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.

Lutheran Church in Malaysia celebrates its 60th

Posted on September 10, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The ELCA Director for Asia-Pacific Continental Desk Franklin Ishida writes:

The Lutheran Church in Malaysia ordination of Marcus Leong, CK Lee and Peter Lee.

The Lutheran Church in Malaysia ordination of Marcus Leong, CK Lee and Peter Lee.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia (at the time, Lutheran Church of Malaysia and Singapore). This special occasion was celebrated at the church’s 32nd General Assembly at the end of August.

The Lutheran Church in Malaysia was birthed from missionary efforts of the United Lutheran Church in America. Special thanks were expressed during the assembly for the work of missionaries who engaged in pioneering evangelism and helped build up the church. As part of this anniversary, a book, “A String of Pearls,” by Jeremy Fisher (son of the Malaysian church’s first bishop, Carl Fisher), was launched. The book features interviews and stories from former missionaries to Malaysia.

A new bishop, the Rev. Aaron Yap, was elected and installed during the closing worship of the assembly, and the Rev. Darrel Peterson — assistant to the bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, which is companioned with the Lutheran Church in Malaysia —  preached. Additionally, three pastors were ordained and one new congregation was welcomed into the church.

This activity reflects the continued vitality of the church in West Malaysia. The church continues to grow and is increasingly multicultural: Chinese, English and Malay are spoken, with an ethnic makeup of Chinese, Indian, Orang Asli (indigenous peoples) and others from beyond Asia. The newest organized congregation is one more in a string of new congregations from among the Orang Asli.

Meanwhile, mission outreach goes beyond the domestic as the Lutheran Church in Malaysia engages in mission in Myanmar, Vietnam and China. The church has requested assistance from the ELCA for its outreach with the Orang Asli and in neighboring Myanmar. These requests will become part of “Always Being Made New: the Campaign for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” which was just approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh. For more information about this campaign, please contact

Thanks and trust

Posted on August 20, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Kelly Culhane has finished her year of service in Malaysia as an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer. As she was concluding her service, she posted this entry on her blog, “Walking in the Light.”

Kelly Culhane

Kelly Culhane

I wasn’t going to write another blog. I wasn’t going to come to happy conclusions about leaving, going “home,” because right now home is in two very different, far away places.

But this morning, just now at my last weekly staff meeting, I led the devotion. I had no idea what I was going to talk about last night. This morning I woke up singing, “Trust, trust in the Lord, lean not on your own understanding,” which I remember singing when I was little. Thanks, God, for being constantly present in so many ways.

Coming here was hard. Leaving here is going to be even harder. Leaving people behind is never fun. But trusting that God is present in the hurt, the excitement, the packing, the tears gives me a tiny bit of hope.

I have learned a lot about trusting God this past year. Trusting him in relationships that seem to be going nowhere, trusting him as kids seem to learn nothing, trusting him as I started from scratch to make a life here that now I am preparing to leave. And what does it say, that I don’t fully trust God as I prepare to go back to the people and the place that formed me?

There are so many things in my heart and my mind right now. But most importantly, I worry how I can adequately say thank you. Thank you to the 35 unique children I consider my precious siblings. To the six staff members who welcomed me completely, constantly providing for me in ways I could never repay. To the many aunties and uncles around Tuaran and Kota Kinabalu who supported me in little ways that made an incredible difference. To the family and friends back home who sent letters and packages that always arrived at the perfect time. To the members of the wider community who drove me to town for free, who taught me new words as I made copies or bought phone credits, who were able to take me home before I knew how to tell them where home was.

We pray a lot here in groups, all speaking aloud at once. It’s one of my favorite things. And since January, I have started every prayer with, “Father, thank you for this place and these people.” Then I continue to thank him for each of the kids and the staff, lifting up the struggles and joys they share with me every day. This morning as we prayed, I got stuck after, “Thank you for this place and these people,” completely overcome by the now seemingly constant flood of emotions. I trust that God will find a way for this family to realize the depth of my gratitude. And I trust that he will continue to provide for this place that has provided so much for me.



It’s the little things that count

Posted on May 7, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Rebecca Wicker is spending a year in Tenom, Malaysia, as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to

Rebecca Wicker_Hand in Hand_1-1-13

Rebecca Wicker

As the Young Adults in Global Mission volunteers for 2013-2014 [recently] gathered to discern and find out where they would be placed for the next year, I found myself reflecting on where I’ve been in the past year.  I remember being a ball of nerves anxiously waiting to find out which country I would be going to (unfortunately, our names were called in alphabetical order so I had to sweat it out).  I remember that weekend as we learned more about the theme of accompaniment and attempting to wrap my head around a concept that has become the theme of my life for the past few months.

The difference between where I was and where I am now feels enormous, but if I look back at my year so far, there’s no singular point where all this took place. Change and learning has taken place in small increments in each passing day. In terms of language, I used to only be able to catch a couple of words in a conversation. Now I find that I can follow most of what’s being said and participate. I’ve had some pretty crazy food adventures and would have never imagined myself eating, let alone enjoying, half of the foods that have become my favorite dishes. The people in my community have become more than just hosts, they’ve become a family. I miss them when I leave Tenom and rejoice when I’m back in town. I look back at when I first arrived here and remember feeling extremely anxious because I had no idea what my role would be. But now I find myself a part of the work of the church, as a teacher, friend, musician and fellow worker in the body of Christ.

What I now realize has been a dramatic change took place at the hands of a very patient God. It’s the everyday kindness and guidance that has shaped me here. From the smiles to the invitations, to the meals, each interaction has helped me become part of the family here. It’s also been in the everyday opportunities that I’ve had for small acts of service that I’ve realized where my gifts and talents can be used. There have been walks with friends, afternoon visits, extra patience and a willingness to be open that have let me share a bit of myself here. Alone, these acts are small, but they add up and build relationships as well as shape the walks we take with people. In these small acts, God brings out the very best.

As I look back at where I’ve been so far, I realize just how many chances the day holds for these small acts. My time here has been filled with these small acts. I realize that time will race by and my time will be winding down all too soon. But if each and every day is filled with these moments of love, these sacred moments that gradually transform, I realize there is still a whole lot to look forward to. There is still a whole lot to experience and be a part of and I look forward to every minute of it.

Love meets love – extreme caroling

Posted on January 1, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Rebecca Wicker is spending a year in Malaysia as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. Teaching English is among her volunteer activities. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to

Rebecca Wicker

Rebecca Wicker

Someone was incredibly ambitious and scheduled the youths (I work with) to go caroling at approximately 80 homes over the span of a week. I had no idea that the church bus could handle so much off-roading. I also had no idea that we could squeeze 25 people inside, but hey, everyone just yells “BOLEH!” (“can”) and makes it happen. So as Extreme Caroling Day Five comes to a close, I wanted to share some thoughts.

The youths have brought an incredible amount of love and enthusiasm to every house we’ve gone to. No house is too far out or too isolated for us to reach. At every house, we share a mini-program with the family complete with a greeting, prayer, a couple of songs, a Bible passage, and “Selamat Hari Natal” (aka “We Wish You a Merry Christmas) in Bahasa Malayu, English, Chinese or Murut. Even though we’ve done this routine at least eight times each of the past five nights, the youths come and share as if each house is the very first house. This incredible love has been met each time with an incredible welcome. Some places have electricity while others are lit by lantern. But all the people receive us with joy. People invite us inside and sing along to the music.

Tonight, one instance stuck out to me. At about the fifth house, we climbed up inside the common room of a home where at least nine people lived. The place was lit with just one electric lantern, and we needed our flashlights to see the music. During the first song, I saw one woman sitting with her eyes closed, singing along to the music and swaying to the rhythm. The look on her face showed she was savoring every moment. When we shook hands to leave, she held everyone’s hand just a bit longer. It hit me then that this was far more than just a 10-minute program for her. She was holding each second and fully taking in the time we spent there. I can’t speak for her and say what that moment meant, but there was something in that time where the love of the carolers met the love and welcome of the people we visited. It’s one of those times when you put every ounce of love into what you do and leave the rest up to God. My hope is that as we’ve gone out this week, we’ve been a blessing to everyone we’ve met. I know the people I’ve gone with and the people I’ve met have been a blessing in yet again helping me experience those God moments.


Learning Lutheran worship heritage

Posted on August 21, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Dr, Jeffrey A. Truscott, an ELCA missionary, is chaplain and a lecturer in worship and liturgy at Trinity Theological College in Singapore.  To support Jeffrey, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to

The Rev. Jeffrey A. Truscott, Singapore

The Rev. Jeffrey A. Truscott, Singapore

Recently I traveled to Medan, Indonesia, to lecture on the topic of Lutheran worship to a gathering of pastors, church leaders and musicians who belong to member churches of the Lutheran Worship Federation in Indonesia.

It was quite gratifying to know that our fellow Lutherans in Indonesian are concerned about Lutheran identity and worship. One reason for this interest is the issue of religious pluralism in Indonesia – the relationship between different faith communities (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist). Lutherans in Indonesia believe that they can only dialog with other faith traditions when they have a strong sense of their own tradition, especially its worship. Perhaps this commitment to Lutheran identity should inspire all of us to be more aware of our Lutheran heritage, especially its history, theological writings and worship traditions!

Medan is the capital city of the North Sumatra Province, located close to the Straits of Malacca, about one hour by plane from my base in Singapore. With a population of approximately 2 million people, it is the largest Indonesian city outside of Jakarta. Probably the infrastructure (roads, airport) are not up to the standards of other Asian cities like Hong Kong or Singapore (or of western cities), but the city is teaming with action and small businesses. The people are friendly and welcoming. Surprisingly, U.S. fast food in the form of KFC and Starbucks has made it to Medan.

While I was only able to spend a relatively brief time teaching in Medan, I am hopeful that my teaching will have planted seeds that bear fruit in the life of the churches represented at this gathering.  Indeed, I believe that it will: After my departure, the attendees were tasked with planning a Reformation service that was to reflect the Lutheran worship heritage. Please join me in praying that this service will be a worthy representative of our worship tradition and inspire the faith of all in attendance.

Best regards in the Lord Jesus Christ,


A little like Jonah

Posted on August 18, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Eric and Wendolyn Trozzo are new ELCA missionaries who will be serving in Malaysia. They have two young sons, Dante and Caedmon. To support the Trozzos, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to

Caedmon makes a wish with a dandelion.

Caedmon makes a wish with a dandelion.

Way back, before we started thinking about becoming missionaries, the “Rhyme Bible Storybook” was preparing us. If you’ve got kids in your life, you should learn about the Rhyme Bible – most kids have theirs memorized.  And for us, Caedmon’s favorite story was about Jonah. “God said to Jonah, ‘I have a little task. Get up and go to Ninevah, and do what I ask.  The people there are wicked, so tell them to obey, but Jonah got on board a ship, and sailed the other way.”  And our kids shout, “Ut-oh, Jonah, you should’ve gone to Ninevah!”

So when things started falling into place for us to become missionaries, we had the Jonah story ringing in our ears. It wasn’t so much about being afraid of God sending us a storm or a big fish – we know God works through more than fear. It was a sense of being sent and of what happened to Jonah after the fish. He went to Ninevah, expecting no one to pay him any heed – but the people there responded about 100 times more passionately than he was ready for. It was like the people there were hungry for a message, and when God sent Jonah to them, it wasn’t so much about Jonah’s work as it was the people being prepared by God, for God.

And so as we head to Malaysia, we feel a little like Jonah. Honored (if quite nervous) by being chosen; curious (to see what God is already doing); and hopefully, humble, because though the Rhyme Bible talked about people being wicked, the story then and now is about people needing connection to God. And having talked and prayed together, our family believes that God has already put things in motion in the church in Malaysia. We are excited to get there and meet the active people of God and learn about all of God’s children there. And like Jonah (if you read to chapters 3 and 4) we expect to learn a whole lot about ourselves and how much we rely on God’s living word. Our hope is to be a little like Jonah – maybe skipping the fish guts part and hopefully finding joy in serving God and the church.


A year of seeing, hearing, growing

Posted on July 28, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Peter Harrits, an ELCA missionary in Malysia, is also the regional Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) coordinator. He reflects here on the YAGM group he has worked with for the past year as the young adults end their service. The YAGM program relies on coordinators like Peter who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to

The YAGM participants in Malaysia gather.

The YAGM participants in Malaysia gather.

Stories of happiness and friendship. Stories of regret and remorse. Stories of success and failure, of significant gains and losses. Stories trying to make sense of a year immersed in the other. Recalling, remembering and reliving their experiences, these storytellers crafting them into tales for the uninitiated — those who have not been and do not know. This is holy, difficult work.

In the Gospel of Luke, messengers from John the Baptist leave the familiar environment of their community and spend time with this Jesus character. They arrive weighed down with loaded questions from John and those who sent them. What are they to make of this man who had cured people of diseases, plagues and evil spirits? They ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus’ response is simple, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard … .”

During their time in Sabah, I don’t know that the young adults I accompany witnessed the blind or deaf being restored, lepers being cleansed, or the dead being raised (you’d think somebody would’ve told me if that happened!), but I do know that they have seen and heard many things: things Internal and External, thing about the World and Society, about Culture and People, about Faith and God. As they start to return home, they are telling tales of getting lost in new cultures, of facing failure, of relationships that transformed them, of being welcomed in as they are, of sharing the love they have received in Christ, of receiving grace, and of wondering what they ever did to deserve that.

The stories aren’t all complete. Many are still ragged and raw with a jaggedly open ending. Some beg for resolution while other seem content to linger on with ellipsis dots and question marks.

The stories aren’t all pretty either. Many offer an unvarnished depiction of a year’s worth of life. Celebrations of community are paired with the pangs of isolation and songs of joy are met with the quiet wailing of lamentation.

The stories are real and, like the young adults who tell them and those of us who listen, they are very much a work in progress.


The power of power

Posted on June 26, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Cindy McPeake is spending a year in Malaysia as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to

Lunch at the New Life Center.

Lunch at the New Life Center.

While we were in Thailand recently for our last group retreat, we got to visit the New Life Center, a center for young women who have been exploited or forced into labor. We took a tour of the facilities, ate lunch with some of the residents and spoke with the director. We talked about the causes of forced labor, what the government is doing to eliminate it and how the center is part of restoring the young girls’ hope.

We asked the director, in a seemingly hopeless situation, where does she see hope? Her response was, “sitting with the girls, listening to them cry, crying with them and being angry with them. And then seeing the transformation they go through when their power … their hope … is restored.”

Later that night, we talked about power and what it means. We defined power as “the ability to act.” The New Life Center director had the great power to act on behalf of those young women. She had the power to sit with them and cry. She had the power to show them that they could take back their own power, their own ability to act.

Our discussion moved to what motivates us to act. We all have the great responsibility to take action, to use our power on the behalf of other people to inspire, empower and sustain them. It can be a daunting task, to use our power wisely and positively, with the greater good in mind. But there is also power in using our power.

The power of power comes from building relationships with people, forming bonds of trust and restoring hope to the hopeless.

I know for me, I struggle with letting people have that power over me. Not because I think they will use it negatively but rather because it’s hard for me to admit I need help.

A good example of this is prayer. I truly love praying for other people. To be in conversation with God on the behalf of other people is a great joy for me. But I struggle letting people pray for me. I struggle letting people in on my own struggles. I am ashamed that I struggle and that I can’t handle it on my own. To acknowledge that weakness and be humbled by someone else’s prayer is always something I shy away from.

At the close of our retreat, we had a foot-washing devotion, which was a huge struggle for me. To sit, in front of my fellow YAGMs, as someone prayed for me is way outside of my comfort zone. To be completely vulnerable in the midst of all those people challenged my ability to stay calm.

But I did it. And it was a blessing to be blessed. To be taken care of. To be prayed for and cleansed.

That’s the power of power – the ability to act, but also the ability to stop acting and let someone else act for you. It’s the ability to step back from yourself and allow others to step forward.

How are you powerful? How do you allow others to have power over you?

‘Just jump!’

Posted on June 16, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Here are excerpts from a message recently delivered by Jessie Obrecht, an incoming participant in the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. She will be spending a year in Malaysia under the guidance of the Rev. Peter Harrits, a regional YAGM coordinator. The YAGM program relies on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to

Jessie Obrecht

Jessie Obrecht

 … At the beginning of my senior year (at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.,) I applied for a program called Young Adults in Global Mission, which is a program for youth to go abroad for 12 months and serve as a missionary in one of nine countries … .

After submitting my application, my response to people asking “Why do you want to do this?” was: “I want to get out of my comfort zone.  I want to experience something completely different … .”

… (But) about a week and a half after (being accepted) I realized that as exciting as all my new adventures and achievements were, that I was deeply rooted in the community of Moorhead and Concordia College ,,, . Here I was having to step outside of my comfort zone, outside of the family and community I had known for four years, and I was fighting it like a stubborn mule!

I won’t tell you that after this revelation of being challenged and stretched that leaving Concordia was all rainbows and bunnies. I won’t tell you it was fun or happy. … I shed more tears within those weeks than ever before.

But I also learned a ton from this experience. …

In a movie I watched a few weeks ago, “We Bought a Zoo,” one of the characters, Benjamin Mee, says, “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Now, in my words, what Benjamin Mee is saying is that every once in a while we just have to take one big ole leap of faith in life. We’ve gotta throw it all up, leave it to God, and just jump! …

For me, my leap of faith is Malaysia, and I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t absolutely terrified to hop on that plane in three months. But sometimes in life, we have to take that leap of faith, to embrace the unknown, and to risk, because in the end, we’ve got the greatest safety net of them all in God. So why not take this crazy, beautiful life, and live it to glorify God’s name in any and every way we can?


To read Jessie’s complete message, go to her blog.




Overcoming fear

Posted on May 29, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Liz Frey is spending a year in Malaysia teaching English as a second language as a member of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator,  go to

Serving as a YAGM in Malaysia has helped Liz Frey control her fears.

Serving as a YAGM in Malaysia has helped Liz Frey control her fears.

I never thought of myself as brave. I have a very timid disposition, if you ask me. I do not like to face my fears; instead, I allow them to fester while I hide. I would wait for someone else to make a move. I would blame my inaction on others.

Fear or the opposite of bravery can be crippling and life changing. It hinders us in doing things that we want to do, that we should do, that we need to do. I can think of countless examples of times in my life that I allowed my fear to take control. My fear of being alone or unloved. My fear of losing a friend. My fear of being wrong. My fear of leaving home. The list goes on and on. I can pick out so many moments where my fear beat out the call of bravery.

Yet, a big change in me has been the development of bravery. I didn’t go to Oz to collect courage from the Wizard. Instead I came to Malaysia, and here is where I received bravery. I faced one of the biggest fears in my life – going out on my own. I couldn’t run home if things were difficult. I wanted to face this fear head on; I had allowed it to block other dreams and this wouldn’t happen again.

I was really scared from the onset and in some serious denial about leaving. I had morphed the whole summer before coming to Malaysia into playtime. I pretended I wasn’t leaving. I could feel the fear creeping into me, as the time at home got shorter. But I was committed, and I was determined to face my fears in the unknown.

And I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel fear coming every day. Every day brings something new to tackle, big or small. But every time I feel this fear, I remind myself of a great quote from a great book, “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman: “Because when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

This is what I have learned about myself in the last eight months. I can be brave. In fact, I am brave. Fear is just part of life, but I can’t let it hold me back. As I round out the last few days of the semester at STS, I can’t help, but smile. I am so proud of myself and how far I have come. The next step is packing up this newfound bravery and bringing it home with me.