simple exercises during the day if you work in an office-setting.

And we all don’t need a gym or a personal trainer. Call up your neighbor or a friend to take a walk around the block and catch up on life. Or go do yoga. Or swim. Or dance in your living room in your pajamas.

And if you suffer from anxiety, undue stress or depression, or if find that you are drinking alcohol excessively or misusing drugs, get help from a therapist or a local 12-step group. If you have problems with healthy eating, join Weight Watchers, visit a dietician, or go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. It’s okay to ask for help— it’s a sign of strength, not weakness.

Friends, nobody’s perfect. We each go in and out of seasons of health. We get it right sometimes, and mess it up other times. And that’s all okay. We have a God who constantly woos us towards health and wholeness. And we have each other.

Here’s to your health: ¡Salud!

* For more information about spirituality and health, read Caring for Health, the ELCA Social Statement on Health Care.

* Consider coaching through LEAD for your life and ministry.

A Case for Rural Ministry

By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership

rural churchMy internship site was on the plains of eastern Colorado in a rural community about an hour’s drive from Denver, the population of which was about 1400. When I was first assigned the site, I went to my seminary dean and asked him if he was trying to kill me. I had been raised in cities and suburbs and did not think I had what it took to do ministry in a rural setting. My dean told me I’d have the best year of my life and asked me to give it a chance, so I did. He was right.

The day I arrived at the parsonage, where I would live for the year, about five families from the church were waiting for me on the lawn. They were there to help me unpack my U-Haul. They had arrived early to stock my fridge and pantry. The parents introduced me to their children and instructed them to call me “pastor” (as a sign of respect) even though I wasn’t ordained yet. That year, a farmer in the community invited me to walk his corn fields with him while he taught me about waiting on God for rain and growth and harvest. It was some of the best theology I’d ever heard. I spent many Friday nights in the fall at the high school football games, where I would cheer for the local kids and visit with church and community members, hearing their stories and being welcomed into their families and their lives. With some other women of the church, I joined the community choir and sang at Christmas vespers. Nearly the whole town showed up for the event (and I’m not exaggerating). Leaving that community at the end of my internship year was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. That church formed and prepared me for ministry in a way no professor could do.

Since then, I’ve been a pastor at two churches, and both have been in the city. Now that I am on synod staff, I have had many opportunities to return to the country. I have worked call processes and been invited to council meetings in Washington and Fayette counties, and nearly everything I learned on internship and came to appreciate about rural ministry still seems to hold true. I know the stereotypes about how conservative or closed-minded people in these areas can be, but my experience has been rather positive. These communities continue to teach me to make a case for rural ministry. Here are some of those lessons:

  • Hilary, a fourth-century bishop, once wrote, “Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God.” This rings true for me every time I’m driving out to an early morning worship, greeted by a pink sunrise, or home from an evening meeting under an expanse of country sky. There is a connection to the Creator out in the country it’s harder to have in the traffic and the noise of the city. I seem to breathe more deeply out there, too.
  • People in rural communities are good at talking about and sharing God’s abundance. Many of them tend gardens, and they will tell you all they did was plant the seeds and weed the beds while God provided sunshine and rain. So, when they have more zucchini than they can use or more tomatoes than they wish to can, they’ll fill your arms (or a bag they’ll hand you) with produce, and when you thank them for their generosity, they’ll tell you it was God’s doing. They are just giving out of what God provided. It is stewardship at its finest, and it comes so naturally to them, they have no idea how beautiful it is.
  • They know how to care for their own. When someone is sick, they do not hesitate to visit. They make casseroles and pies, and they don’t call beforehand. They just show up with food as an offering of love so that you don’t have any chance to refuse it. They teach you about grace in a way no book can.
  • Kathleen Norris, in her book Dakota, points out that people in the plains tend to speak about the concrete and personal: weather, the land, other people. For someone from the outside, this can seem like superficial conversation, but what they’re really saying is their faith is grounded in these things. What they are really talking about is all God has made, and they are in awe of it.
  • They know something about being small. They live in small communities or towns, and they have small budgets and church attendance, but they also know what God can do with small things. They have hope, and they will remind you to have it, too. Jesus once told a story about a tiny mustard seed which grew to become a tree in which others could find shelter. Small does not mean lesser. It might even be the starting place for faith and a home.

We are to be bold

By Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding Bishop, ELCA

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

This church had a meeting in August. We gathered in Milwaukee for the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. We were filled with anticipation and excitement—what would unfold during the assembly? How would we be inspired by worship and Bible study? How would we be challenged? What new insight into the work of the church would we receive?

It turned out to be quite a week. The assembly adopted a social statement, “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action”; offered an apology to people of African descent; adopted a resolution setting aside June 17 as a day of repentance to commemorate the Emanuel 9; moved forward on our work toward authentic diversity; declared the ELCA a sanctuary denomination; adopted a policy statement, “A Declaration of Inter-religious Commitment”; celebrated the successful completion of our first-ever comprehensive campaign; began the celebration of 50 years of Lutheran women being ordained in the United States, 40 years of women of color being ordained, and 10 years of LGBTQIA+ individuals being able to serve freely; elected Deacon Sue Rothmeyer as secretary; passed a budget; and much more.

The assembly was intense, and voting members were actively engaged. The actions taken generated much debate during and after the assembly. Different narratives about what did and did not happen have been spun.

Some say that a gathering of well-meaning people got a little carried away and entangled the church in impossibly naïve and dangerously political issues—calling out patriarchy, denouncing racial inequity, establishing a new commemoration for the church calendar, becoming a “sanctuary denomination,” being a little too open to inter-religious commitments. Others say that a gathering of well-meaning people took decisions that were too timid, that didn’t go nearly far enough to address and act on significant issues in society and within the church. It seems as if they are reporting on two different events.

Here’s what did happen. Our days were centered around the word and sacraments. At midday every day we gathered for communion. We heard the word read, proclaimed and sung. We remembered our baptism. We received the living Word in, with and under the bread and wine. This wasn’t an intermission in our work, a kind of break from the real business of the assembly. It was the source and strength for the work we were called to do.

Before votes were cast, we paused in silence and then in prayer. There was Bible study every day. We sang psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God. We had deep conversations with each other, first as strangers, but then recognizing in each other a member of the body of Christ. We celebrated and disagreed and laughed and got far too little sleep. And, led by the Spirit, we caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God breaking into the world.

One of the gifts the Lutheran movement offers to the world is the clear declaration that the word of God is both law and gospel, judgment and promise. Martin Luther had a very conservative view of human nature, recognizing our brokenness, rebellion and sin. We all stand under God’s judgment. Did we get it all right at the assembly? Probably not. Where we were in error, may God correct us. But the word’s promise is that we are forgiven and redeemed. We are freed in Christ to love and serve our neighbor.

The actions taken in Milwaukee were based on our scriptural and confessional understanding of who God chooses to be for us, especially and most clearly in Jesus crucified and risen for the life of the world. We believe that God desires abundant life for all, that all people are created equally in the image of God, that we are commanded to welcome the stranger and care for children.

And we are to be bold. In Milwaukee, we stepped out in faith.

A monthly column from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: This column originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s September/October issue. Reprinted with permission.

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas: worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

WorshipConsider these creation themes for Advent in year A. Get inspired by this sermon on sabbath or this creation-focused liturgy. Creation-focused prayers which can be used in worship are posted on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary from a Lutheran source are available.

EducationA Community Bike Safety Course on Nov. 3 is the only free bike safety course in Houston taught by certified instructors. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creationon Nov. 24, The Ecological Crisis & The Response of Faith, educates on creation care. Check out the studies Reforesting Faith or Serving God, Saving the Planet.  Learn nature journaling in Nature Journaling at Sheldon Lake State Park on Nov. 9 at 1 p.m.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebookpage each week and/or share the creation-focused devotion also posted there. Distribute the Good Steward Worksheet and the Good Steward Worksheet for Students to members for home use. These creation-focused books for kidsare good for families. Contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creationfor a devotional for use during the U.N. Climate Conference, beginning on Dec. 2.

Building & GroundsA recording of the webinar Tools to Guide Congregations through the Energy Transition is available. Use this Energy Audit Worksheet to look for energy savings in your church. To look more broadly at stewardship of building/grounds, check out Eco-Management of Church Facilities. Keep an eye out for a Solar Co-Op that your church can participate in. Consider carbon offsets though Blessed Tomorrow.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Plan to participate in the Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event on Nov. 17 at the Willow Waterhole Greenspace in Houston. Join members of the Lutherans Restoring Creation bike team for the family-friendly Park to Port Ride to support Hermann Park in Houston. Petition the EPA to uphold strong methane protections and members of Congress to co-sponsor the WATER Act to get lead out of drinking water.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at The team is seeking additional members. If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

Fall Outing in Nature – Nature Journaling at Sheldon Lake State Park

Saturday, Nov. 9, 1 – 3 pm.

Sheldon Lake State ParkThe synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to explore Sheldon Lake State Park through nature journaling, led by master naturalist Irmi Willcockson.  “Nature journaling is your path into the exploration of the natural world around you, and into your personal connection with it.” Leslie and Roth, 2000. This introduction is for all ages, and supplies will be provided.  We’ll meet at the Sheldon Lake State Park Visitor Center to distribute supplies and provide simple instructions.  We’ll go out and journal for about 30 min, then gather back at the visitor’s center to reflect.  NOTE:  There is plenty to see within feet of the visitor center, no hiking required.  Sheldon Lake State Park is located at 14140 Garrett Rd. in Houston. To provide adequate supplies for all attendees, please register for this event on Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.comwith any questions.

Fall 2019 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event

Sunday, November 17, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

volunteers hard at work
Volunteers working at the Fall 2018 event.

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to join with people of other faiths to care for our shared environment.  We will engage in hands-on environmental stewardship at the Willow Waterhole Conservation Reserve in Houston. This event will offer activities for all ages and skill levels, so bring the whole family, your neighbors and your friends.  Meet at The Gathering Place, 5310 South Willow Dr., Houston 77035 to sign in. Metro bus line 7 stops nearby and line 49 is not far.  Tools/supplies will be provided. This event is organized by Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, Congregation Brith Shalom, and the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston, in partnership with the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy.  The conservancy requires signing of a waiver to participate. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.comfor more information.Please register for planning purposes on  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.comfor more information.

The Ecological Crisis & The Response of Faith

Ecological CrissSunday, Nov. 24, 6 p.m., online

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2019 is environmental issues, and what you can do. In November, Lisa Brenskelle, head of the synod team, will discuss the U.N.’s Global Environmental Outlook, a report issued earlier this year, and how faith enables our response to the ecological crisis. Lisa will address: What is our present ecological crisis? & What specific issues are central? She will examine the science that explains the present state of our world and the major environmental issues we face. Lisa will then consider how our faith both informs and enables our response to this crisis. The first half of this talk reviews the Global Environmental Outlook. The second half of the talk discusses how faith enables a response.

Lisa holds a PhD in engineering, and has worked on a volunteer basis in earthkeeping ministry for decades. Join her for this thought-provoking talk! Register for this talk on Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.comwith any questions about this talk.

Making a Difference in Kenya, and the World

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

I have always been impressed with those who give generously to charities that are making a difference in the world. There are some incredible charities out there. My own denomination produced the much-respected Lutheran World Relief (LWR), the game-changing Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (, and the many Lutheran Social Services affiliates. Our own churchwide body worlds through Global Mission, Companion Synods and ELCA World Hunger. I’m proud of these reputable organizations.

Every once in a while, however, an entrepreneurial follower of Christ steps out and does something new. I think of Dick Moeller who, moved by presentation during Sunday school at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, about how clean water can turn around poverty in Africa, decided with his group to build a well, then two, then five. He started a non-profit and Water to Thrive (W2T) was born. They built 10, 100, and now 1,000 wells in Africa. It’s a remarkable thing. They have built more high-quality wells than many established organizations. 48% of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean water. Every nine seconds a child dies of water borne diseases. I visited Ethiopia with him and discovered that when clean water is available, the local hospital census goes down, and school attendance goes up (because kids aren’t sick and aren’t hauling water). W2T is making a difference.

Then there’s Pastor Brad Otto of Messiah Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. Brad went along with Dick on one of his well-building trips to Ethiopia. His church has raised money for several wells. On his trip he encountered a village with a broken down school building and no supplies. When he came back he started gathering supplies  and Acts of Wisdom was born. 2014-2019 they have delivered 5,000 school books to children in Ethiopia. School scores have risen in these areas dramatically. Dropout rates have fallen. Making a difference isn’t always easy, but it can be done with passion and commitment.

Not all life-changing ministries are started by large organizations. And even those that are, are often lead by entrepreneurial leaders with a vision. Sometimes these lead from within organizations, and other times leaders go out on their own, working without a net. Margaret Mead once famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Such is the case with David and Linda Fischer, members of Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe, Texas. Before moving to Conroe, they had been supporting an orphanage in Kenya for 15 years.  On one trip they visited a town called Bungoma, in western Kenya. There they noticed school-age boys roaming the streets. They asked about the glue bottles the boys held in their mouths.

Their driver and translator, David Wesonga, explained these homeless boys become addicted to glue-sniffing, because it numbs the hunger pangs and cold.  It turned out this driver had worked with these kids. His brother, George, had been a street boy.

When the Fischers returned to the US, The King’s Embrace was launched, with David Wesonga as General Manager. They chose as their theme verse Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

In 2017, construction began on a 20,000 square foot residence hall capable of housing up to 80 boys. 

They began finding foster homes for some of the boys. Seven acres were purchased in 2017, and work began on a 20,000 square foot residence to house as many as 80 boys. Some of these boys are orphans. Some have left abusive homes.


Last month Pastor Emmanuel Jackson (Living Word Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas) and I visited The King’s Embrace in Bungoma.

The building was move-in ready by April 2019. By that time, the number of boys in foster homes had grown to over a dozen. Foster care, however, was challenging. Finding and screening families is difficult and time-consuming as there is no support from the government or a social service organization. You improvise as you go. In April, the boys left their foster homes and moved to TKE, their new home.

The King's Embrace building
The King’s Embrace

When we arrived there were 18 boys and six staff. The friendliness and attitudes were very positive. David Wesonga and his brother George (Director of Ministry) keep an active relationship with the boys in the street through their Thursday “street boy ministry”.  They distribute bread and drinks and spend time visiting with them.  It was clear these boys trust David and George. When David and George see that a boy has a good attitude and a willingness to get off the glue and back into school, they make an invitation to go into foster care on a trial basis.  Foster families are supported with rice and oil, making this an attractive proposition for them.  George visits the foster boys on a weekly basis to ensure they are being properly cared for and attending school.

The kids are doing well. They speak three languages in most cases: Swahili, English and their local tribal dialect. Those of the right age are learning algebra and science, though some of them are behind because of their time on the street. The school is a 15-minute walk. The local clinic takes good care of them.

The vast majority of this, the property, the wells, the building, the truck and more, has come from their pockets.  To be sustainable for years to come, however, TKE’s frugal $60,000 a year budget will need funding sources.

If you’d like to see for yourself, join them, and Pastor Chris Lake from Tree of Life Conroe in April. Check out the brochure below. Can’t go? That’s okay, you can donate here.

Check out lots more photos at

The King's Embrace