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.

Knitting and self-reliance

Posted on July 16, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Michael Fonner and Leslie Weed-Fonner are ELCA missionaries in Kenya. Michael is the pastor of the Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation, which supports a knitting school for local women. In their July newsletter they wrote about the work of the school. To support Michael and Leslie, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to

The knitting school helps its students become more self-sufficient.

The knitting school helps its students become more self-sufficient.

The Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation has three wonderful schools: a nursery school and a sewing school, about which we will be writing in the future, and a knitting school.

The knitting school has about 25 students. They are young women, many of whom bring their children to school and most live in the area close to the church.  They are training so they can knit warm clothes as both a service to their communities and, importantly, as a way to support themselves and their families.  Teacher Rebecca is not only highly skilled in knitting and as a teacher, but she is also a mentor figure for the students, leading daily prayers and Christian singing.

As a program of the congregation, the knitting school is both an outreach to the local community and an “income generating activity.” These are important to the Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation and the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church, as we work toward self-reliance and financial independence.

Congregations supporting the ELCA Global Mission work in Kenya are participants in the life-giving ministry of the Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation knitting school. Women are trained in a vital way to support themselves and their families while warm clothes are provided to homes where there is little heat during the cold season. We thank you for your commitment to ELCA Global Mission. This is “God’s work. Our hands.”!

Welcomed in Kenya

Posted on December 4, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Michael Fonner and Leslie Weed-Fonner have recently become ELCA missionaries in Kenya. Michael is the new pastor of the Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation. Here are some of their thoughts from a recent newsletter. To support Michael and Leslie, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to

The welcome by the congregation included planting a tree.

The welcome by the congregation included planting a tree.

The Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation serves the international and Kenyan community in Nairobi. There are two services, one in English and the other in Kiswahili, the Kenyan national language. Both services are well attended and have wonderful, lively music and sometimes dancing.

The English language service draws from Tanzanian, Cameroonian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, South Sudanese and American, among other communities of Nairobi as well as many Kenyans. The Kiswahili service attracts residents from the local community as well as Kenyans from the greater Nairobi area. One of the highlights of each Sunday is the number of children who gather for the children’s sermon, a blessing, and then attend Sunday school. This is true in both English and Kiswahili worships.

As we have been settling in, we have been visiting members in their homes; some homes are very nice and some are quite humble. All members have been hospitable — chai (tea), snacks, and meals have been offered and enjoyed! We have been struck that no matter how small the home, there is always a place for several people to sit, chat, eat, enjoy each other’s company and pray. Often neighbors and extended family members join us.

We are learning about the lives, families, hopes and struggles of the members of our congregation. A number of our members have attended university and are accomplished in their fields. Some members have lived or studied overseas and have family members who still live overseas. At the same time many of our members live in small quarters with no electricity and no running water; some work at daily jobs and others are unemployed. These disparities are true not only in our congregation, but throughout Nairobi and Kenya. We are learning from members what they think contributes to these disparities and how they affect the congregation as a whole.

Mike and I talk about a ministry of presence here — being present, listening, learning and looking ahead together with members. We are appreciative of the hospitality, openness and sharing of our members as we get to know each other and think about our future  together.


Cindy and Sam Wolff: A life in missions

Posted on October 2, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Wolff video screenshotCindy and the Rev. Sam Wolff have recently retired from 32 years as ELCA missionaries. They served in Tanzania, Germany and twice in Kenya, where they most recently were in parish ministry in Nairobi. They recently talked about their lives as missionaries and what the experience has meant to them. To watch the video, click here. Thank you for supporting Cindy and Sam. To support another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go here.

Christmas in Kenya

Posted on December 31, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Sam and Cindy Wolff are ELCA missionaries in Kenya. Sam is pastor of the Nairobi International congregation and works with the Dagoretti Swahili Church. To support the Wolffs, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Cindy and Sam Wolff

Cindy and Sam Wolff

We are often asked, “How do you celebrate Christmas in Kenya?”  On a personal level, Cindy and I celebrate much the same way as we always have; worship, Cindy’s traditional Christmas Eve gathering (much more colorful than it was in Europe or the States), Christmas dinner with friends and a few gifts to exchange. This same formula is basically followed in the Kenya culture as well.

WORSHIP: In African society spirituality is an important part of life and it is reflected in the way people live and express joy. But here, Christmas worship is confined neither by date nor location. During this time, people gather together formally or informally to pray, sing, dance and celebrate the moment. Our congregation highlights include our Christmas Eve live nativity, with donkeys, goats, sheep and camels, all indigenous to Kenya. Children, many who are not part of our church,  eagerly await this celebration so that they may be part of the Angel Choir.

GATHERINGS: Next to religion, relationship is the most important African treasure. But gathering can be problematic as travel is expensive, often dangerous and always difficult. This combined with the severe economic crisis will force many Kenyans to miss their cherished gathering, so they celebrate with neighbors or friends. But few Kenyans will be alone on Christmas, such is the wonderful web of African relationships.

CHRISTMAS DINNER: For those who can afford it, the meal will be centered around roast goat. Sweet tea or Tusker beer is the drink of choice, with children getting a soda. The second choice will be a rice and meat dish called pilau. But in many cases Christmas dinner will be the same foods as usual (greens, maize meal and beans), but on this day, perhaps a bit more will be available.

GIFT GIVING: Those who can afford it will generally give gifts, but the holiday is not nearly as commercial as it is in Europe or the Americas. The emphasis is more on the religious aspect of celebrating the birth of Jesus than it is on gift giving. The most common thing bought at Christmas is a new set of clothes. Many Africans are not able to afford presents for their children and there aren’t too many toy stores in rural Africa anyway. If gifts are exchanged, they are usually school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods.

DIFFERENT AND YET THE SAME:  Rich or poor, east or west, turkey or goat, eggnog or Tusker, we join together to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.

Blessed Christmas,
Sam and Cindy



A birthday for Victor

Posted on November 8, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Sam and Cindy Wolff are ELCA missionaries in Kenya. Sam is as pastor of Nairobi International congregation and working with the Dagoretti Swahili Church. Sam and Cindy work in developing an AIDS outreach program and work with the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Synod in furthering the ministry and outreach of the Dagoretti church. To support  the Wolffs, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Victor enjoys his birthday cake.

Victor enjoys his birthday cake.

Victor’s parents were very young when he was born. The date of Victor’s birth was never recorded and his father cannot remember it. When asked, he can only give an approximate year.  Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in Kenya.

This year we decided to give Victor a birth date and a birthday party. We used the month and day of my birthday since it was coming up soon and chose a year which Victor thought might be his real birth year.

We bought gifts and wrapped them and I baked a cake. The party was at a pizza parlor, the perfect venue for someone who was turning 15.  It was not an elaborate affair in terms of an American party, but for someone who had never even had a birth date to celebrate, it was monumental. He received clothing, art supplies and money. He told us he had never received a birthday gift before. The cake was a great surprise to him. It was complete with15 candles. It was truly a moving experience, for us as well as Victor.

Victor wants to be a pastor. He came to our church two years ago to get a morning cup of chai and a cookie. Then he started going to services and asked to be baptized and confirmed. He was awarded a Bible at his confirmation and read it in its entirety in a matter of months. Now he has joined the choir and is an assistant Sunday school teacher. He has found a home at our church and a new life in Christ.

I asked Victor the next week what he bought with his money (about $5.00 U.S.).  He said he spent $3.00 on a new pair of shoes and gave the rest to his father to buy food. I asked why he gave part of his birthday gift away.  He said, “because,  I like my father.” Victor received a gift and through this gave a gift. This was a joy to him to be able to pass part of his gift on. He surely passed a gift on to me. It is not only about what you receive but what you can share with others.  Victor is living his faith, for Christ teaches us to love one another and to care for each other.

May you all be blessed and remember to pass on the daily gifts you receive.

Cynthia Wolff


A hard life but ‘God is good!’

Posted on July 2, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Sam and Cindy Wolf are ELCA missionaries in Kenya. Sam is pastor of Nairobi International congregation and works with the Dagoretti Swahili Church. Sam and Cindy also work in developing an AIDS outreach program. To support the Wolfs, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

George Odhiambo

George Odhiambo

George is a big man with ruggedly handsome features. But his body has been ravished by AIDS. Here in Kenya they call it the wasting disease, and looking at George one can see how it got its name.

George Odhiambo is a member of our English speaking congregation and lives in the slum village behind the church. He was born in a small village near the Uganda border, one of eight children.  The family was fairly well off as his father worked as a butcher, until his father died, and then poverty hit.

After his father’s death, George was forced to drop out of  school. There was no work in the area so George made the 600 kilometer journey to Nairobi and got a job as a life guard at a sports club for expatriates.

He married and had four children. They still lived in the slum, rarely had disposable income but he said, “we ate.”

Then in 2002 his wife got weaker and weaker and died. After her death, George found out she had AIDS.  AIDS carries a horrible stigma in this country. Many people still prefer death to disclosure.  She left George with four children.

Within a year George became too sick to continue working. A social worker convinced him to go to the Coptic hospital, where he was also diagnosed with AIDS. The hospital is now providing him with medicine.

Eventually George found work helping an older neighbor to do his banking. The neighbor promised to pay George but he never did. So George withdrew the money owed to him from the neighbor’s account. He was sentenced to 18 months for theft.  After serving only four months, George was released.  This happened shortly after Cindy and I came to Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation.

He began selling eggs.  He makes less than a dollar a day. Now he and his children eat, but only one meal a day.  For growing children and an adult with HIV who needs to take medicine three times a day with food, this is not a good situation.

George is a wonderful, faithful member of our church.  He is one of those rare people God made who are just good and gentle.  Today we were able to find him a job as a part-time night guard, so perhaps his life shall improve.

I asked George for a statement of his faith.  “Pastor,” he said, “God is good! And God is always!”  I must admit his words somehow made me ashamed.

Sam and Cindy


The blessing of seeing

Posted on March 12, 2010 by Hand In Hand

Not even the ostrich …
A reflection by the Rev. Sam Wolff
ELCA missionary serving in Kenya

When I decided to leave mission work in Africa after more than 20 years, many people asked me, “why?” Initially I had no answer, and so I would reply, “it’s just time.”

A few years later, while serving an international congregation in the heart of Europe, the “why” dawned upon me.  I had left my mission work in Africa, because I was tired of seeing.  I was tired of walking out of my home every day and seeing people dying of AIDS; mired in hopeless poverty; fighting to survive just one more day in urban Africa. I was tired of seeing corruption, tribalism, nepotism, drought and hunger. I was tired of seeing.

Then one day I thought of the ostrich.  Having lived many years in Africa, I’ve seen thousands of ostrich.  Never once, though, did I see one with its head buried in the sand.

That realization brought me up short.   “Who am I,” I wondered, “to try and bury my head and not see”?

I am back doing mission work in Africa.  I see the same problems.  It seems, though,  that I see with different eyes.

I see women sing as they do back-breaking work.  I see children playing soccer on dung heaps with a ball made of banana leaves; they play with all the joys of childhood.  I see my neighbor who has AIDS in its last stages, carry himself with great dignity. I see Africans at worship who care more about adoration than they do about time.  I see some of the most beautiful people in God’s world.

What a privilege, what a blessing, it is to see.