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 (LIRS.org), 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.’
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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 https://bishopmike.com/2019/08/29/the-kings-embrace/.

The King's Embrace

Mission Support: Benevolence by Any Other Name…

By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Mission

Where does your offering goAs members of the ELCA, we believe in a liberating God who frees us to be bold in our witness and generous in our sharing with the world for the sake of the Gospel.

Financial stewardship, then, is no longer simply about paying the church’s bills. It is about how congregations and ministries can together live out God’s call to love and serve our neighbor. And Mission Support— the portion of offerings our congregations share with synods and which synods then share with the churchwide organization— unites us in this vital, life-giving work we all share as “church together.”

>> Where Does Your Offering Go<< 

Mission Support provides 80 percent of the resources that enable the ELCA to begin new ministries and accompany existing congregations as growing centers for evangelical mission. These funds also provide for the staff (both synod and churchwide) and resources for the development of new leaders, partnership with churches around the globe, alleviating poverty, working for justice and peace, responding to disasters, and so much more.

In the Gulf Coast Synod, you help us plan and prepare for our own synod’s generosity and investment in mission each year when your congregation completes a Mission Support Estimate (MSE). It also helps your congregation be intentional about your own practice of generosity and benevolence.

In 2019, the Gulf Coast Synod set a 100% response goal for MSEs from our congregations. And this year we reached that goal! What this means is that last fall, the synod office sent out stewardship packets and invited congregations to fill the online MSE form. During the winter, we followed up with emails to those congregations that had not yet returned an MSE. The Synod staff then followed up with phone calls. An exhortation was made at the Tri-Theological Conference. At Synod Assembly, pastors of congregations that had not yet submitted an MSE were flagged during check-in and requested to fill out an MSE. And finally, Synod staff reviewed the congregational reports submitted to the ELCA last year. After this, we considered every congregation as having responded (including as responses those that chose not return an MSE). Ergo, 100% response rate!

You can review the list of synod congregations and their MSE responses as received by the Synod for 2019.

Thank you all for your partnership in ministry. Your MSEs and the mission support you share with the Synod are essential to the work we do together for the sake of the world.

Here am I. Send me.

First Call Accompaniment in the Gulf Coast Synod

By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

On September 23-25, the Gulf Coast Synod hosted the annual Fall First Call Retreat

first call fall 2019
Gulf Coast Synod FCA group. first row, left to right: Nicole Garcia (Mesa Abierta/Grace, New Orleans), Marcia Kifer, Tammy Sharp, Dennis Shaw (interim; St Paul-Rehburg); back row, left to right: Tracey Breashears Schultz, Ariel Williams (Living Word, Katy), and Ele Clay (Covenant, Houston). Not pictured: Ryan Dockery (Celebration, Cypress), Evan Cameron (St James, New Wehdem and St Paul, Phillipsburg).

attended by pastors and deacons in their first three years of ministry who are serving in one of the three synods in Texas and Louisiana. Thirty participants enjoyed a time of learning, worship, conversation, and fellowship. Lutherhill (La Grange) proved to be the perfect setting for our time together.

 

The theme this year was “Spirituality and the Other.” We were led in our work by Robert Smith, Executive Director of Briarwood, who challenged us to confront racism, white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia, and many of the other “isms” which keep up from fully loving our neighbors. Also serving as presenters were Lenny Duncan, who joined us by Zoom, and Vance Blackfox, who opened our eyes to the history of Native Americans and the myth of the doctrine of discovery.

Throughout the event, we enjoyed tasty meals, campfires and s’mores, and opportunities to connect with colleagues. One afternoon, we set aside time for camp activities like walking the labyrinth and doing low ropes. We worshiped daily in Carby Chapel, each service led by one of the three synods. By far, based on the feedback the planning team has received, the most meaningful part of the retreat for our first call ministers was the opportunity to share ministry highs and lows with their peers and to support and encourage one another. When one answers the call to attend seminary and to become a minister, one cannot plan for all the ups and downs awaiting us. This is why First Call Accompaniment (FCA), or the opportunity for those in their first calls to journey with one another, is so important.

first call2 fall 2019
Worship on September 24 at Carby Chapel, Lutherhill at the First Call Accompaniment Retreat

FCA intentionally seeks to help our newest ministers get the best possible start as missional leaders in congregational ministry.  We want them to thrive in ministry and not just to merely survive. We want, too, for them to retain the passion of their calls in the face of resistance. We understand there are three primary sources of on-going learning once a person is ordained: 1) Our ministry settings teach us what they expect and need from their leader; 2) Our colleagues and other sources for continuing education are there with us and for us; 3) the Holy Spirit continually works in us to shape, refine and guide us in our growth and development as servant-leaders.

 

We offer three FCA events each year: May, September, and January. Our fall retreat is always planned jointly with the other Texas-Louisiana synods. I am so grateful for these partnerships and especially for Pastors Marcia Kifer and Tammy Sharp who serve on the planning team with me for these events and who make themselves available as mentors and friends to those who are new to ministry.

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

By Lisa Brenskelle

Lutherans Restoring Creation

The 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:

Worship: Here’s a new Thanksgiving hymn. Check out this litany of Thanksgiving.  Consider these worship ideas or these harvest worship materials for Thanksgiving. Seasonal creation-focused prayers for Pentecost in year C can be used in worship each week. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary from a Lutheran source are available.

Education: A 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 Oct. 27 The Earth Charter & Lutheran Social Statementsand on Nov. 24, The Ecological Crisis & The Response of Faith, both educate on creation care. The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston addresses the same topic from an interfaith perspective in The Ecological Crisis & The Response of Faith – An Interfaith Discussion on Action & Advocacy on Oct. 6.  Learn nature journaling in Nature Journaling at Sheldon Lake State Park on Nov. 9 at 1 p.m. (contact gcs.lrc@gmail.comto register).

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week and/or share the creation-focused prayer & devotion also posted there. Join the Lutheran Restoring Creation – Gulf Coast team for the online EcoChallenge, Oct. 2 – 23, which supports discipleship in care of creation. Pass along these Green Thanksgiving tips to members. For World Food Day on Oct. 16, encourage members to consider the environmental impact of the foods they eat.  Contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creationfor a devotional for use during the U.N. Climate Conference, beginning on Dec. 2.

Building & Grounds: Join a webinar on Tools to Guide Congregations through the Energy Transition on Oct. 15. To reduce pests without toxic pesticides, try these simple tips:  (1) do not store in cardboard, as this can attract pests, but use plastic storage containers, (2) seal any cracks/open spaces around penetrations into your building (including placing steel covers over weep holes), and (3) ensure that all waste that can attract pests is removed from the building every day (including the coffee left in the mug on your desk). This site has additional tips to avoid certain pests.

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). Encourage members to support the Lutherans Restoring Creation bike team riding Bike Around the Bay. Plan to participate in the Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event on Nov. 17 in Houston. Join the Lutherans Restoring Creation bike team for the family-friendly Park to Port Ride to support Hermann Park. Petition President Trump & the EPA to protect limits on methane pollution.

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 gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members. If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

The Earth Charter & Lutheran Social Statements

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series.

Earth CharterSunday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m.

In October, Lisa Brenskelle, head of the Lutherans Restoring Creation Team for the Texas Louisiana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will discuss the Earth Charter.  The ELCA voted to endorse the Earth Charter at churchwide assembly in August.  The Earth Charter, while a completely secular document, is an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful society. As such, it’s precepts have much in common with Christian social teaching, and indeed, with the social teaching of many faiths.  This first half of this talk will cover the Earth Charter, its origins & principles, as well as materials available from the Earth Charter Initiative. The second half of the talk will explain the relationship between Earth Charter principles & Christian social teaching, using the social statements of the ELCA as a basis.  Please register for this talk on http://www.eventbrite.com. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions about this talk.

Community Bike Safety Course

bike safetlySunday, Nov. 3, 1 p.m.

Nervous about biking in Houston? The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Teamand Bike Houston invite you to a free Community Bike Safety Course where you’ll gain the confidence to cycle safely around town. This is the only free bike safety course in Houston taught by certified instructors. The course takes begins with 90 minutes of classroom instruction at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church. 90 minutes of drills in the Rice University parking lot follow the classroom instruction, and then we’ll take a leisurely 1 hour ride around the neighborhood to practice our skills on the road. Instruction is provided by certified instructors from Bike Houston and the course is suitable for all ages. You may attend all or just a portion of the class, as your schedule permits. Participants should bring their bikes and helmets. Christ the King is located at 2353 Rice Blvd. in Houston. Metro buses 41 & 27 stop nearby. There is bike parking at the church. Please register for this course on http://www.eventbrite.com. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions.

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 contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com if you plan to participate.

Park to Port Ride

Saturday, Nov. 16, 7:30 – 9 a.m. start
Hermann Park

Park to Port RideJoin the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation bike team for the family-friendly Park to Port ride benefitting Hermann Park in Houston. The ride begins at the park, and is 20 miles round trip, with a stop for food/drink/fun at the midway point. The ride features a rolling start from 7:30 – 9 a.m. and the post-ride party continues until noon. Kids 10+welcome. Join the fun and care for God’s good creation!  Register for the ride at:  https://www.hermannpark.org/calendar/park-to-port-bike-ride/.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com to find out how to meet up with other Lutherans for the ride.

Fall 2019 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event

Sunday, November 17, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

volunteers hard at work
Volunteers hard at work 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 http://www.eventbrite.com.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.comfor more information.

 

The Ecological Crisis & The Response of Faith

Sunday, Nov. 24, 6 p.m., online

Ecological CrissThe 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 www.eventbrite.com. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions about this talk.