Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

God’s amazing world in Myitkyina

Posted on November 19, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Christa VonZychlin and the Rev. Wayne Nieminen are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong. To support Christa and Wayne, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to

A refugee camp filled with Kachin State children.

A refugee camp filled with Kachin State children.

A little bit about our recent Mekong Mission Forum teaching trip to Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar:

Of all the Mekong countries, Myanmar (or Burma) has the highest number of Christians. Much of this is due to the perseverance of a husband and wife American Baptist mission couple, Ann and Adoniram Judson, who established a Christian mission in Myanmar 200 years ago! The Myanmar Baptist Convention is expecting more than 20,000 visitors for the celebrations in Yangon next month. Of course, those old-time American missionaries just got the ball rolling. Since then there have been generations of faithful indigenous ministers, pastors, Christian parents and grandparents, and yes, Myanma/Burmese/Kachin missionaries who have attempted to live lives of service, witness and love in extremely difficult conditions, in response to the gospel.

Wayne and I had the great adventure of visiting the Kachin Theological College, in Kachin State, Myanmar. We had the opportunity to teach alongside a fantastically diverse group including Kachin Baptists, Independents, Anglicans, one Presbyterian (Dr. Lal Tin Hre from the Association of Theological Education in Myanmar who was the chief organizer of everything), two Lutherans (us!) and even one Roman Catholic priest! We Americans talk about ecumenism, but these folks are living it. When times are hard, when you are a minority ethnic group AND belong to a minority religion, when you realize the gospel calls us to be counter-cultural, then you unite for continuing education events. Beautiful!

Along with a trip to the site of the Myitsone Dam project (halted last year due to the outcry among environmentalists and the Kachin people who fear for their lives if the dam should break) and taking a boat ride in the cold and fast moving river we also had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Prayer Mountain, overlooking the exotic Kachin State landscape. Many people come up to pray for this land and its people who have been embroiled in war for years with the Burmese military (whose fighter jets we saw flying overhead, in what seemed a menacing show of power over the Kachin people).

We were able to briefly visit a camp for “internally displaced persons” filled with children. The children at the camp just shouted with joy as (together with the Kachin Baptist Church members) we shared the gospel with them through a simple children’s song. I imagine the sounds of the angels are no sweeter to God!

We also heard about a nearby camp where there are three toilets for 500 people, (a young Swedish guy working for UNICEF told us this … and thankfully it appears that, together with the local people, UNICEF is working to help this nearly unbelievable situation). Don’t take your toilets for granted, people!

We then heard from one of the Kachin ladies about her mission trip of encouragement and medical help in yet another camp, nearer to the Chinese border, where people have to learn how to function without arms and legs that have been amputated because of landmine casualties and lack of medical facilities.

As we begin to head into the Advent/Christmas season, (decorations are up all over Hong Kong when we arrived back last night) I am newly aware, again, of the real gospel of Advent/Christmas — that into this hurting and dangerous world, God sent his son, fully human, a vulnerable baby, born to a poor family, in a land occupied by the Romans, where babies could be slaughtered upon the whims of a ruler.

What love is this that God gives to us, and which we are called to share in practical ways?

Your gift helps support God’s global work

Posted on November 12, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Dear friend in Christ,

Today over 240 ELCA missionaries are heeding God’s call to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Some are teachers, others are doctors and others are pastors in some of the fastest growing churches around the world. Others still are young adults engaging in a life-changing year of global service. They all serve in response to invitations from our global companions in more than 40 countries.

No matter where or how they serve, every one of these missionaries needs your prayers, support and gifts to succeed in their work. Your gift connects you directly to these missionaries and enables you to participate in what God is doing around the world. You make their life-changing ministry happen.

Thanks to your support, missionaries like the Rev. Justin and Kari Eller are working alongside our com­panions in Christ throughout South America. They are making a difference through their involvement with ELCA projects like these:

The Rev. Justin Eller at work in Bolivia.

The Rev. Justin Eller at work in Bolivia.

  • Seminary education in Argentina
  • Primary health care in Chile
  • Microcredit in Bolivia
  • Mission outreach in Peru
  • Support for children in Brazil
  • Christian education in Latin America and the Caribbean

Kari says about the Lutherans in Bolivia, “We see the Bible come alive in hospitality, like a shawl put on your shoulders when you are cold. It’s a place where God’s glory can be seen in the perseverance of the women and men who, despite years of discrimination, continue to live a life that shines the light of Christ.”

Your gifts help make the Ellers’ ministry happen. As we approach this season of giving, your support is needed so missionaries can continue their work. Please consider giving a generous gift  to support ELCA missionaries in the year ahead!

To make a gift to ELCA missionaries today, visit

A servant with you in Christ’s mission,
Rev. Lanny Westphal, Director
ELCA Global Church Sponsorship

P.S. A copy of this letter was mailed to our generous donors just a few days ago. If you have supported ELCA Missionaries and Young Adults in Global Mission in the past year, look for yours in the mail soon.  

Troesters are moving to Tanzania

Posted on November 7, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Joe and Deborah Troester, long-time ELCA missionaries in the Central African Republic, are taking a new assignment in Tanzania. You can read more about their work in their blog, “African Water Log.” To support the Troesters, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to

troesters-map-11-5-13We’re moving! Because of the continued insecurity in the Central African Republic, Deborah and I have accepted a new assignment in Arusha, Tanzania. We will be the East Africa regional representatives of the ELCA, helping to oversee projects in Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

While we miss the Central African Republic, and especially our friends and colleagues in the Lutheran church there, we look forward to establishing relationships with new friends and colleagues in the East Africa region. This is an exciting time to be working in Africa. Churches here are growing faster than in almost any other part of the world; there are even more Lutherans in Tanzania than in the ELCA!

We are grateful to those of you who have continued to support us throughout this transition by your prayers, gifts and words of encouragement. Due to the uncertainty of our plans this summer, we were unable to visit many of our supporting congregations. We hope to make up for this on our next visit to the U.S. and thank you for your understanding.

We welcome your continued support through ELCA Global Mission. However, if you prefer to support another missionary working in the Central African Republic, or with another project, we certainly understand. For more information on sponsoring us, or other missionaries in the ELCA, contact the Rev. Lanny Westphal at Rev. Westphal can also give you information about specific projects supported by the ELCA in Africa and around the world.

We look forward to writing more blogs from the East Africa Region, so stay tuned!

Joe and Deborah Troester
ELCA missionaries to East Africa

Become a YAGM Youth Group

Posted on November 5, 2013 by Hand In Hand


Connect your youth with ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM)!

  • YAGM Youth Groups make covenants of prayer, mutual communication and financial support for a YAGM group or individual participant.
  • YAGMs are young adults (age 19-29) who serve for a year in one of eight country groups: Argentina/Uruguay, Jerusalem/West Bank, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Central Europe (Hungary), Southern Africa and the United Kingdom – and beginning in 2014, Rwanda!

Goals and benefits of YAGM Youth Groups

  • Teach youth about stewardship, global mission and servant leadership
  • Give youth an opportunity to teach their whole congregation about stewardship, global mission and servant leadership
  • Continue the excitement for youth who have taken part in the ELCA Malaria Campaign or the 100 Wells Challenge
  • Use digital communication to foster international peer role-modeling
  • Provide an opportunity for young people to consider their own vocations
  • Support an exciting, growing ELCA global ministry

Three simple steps to becoming a YAGM Youth Group

1.     Choose

Contact or 800-638-3522, ext. 2657, to request any of the following:

  • A list of all the YAGM groups and individuals in service
  • A list of YAGM blogs
  • A profile of any these country groups:
    • Argentina/Uruguay
    • Central Europe (Hungary)
    • Jerusalem/West Bank
    • Madagascar
    • Malaysia
    • Mexico
    • Southern Africa
    • United Kingdom
    • Rwanda (available in 2014)
  • A “sponsor covenant” to make a covenant commitment for prayer, communication and financial support.
    • On the covenant form, in Step 1:
      • On the first line write your congregation or sponsoring ministry (such as synod or campus ministry).
      • On the second line write “YAGM Youth Group.” You can also further specify the name of your group (and of course, you can also register another kind of group beside youth, such as young adult, campus ministry, women’s or men’s group).
      • In Step 2, choose and write in a YAGM individual or group.
      • In Step 3, choose your level of support. It can be any amount, large or small.
      • Then complete Step 4 and mail your covenant to the address in Step 5.

2.    Connect

  • Follow YAGM blogs, and share them with friends and people in your congregation. Put excerpts and the link into your newsletters and bulletins.
  • Learn about the YAGMs, their areas of service, the countries where they live, and the church and people they work with. Share what you’ve learned with people in your congregation. Host a meal with typical food from that country, or sing a hymn from that church, or show maps and pictures to describe your YAGM’s location and service.
  • Invite a YAGM to Skype into a class to speak or into worship to pray or read lessons. Invite them to visit your congregation before or after their year of service. Make and exchange videos with a YAGM about their ministry and your congregation.
  • Include the YAGM in the Sunday prayers and in your own prayers, or in the list of staff for your congregation in the bulletin.
  • Develop relationships! Send cards, letters and emails. Become e-pals with a YAGM.

Note: YAGMs’ term of service is from August to July every year, which corresponds well with the program year in most congregations. New YAGMs are announced every May, so you can plan ahead and choose your YAGM for the following year.

3.    Sponsor

  • Collect a “noisy offering” at worship. Do fundraisers or service projects.
  • Invite your congregation to join you in supporting a YAGM. Put up a chart for people to sponsor a “YAGM a day.” Request funds from an endowment in your congregation or community.
  • Invite neighboring youth groups and congregations to join you!

Note: Make your checks payable to “ELCA Global Church Sponsorship” with your YAGM’s name and code in the memo line. Mail to ELCA Global Church Sponsorship, PO Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764.

For questions or more information about YAGM Youth Groups, please contact:

Andrew Steele (Former YAGM in Southern Africa)
Manager, Donor Relations
Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA
800-638-3522, ext. 2758

Rev. Lanny Westphal (Former synod youth ministry staff)
Director, ELCA Global Church Sponsorship
800-638-3522, ext. 2641


Project AVIA

Posted on October 29, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Anndi Russell is spending a year in Madagascar serving with the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. You can read more about Anndi’s experiences in Madagascar in her blog, “Madagascar: a path yet untrodden. To support someone in the Young Adults in Global Mission program or a longer term missionary, go to

This is one of the villages that AVIA team works with.

This is one of the villages that AVIA team works with.


Here in Madagascar, I do a lot of different work. One of my primary jobs is working with a nonprofit organization, AVIA. AVIA stands for Anosy Villages Integrated Actions, and the goal is to improve the lives of the people living in the villages surrounding Fort Dauphin through education about hygiene and farming practices, among other things. The organization works with 25 villages right now, and more are being added. I love the work that AVIA does, and I feel very blessed to be a member of this team.

I go out with AVIA two or three times a week, and each day is a little bit different. On Tuesdays I work at a rural center that pregnant women and new mothers can come to for consultations and infant vaccinations. The days at this center can be very mentally challenging for me. Many of the pregnant women are younger than me, and it is often their second, third, or fourth pregnancy. These women have never had the opportunity to learn how to read or write, and most are not married. Right now, my job is to record information, weigh babies, and try and understand the Malagasy that is being spoken around me. I am excited for the day when I can speak the language because I really want to be able to connect with these women and understand a bit of their story.

The other days with AVIA are spent visiting the different villages. On these days, the nurse that I work with and I educate the people of the villages about healthy lifestyles. We explain the importance of washing hands, and what a healthy diet for a child is. We talk about how to prevent malaria, and what the symptoms are. I use the word “we” very loosely, because right now I have exactly six phrases that I am in charge of saying (clean the yard, wash your hands with soap: before preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, after playing … I’ve really mastered all of those in Malagasy).

AVIA does many other things as well, such as building schools and teaching the most efficient methods for farming rice. The organization may be starting a program that will teach women the art of embroidery, which would help empower them to start small businesses — something that I am really passionate about.

The AVIA team often spends the majority of the day traveling — picking up lumber or bricks for a new school that is being built, getting vaccines, navigating the deteriorating roads, or walking between rice paddies to reach villages that the road doesn’t lead to. It’s not uncommon to spend five or six hours traveling, walking or waiting and to work in the villages for just an hour or two in a day. The amount of time we spend traveling for the small amount of education that we are able to offer each day in the field really speaks to how important this organization views their work. It’s really inspiring and humbling to be part of such a team, and I am looking forward to contributing in whatever small way I can to their mission.

The gift of love

Posted on October 22, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Mari K Hanchar is spending a year of service in Hungary as part of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. A recent entry in her blog, “The Hungarian Experience: a year of servanthood,” is about love for one another and the special way she recently experienced it. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to

The stack of cereal, and the four on the windowsill. My siblings love cereal too, so we've gone through two boxes already and lots of milk!

The stack of cereal, and the four on the windowsill. My siblings love cereal too, so we’ve gone through two boxes already and lots of milk!

It’s been almost one month since I arrived in Nyírgyháza (Sept. 10 was the official move-in date). Many people have shown me, an outsider, kindness. I have numerous stories, but this one is special to me.

When I first arrived at my home, I was at a loss for what to eat. My host family had food, but I had no idea what to do with the contents in the fridge. There were hot dogs, cheese, milk, butter, jam, meats and of course paprika. When it came time for breakfast, I usually settled on bread with jam. By the end of week two, I was craving some comfort food. When I went to the grocery store with my family, I found what I had been looking for:  cereal. I love cereal.

I went to pick out my favorite kind, Cinni Minis (Hungary’s version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and then looked at the price. I was shocked at how expensive cereal was. It’s not outrageous but comparatively, it’s expensive, especially on a stipend budget. I decided to purchase a box for the comfort of having familiar food in the house.

My host family didn’t have cereal in the house. I think it’s partially because it’s costly, but I also believe it’s a cultural difference. Breakfast often consists of bread, meat and cheese.

About one week ago, I went downstairs for breakfast before work. My host mom wanted to show me something in the kitchen. I followed her and saw that she was pointing to the four boxes of cereal on the windowsill. In Hungarian, she told me that the cereal was on sale so she bought some. I had a huge smile on my face and my heart was filled with warmth by her kind gesture. I repeated “thank you” many times and gave her a big hug. I happily went to work taking the feelings of love with me.

When I returned from work a while later, I went into the kitchen. I was fumbling around for something and then looked over at the gift of the cereal, smiling. I glanced down from the windowsill and to my surprise, there were NINE more boxes of cereal stacked up on the ground. My heart skipped a beat, and for a second I lost my breath. The warm feeling in my heart returned and quickly spread throughout my body giving me chills. I was taken aback, and I could feel my eyes watering up. I stood in the kitchen a while dumbfounded and amazed.

This gift was and remains meaningful to me. It was more than the gift of cereal; it was the gift of comfort. It was the gift of acceptance into the family. It was the gift of kindness to someone she barely knew. It was the gift of love.



Siberian summer church camp

Posted on October 8, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Bradn and Natasha Buerkle are ELCA missionaries in Russia. In a recent entry in his blog, “Russian Correspondent,” Bradn writes about the universal joy and enrichment that comes from summer church camp. To support the Buerkles, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to

Cooling off with water games at the summer church camp.

Cooling off with water games at the summer church camp.

Summer? In Siberia? Despite this region’s legendary cold and in contrast to widely held stereotypes, Siberian summers (at least here in the south) tend to be warm and pleasant. As I saw this year, it’s just the kind of weather that is needed for church camp.

I hadn’t worked at a camp in Russia since 1997, when I came to the country for the first time (through Camp Counselors Russia). Then my Russian was primitive, but that seemed to fit the atmosphere of the place where I was working — a complex near Moscow left over from Soviet days and filled with children whose parents seemed to want to get rid of them for the summer.

Although that was a good learning experience, I felt much more at home (thanks to my experience in 1995 as a counselor at Red Willow Bible Camp in North Dakota) in the camps held north of Omsk, Siberia, for children of the Western Siberian Deanery this past August. Many of the church’s active young people grew up in these camps and have gone on to be experienced and caring counselors; I felt privileged to work together with them as a member of their team.

Although I was only able to visit the young-adult camp for one evening, I had the chance to fully participate in the week-long children’s camp as one of the camp chaplains. The days were long and intense; this gave me a good opportunity to note that I’m not as young as I used to be! On the other hand, diving into all the creativity surrounding games, skits, Bible studies, worship service, etc. not only benefitted the kids, but helped me break out of the rut of thought and action that can accompany “typical” congregational ministry, even in such a non-typical place as the Lutheran church in Russia.

A malaria death

Posted on October 1, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Brian and Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries in Liberia. In this entry from their blog they write about the tragedy of a young child dying from malaria. To support the Palmers or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to To support the ELCA Malaria Campaign, click here.

Christine and Brian Palmer

Christine and Brian Palmer

So 5:30 this morning I got a call from one of my colleagues, Rev. Mulbah. His 7-year-old grand-niece died of malaria last night and he was asking if I could take the body out to his hometown for the funeral and burial.

Her name was Kiema. Her tiny body was wrapped in a lappa with her bare feet hanging out. The dirt road to Gbonyea is a little rough and I couldn’t help but feel bad that Kiema’s body was not on a cushion of some sort. I kept reminding myself not to panic every time we hit a bump, “It doesn’t matter; she’s already dead.”

We stopped and put a palm branch in the windshield so people would know what we were doing. You wouldn’t think people would notice such a thing but everybody does. Instead of shouts of “White man!!” or “Chinese man!!” all we got was solemn stares as we quietly slipped by.

Kiema’s mother was with us and was completely silent until we got about a half mile from Gbonyea. That’s when she started crying. By the time we stopped at Rev. Mulbah’s house we were surrounded by hundreds of wailing friends and family. Knees were buckling, Faces were contorted. There was no holding back. Everybody cried, absolutely everybody.

Church in Japan

Posted on September 24, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Laura Fentress is an ELCA missionary in Japan teaching English as a second language. Here is an excerpt from a recent entry in her blog, “30 months in Japan,” in which she discusses her work and the church in Japan.

Laura Fentress

Laura Fentress

Despite over 450 years of contact with Christianity, Japan is less than 1 percent Christian. For whatever reason, Christianity hasn’t really stuck. … The modern Japanese church is small but determined, though — and quite close-knit. (When your numbers are so few, you can’t really afford major schisms.)

I work for the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, one of the two major Lutheran denominations here. The Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church has 22,000 baptized members spread across 238 churches around the country. The typical church is quite small, and its members skew toward the older end of the age spectrum, a result of the Japanese church’s small revival immediately following World War II. …

There are five [Lutheran] churches in Kumamoto City, and four are currently served by J-3s. I am assigned to Kuwamizu Lutheran Church, founded in 1932. It’s a small church, but very active. Kuwamizu is also connected to The Colony of Love and Mercy, the first welfare organization in Kumamoto. Founded in 1919 by American Lutheran missionary Maud Powlas, it has several homes for orphaned and abused babies and children, developmentally disabled adults, and the elderly, as well as a kindergarten.

Most of my work is based in the church itself. I attend morning worship every Sunday and once a month hold an English Bible study after the service. I also help out with Sunday school in the mornings, where the teachers sometimes have the kids practice their English with me. (The most common questions are “How old are you?”; “How tall are you?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” I find all three very amusing, and always answer honestly, except the third one. “It’s a secret,” I always tell them.)

Japanese Lutheran church services are pretty much the same as “old-school Lutheran services in America,” [I’m told.] We follow the same order of worship every Sunday with the same “Gloria,” “Kyrie,” “Agnus Dei” and “Nunc Dimittis” refrains. Oh, and we always sing a few verses of Psalm 51 as the plate gets passed. I’ve also yet to encounter a Lutheran church without a pipe organ here. We sing hymns out of a churchwide hymnal made up of old-school European and American hymns (translated into Japanese) mixed with some Japanese compositions. (Praise bands and worship teams haven’t really caught on in Japanese Lutheranism, though the pastor of Tokyo Lutheran himself heads up a rock band.) …

One other important church event in town I’m involved with: the International English Service, every Sunday at 6 p.m. at Kumamoto Lutheran Church. … We minister to the Christian (and sometimes non-Christian) English-speaking population of Kumamoto. I occasionally lead the service (though we usually leave the sermons to a local missionary pastor), but Katie and I also run a children’s program before the service twice a month. It’s a good way to get to know some of the missionary and English-speaking kids in town. They’re a lot of fun. (And surprisingly good at Twister.)

It truly is a joy to serve the Japanese church, though much of the time I feel like I’m receiving much more than I’m giving. (The hospitality of church members here continues to floor me.) Please pray for this small but dedicated group of brothers and sisters in Christ as they live out the gospel in an increasingly secular society.

Learning in mutuality

Posted on September 17, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Anna Guthrie is a participant in the 2013-14 ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. She and the 63 other volunteers in the program are undergoing orientation in their respective countries before going out to their host communities. Anna is in Madagascar. Here is an excerpt from her blog she is writing about her experiences. To read the complete entry, click here.   

Anna Guthrie has found that children, besides being friends, can be great teachers.

Anna Guthrie has found that children, besides being friends, can be great teachers.

Our three weeks of in-country orientation will soon be coming to a close. These three weeks of orientation have been all about learning. Lots and lots of learning. Word of the day: “mianatra” (to learn).

All this learning is certainly exciting and I love it, but it is also at times overwhelming. While we have been learning many things about Madagascar and Malagasy life here in orientation, the primary focus has been learning as much of the Malagasy language as possible in this short amount of time. … As we have learned more in class, we have been increasingly encouraged to practice our Malagasy with Malagasy people. …

Part of this encouragement to interact with the Malagasy came with an afternoon activity challenge from Austin and Tanya [Propst, the country coordinators]. We were asked to spend one hour outside the Lovasoa compound on our own. This was the only requirement — we could interact with the Malagasy community in whatever way we felt comfortable, whether it was observing from a park bench, sipping on a Coke, or trying out our conversation skills. …

I had noticed some kids running around the Lovasoa compound earlier that day, so I took my Malagasy notebook outside and sat by where I had last seen them. I sat making notecards, and soon enough, some little kids’ heads began poking around the side of the building, looking at me and giggling. I smiled and waved, and their heads would disappear, then peek around again. I smiled and waved, smiled and waved, until one of the boys apparently mustered up some courage and enough curiosity to come running at me full speed and then slide to a stop in the grass right beside me, laughing loudly. We had learned colors that day in language class, so we began to practice colors. What color is the grass? Maintso/green. What color is my skirt? Mainty/black. He told me the Malagasy words for me to repeat, and then I told him the English words. Soon his siblings came to join and they all enjoyed correcting my pronunciation and testing me. The oldest boy peeked in my notebook, and seeing my list of Malagasy vocabulary words with their English translations, asked for a paper and pen and began to copy them down and practice saying the words. These children were so eager to learn and practice English — I hope my students will be as willing to learn as they were. They were silly and fun, and great teachers. After this experience, I am pretty sure that kids will be my first best friends here in Madagascar. They are great teachers!

These encounters in learning and sharing language alongside the Malagasy were great reminders in not only the goals of the Young Adults in Global Mission program but were also reminders about my own personal hopes. I want to remember to learn and teach in a spirit of mutuality, with both parties giving and receiving. Larissa [a woman Anna had spent time with the previous day] and the kids, with their openness and excitement to learn and teach, encouraged me in this hope and made me even more excited to meet and engage my host community.