2018 was as eventful, wonderful as well as stressful as every other year if not more so – with plenty of drama and pain mixed in as well. Overall the number of donors and interest in AFA keeps growing. But like the LCA itself, we are also suffering from the effects of a declining church as people age and die or join other churches and stop to support Lutheran-based mission work.
We congratulate Pastor Matt Anker to his appointment as effectively the head of LCA International Missions under the Bishop. Meetings between LCA and AFA are now taking place regularly. All I wish to say that a new spirit blows. We always need to be transparent, cooperative and see the big picture without losing our identity and our zeal. The Gospel alone matters, the Mission of Jesus.
Our donors remain fantastic – and some truly sacrifice. In spite of our simple, old fashioned approach as a group that has little promotional opportunity and capacity, new people come on board regularly.
Our two focal points are as follows: 1. Focus on the next generation, the young, through our educational institutions in four countries and the scholarship program we run in numerous places. 2. Teaching the Faith to the young church overseas. I wish we could intensify this ministry in the future even more.
Here is our COUNTRY ROLL-UP – AFA in action in 2018:
LIBERIA: Lutheran Global Village (LGV) is a light in the whole region spreading the Gospel and helping the needy and forgotten. It is a unique story – bringing the people home from refugee camps in neighbouring Guinea. Now LML (Lutheran Mission Liberia) has been established as refugees are turning into missionaries reviving local churches and establishing new congregations. For example, Pastor Browne from LGV has started a church in the capital Monrovia from nothing to some 40 people now.
Poverty in the land remains heart breaking. We thank the Peters family (Darling Downs) for their untiring sacrifices and their recent trip to Liberia.
LAOS: The LPC (Life Promotion Centre) near the capital Vientiane is now well established and things really look good. It’s run under the auspices of LEC (Lao Evangelical Church). The number of underprivileged and promising students from regional areas chosen to live here is 21. It is an ongoing challenge now to keep paying for the high, ongoing operational costs. More sponsors are needed.
THAILAND: Here we support prison work in Mukdahan at the Laotian border, four students at LST (Luther Seminary Thailand) in Bangkok and two ministries in Chiang Rai Province: financing outreach to four villages/missions through two pastors and two evangelists and, above all, the Laon Siam Centre (LSC) with over 20 High School students. This is our lead project in Thailand bringing us much joy and the occasional pain. The new Coordinator Anna does an amazing job.
VIETNAM takes your breath away – the teaching ministry there is chiefly under Pastors Fred Veerhuis, David Christian, Chris Reardon and Peter Steicke, with others being co-opted from time to time. The reports received frequently melt your heart. They want teaching and preaching more than anything else – spiritual guidance and empowerment through the Gospel. It is expensive to organize bimonthly (six times a year) Bible seminars for close to 100 ‘bush pastors’ from far and near each time. Tien, a new translator for us from a rural province with one million people says, I can’t wait till the Gospel of grace that you preach reaches our province as well. As of 2019 we are engaged with a whole new tribe (the Jarai people) many of whom are still spirit and ancestor worshippers.
MONGOLIA: The Christian and Lutheran cause in this country enjoys the great leadership of Pastor Puje. We have seen the establishment of MELC (Mongolian Evangelical Lutheran Church) in late 2017, another first generation church. Suffering, hardship and poverty is continuing among church workers. We support five local missionaries. The work is among Buddhists, Muslims and others.
NEPAL: We have established LUTHERAN MISSION NEPAL through local church leaders who are mostly Pentecostal. They are happy to be trained through seminars led by people like Pastor Michael Lockwood who is a soundly Lutheran teacher. Our leader Pastor Rabindra is full-on and works in a holistic way with whole communities engaging with them on all levels. They receive training in community development, poverty reduction, self-help programs, education alongside of Gospel witness, prayer and spiritual empowerment. In a persecution country like Nepal, this is the only way forward.
India: Oshisha Lutheran Mission (OLM) was a true find in 2017. We have discovered big needs here among the Dalits we work with. They suffer from neglect, poverty and discrimination. Pastor Nag, the leader of OLM, is a true missionary. Financed by AFA, more than 1,500 Bibles have been distributed. Four deep fresh water wells have been drilled and fitted out so that many Christian and non-Christian villagers can enjoy now safe drinking water. A brand new Dairy (paid for by a special donation to AFA) is being established to improve the people’s diet and health.
Sabah (Malaysia): An AFA group visited there recently for the first time and was highly impressed. We sponsor 5 students there at Sabah Theological Seminary (STS).
Indonesia/Sumatra: TWO PROJECTS: 1. On Nias Island off Sumatra, a largely Protestant island, 700,000 Christians are being served by Sundermann Seminary. AFA gives financial support for 17 students and 1 lecturer. 2. The SANGGAR (Children’s Centre) at the outskirts of the large city of Medan is becoming a very special project. It had started with a small, shabby old building that served as a Childcare Centre and then developed into a Preschool/Kindergarten on another site, now enjoying a new building and proper facilities for the first time. Right now a Primary School on the same property is being added in the form of a second building with five classrooms being added. It’s all about the Christian education of the underprivileged in a Muslim environment. It’s like a miracle in the making: the 50th Ordination Anniversary Project that I chose and that so far has raised $24,000 with $20,000 still needed.
Bhutan is active. Pastor Wangchuk maintains his mission work all over Bhutan. The Paro Community Centre is not fully utilised yet. Sonam Dema and her husband Dorji are presently studying in Australia returning to Bhutan mid 2020. We have high hopes for their engagement with us in Bhutan after their return.
Philippines: Our work in this country does not get much publicity but we have a good team there that is working hard under the LAMP name – Lutheran Autonomous Mission Philippines, a para-church organisation established under AFA. LAMP is doing mission work in Northern Luzon and in the Manila area among native people.
Cambodia: Here AFA works with ALC (Abundant Life Church) in the South East. For the first time a small AFA team visited recently. The reports coming back are very positive: great work is being done right to the border of Vietnam.
Myanmar: We are engaged in a big way with two local Lutheran churches and an independent evangelist. Our DAMADI Home is still a big feature and a success story. On the horrifying side, the ongoing civil war in Katchin State and in the heartland of Myanmar Lutheran Church in Chin State is a heart breaking development.
South Sudan: A disaster zone still. We have a limited engagement with the vibrant Lutheran church there. When donations to AFA are up, they benefit. Bishop Peter told me that a new mission congregation we helped to get off the ground four years ago (by sending them $3,000 towards the cost of their first church) is now flourishing. We sowed the seed God made it grow.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS AND NOTES
AFA is roughly a $700,000 a year enterprise and this seems a large figure but it is not. The amount of good that is being done with this kind of money in the world is so much more than that amount of money indicates. We can safely say that without AFA many a person alive today would have passed away long ago. In most AFA countries we are serving as an agent for spiritual renewal and new life apart from everything else.
Opposition to the Gospel is definitely growing in Asia but that is not our biggest problem or main concern. Secularism and materialism all over the world among nearly all people is the greater challenge. This includes the love of money among the poor and needy and among Christians as well.
Warm thanks to all who have helped and supported AFA last year with hands and hearts, with physical work, prayers and donations. We appreciate every small donations but unless we also keep receiving regularly some four figure gifts, humanly speaking, we will have trouble. I have no idea about the future but things are going well at this time. We are a faith mission with no definite budget or predictable income. However, we may have to consider making some changes sooner or later in the way we operate.
A special thanks to our enthusiastic AFA committee. A very special thanks to our treasurer Judy Brauer and may I also mention by name Gay Ridge, our secretary. Nolene Stark as office assistant deserves to be noted for her tireless work nearly on a daily basis. Also a very big thanks to Brown Macaulay & Warren Chartered Accountants – especially Jonathan Weller – for the auditing and receipting work for us free of charge.
The joy in the Lord is our strength and the timeless Gospel of grace our inspiration.
Finally, as I read my own report, I shudder a little. How did all this become possible – and what will the future bring? This report should not give a glamorous picture. There is also failure, struggle and disappointment all the time. There is no saint who is not also a sinner. We all live by grace and forgiveness undeserved.
Pastor August Fricke, Gympie