By Mathew Block

South Sudan celebrates bishop’s consecration

Bishop Nathaniel Bol (centre left) is invested as bishop of SSELC.
Bishop Nathaniel Bol (front right) following his consecration.

KENYA – On April 24, 2022, Rev. Nathaniel Bol Nyok Apar was consecrated as Bishop of the South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (SSELC).

The consecration took place at Kakuma in northwestern Kenya. Kakuma is the site of a United Nations refugee camp which hosts refugees from Sudan. The church has four congregations in the camp (three South Sudanese and one Sudanese).

Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) presided over the consecration service, and Bishop Charles Bameka of the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) preached for the event. Also participating in the consecration were Bishop Emmanuel Makala of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania – South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (ELCT-SELVD), Bishop Robert Kaumba of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Africa—Zambia Diocese (LECA), and diocesan Bishops William Lopeta and Titus Okoda of the ELCK.

“I want to congratulate Bishop Bol on his formal consecration,” said General Secretary Timothy Quill of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “He has served the South Sudanese church for many years already, and I pray that God will continue to bless him in his ministry.”

Rev. Nathaniel Bol is consecrated as bishop of the South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Bishop Bol was elected in December 2011 but attempts to hold a formal consecration service in South Sudan were complicated by civil war which raged in the country from 2013-2020. The conflict led approximately 2.5 million people to flee the country as refugees, primarily to Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan.

An earlier attempt to hold a consecration service in Kenya in 2021 was also delayed.

The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church is an observer member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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New President for Paraguayan Lutherans

Members of the IELP’s governing board are installed during the church’s 40th Ordinary General Assembly.
IELP President Alceu Anton Figur.

PARAGUAY – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP) has elected a new president. Rev. Alceu Alton Figur was elected to a three-year term during the church’s 40th Ordinary General Assembly, held March 12-13, 2022 in Santa Rita.

“It is a joy to congratulate you on your election to serve the church in Paraguay,” said General Secretary Timothy Quill of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) upon President Figur’s election. “May God bless you with His love and patience as you undertake this important work on behalf of His church.”

President Figur is originally from Brazil and studied for the ministry at Concordia Seminary in São Leopoldo. He spent the first three years of his ministry serving in Brazil. Since then, he has spent thirty years serving in Paraguay. He currently serves as pastor of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital city.

Participants in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay’s 40th Ordinary General Secretary.

President Figur succeeds Rev. Eugenio Wentzel, who served five terms as President of the IELP: from 1992-1998, from 2007-2010, and from 2016-2022. President Emeritus Wentzel had earlier announced he would not be seeking reelection.

In addition to serving as president of the IELP, Rev. Wentzel served the International Lutheran Council as a member of its Board of Directors. Rev. Wentzel served as the representative for the ILC’s Latin America World Region from 2016 to 2018, and again from 2019 to 2022.

“I am very grateful to God for the opportunity to have served Him, recognizing my limitations, as one of the ILC’s regional directors,” President Emeritus Wentzel said. “I have learned a lot during these years. I thank God for this rewarding experience. May God continue to bless the work of the International Lutheran Council.”

“I want to thank Eugenio Wentzel for his service on the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors,” said ILC General Secretary Quill. “And we look forward to working together with President Figur moving forward.”

Because the International Lutheran Council elects church bodies and not specific individuals to serve as representatives for World Regions, this means that Rev. Figur automatically succeeds Rev. Wentzel on the ILC’s Board of Directors as representative for the Latin America World Region.

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Remembering the Persecuted Church on Good Friday

Christ Carrying the Cross: Unknown Flemish painter, 1510

by Dieter Reinstorf

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:10.

When Jesus spoke this beatitude, none of His disciple knew what would happen to Him a few years later. Despite never lifting a hand in anger, being merciful and gentle, Jesus was captured in the garden of Gethsemane. He was ridiculed and condemned by the religious leaders of Israel. He was flogged and sentenced to death on the cross by the Roman authorities. He died the most gruesome death ever invented by humankind.

The reason for this horrendous deed is difficult to explain. An indication of what was transpiring is however provided by the evangelist John, who talks about the “light” that shone in the darkness of this world (John 1:50). Light exposes what happens in the darkness. When this light is encountered, there are usually one of two reactions: either you fall on the ground, like Simon Peter did when he encountered Jesus at the Sea and Galilee, and say: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8); or you hate Him. Many may not even be able to explain this hatred. But it is there because darkness has been exposed.

As a result of the darkness in this world, Jesus suffered and died. But He was blessed by God who raised Him from the dead three days later. Death, the wages of sin, had been conquered. There is life and eternal life for all who trust the Lord.

In this beatitude Jesus already prepares His followers for what they can expect in discipleship. They can expect much of the same. As they live a godly life in Christ, they should not expect a “thank you.” On the contrary, the new life in Christ will raise suspicion. At best it will lead the followers of Christ to be hassled and spoken evil of. At worst, they will be persecuted. But those who are persecuted are called “blessed” by Jesus. In fact, Jesus encourages them to “rejoice and be glad,” because their reward will be “great” in heaven (Matthew 5:12).

Christians in the Western World have experienced few physical persecutions. However, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC), 900,000 Christians were martyred in the last decade. That is approximately one every six minutes—roughly the time it takes you to read this meditation. You are requested to make a special prayer for these Christian martyrs on Good Friday this year. Pray that God may sustain them in their faith and continue to promote His kingdom.

You are requested to make a special prayer for these Christian martyrs on Good Friday this year. Pray that God may sustain them in their faith and continue to promote His kingdom.

God’s blessing is not always immediately apparent. However, history testifies that persecution, horrendous as it may be, and church growth often go hand in hand. Initially church membership may decline, but the testimony of faith in difficult times has always increased receptiveness for the Gospel. This is confirmed by a Sri Lankan pastor who noted that during colonial times the Church often had a seat at the table of the politicians. It was not only tolerated but recognized. During this whole time, he writes, there were almost no persecutions and almost no conversions. When, however, under a militant Hindu government, Christians were imprisoned, there was a flood of conversions. Another pastor wrote: In six months in prison, I have been more blessed by the presence and mercy of God, than in six years of preaching in my congregation. The world persecutes, but God blesses.

Nowhere, however, does Scripture promote persecution as something that should be sought. Instead, the apostle Paul encourages us to pray for kings and all those in authority “that we may live peaceful and quite lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). So, as you pray for the martyrs, also give thanks to God for the peace He has provided elsewhere and that we may continue to boldly proclaim the crucified Lord as our Savior.

Prayer:  Gracious, heavenly Father, we give you thanks that You send Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. He suffered at the hands of mankind and died on the cross of Calvary. But through His death came the victory over sin. Having paid the wages of our sin, we are reconciled with You through Christ. We realize that many Christians throughout the world continue to suffer as they mirror the light of Your salvation to a lost world. Keep them in their faith and give them a special measure of Your Holy Spirit, that Your continued presence may sustain them. With all those who can worship You in peace, we give You sincere thanks. Let our testimony of You not wane as we joyfully confess Your Son, the crucified and risen Lord, as our Savior. As the sun rises on Easter morning, let the sun of Your Gospel shine brightly over the whole world. Amen.

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Rev. Dr. Dieter Reinstorf is Bishop of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa and represents the Africa World Region on the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors.

Russian Lutheran laments “sinfulness of this war” during European ILC meetings

Destroyed buildings on the streets of Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Photo: YuriiKochubey.
Destroyed buildings on the streets of Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Photo: YuriiKochubey.

ONLINE – On March 21, 2022, the European World Region of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held meetings online. The meetings were led by Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who serves as the European representative on the ILC’s Board of Directors. Among other topics, participants discussed how churches might help people in Ukraine during the current crisis, as well as aid those who have fled.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), attended the meeting as a representative of his church body. “What was particularly moving at this meeting was not only the great helpfulness of the ILC member churches,” Bishop Voigt noted, “but also a statement that a participant from a church in Russia made to the participants and which he also made available in writing after the meeting.”

What follows are the words of the Russian representative. For security reasons, neither his name nor the name of his church is given here.

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The Russian participant reported: “The shock of what has happened is so grave that we will probably be able to realize it only years after. I think that at the moment we are going through the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. ‘It can’t be! We can’t have started a war!’ ‘Damn this war!’ ‘There must be some way out!’ ‘It’s all hopeless…’ The world we lived in has been shattered and there is no way to undo it.

One can hardly imagine the multiple layers of crisis that Russia and its people are now facing. It is not only political and economical, but foremost existential: the war has divided society. It has left honest, thinking people helpless and feeling fear and shame.

The current situation facing media is unprecedented. The censorship is monstrous. A new law allows people to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for sharing “fake” news about the war. That even includes just calling the “special military operation” in Ukraine a war at all.

People have to use VPN services to avoid bans of social networks. Most opposition media sources have closed down and journalists have left Russia. Those very few that remain are not able to cover the war.

People do protest. But all meetings are forbidden and people are immediately detained and fined. Those who are detained for a third time are imprisoned. Some of our congregation members went on anti-war strikes and have been detained. One Russian-Orthodox priest faces a charge because of a sermon where he urged people to pray for peace and sign a petition to stop the war. (By the way the petition was signed by 1.2 million Russian citizens. It could be even more popular but, as it requires personal information, people are reluctant to sign it—and the organizer of the petition has already been detained.

As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon—and we live-stream it too—I wonder: when will my turn come?

As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon, I wonder: when will my turn come?

I would say that the main feeling people in Russia have now is fear. Firstly, it is the fear to speak up. People are afraid not only to publicly share their opinion but even to “like” or repost the opinions of others. Secondly, people feel a paralyzing fear for their future. With the rise in inflation and the consequences of sanctions, people are afraid it will cut down not only supplies to foreign goods and luxuries but also to necessities, and even lead to famine.

But the church has immunity against both of these types of fear. Firstly, we have been confessing our faith boldly for more than 2,000 years now. We have learned to preach the truth no matter how unpopular it is or how dangerous it is. “So every one who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Secondly, we have learned to trust God and not to worry for He Himself will provide: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:33-34). “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

So we continue to do what we are called to do: preach the Law in all its strictness and the Gospel in all its sweetness. As we preach the Law, we also point to the sin of the war and admonish all those responsible for bloodshed to repent. As we preach the Gospel, we remind people of God’s love for us sinners and His continual care.

In these days, we again think a lot about the Confessing Church (“Bekennende Kirche”) from the Nazi-era in Germany. But the main conclusion that I make is that the church should have preached the Law and the Gospel diligently and boldly before it came to the point when it was impossible. This is the only way to prevent society from turning to fascism.”

Bishop Voigt has expressed his admiration for the frank assessment of this Russian participant at the meetings of the ILC European World Region. “I am deeply impressed by the courageous and unflinching statement of our brother from Russia,” he said. “When I asked if we could publish his words, he answered ‘yes’ without hesitation.”

“In these days, with the horrific images from the Kiev suburbs circulating in the media, this Lutheran minister’s words show a different Russia,” Bishop Voigt continued. “Let us not tire of praying for the people of Ukraine, as well as for this ‘other Russia’

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The International Lutheran Council is supporting relief efforts in Ukraine and refugee assistance. For information on how you can help, click here.

Indian Lutherans mourn death of former church president

Rev. Dr. Joseph Samuel

INDIA – Rev. Dr. Joseph Samuel, President Emeritus of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC), died on March 22, 2022 in Vellore, India after a prolonged illness. He was 74 years old.

Dr. Samuel was born on January 15, 1948. He received his theological training at Concordia Theological Seminary in Nagercoil, graduating in 1972. He was subsequently ordained in 1974, and spent more than 38 years serving as pastor in Kolar Gold Fields at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, a congregation of the IELC’s Ambur Synod. He would go on to serve the India Evangelical Lutheran Church as President for two terms.

Dr. Samuel was also the founder of Happy Home, an organization that provides care to underprivileged children with special needs.

Dr. Samuel was “a man who had a heart for the poor, for children with special needs, and for the socially ostracized,” the church recollected in an announcement on his death. “He was a fearless leader who fought battles with strong faith in his Saviour. He was a staunch Lutheran who stood for confessional Lutheran beliefs and the traditions of the church. He tolerated afflictions, fought the good fight, and finished the race. May his memory be blessed.”

Dr. Samuel was predeceased by his wife, Stella. He is survived by two daughters, their husbands, and four grandchildren.

A funeral service was held on March 23, 2022 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Marikuppam, Kolar Gold Fields, with the service also live-streamed online.

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Christianity on Trial: Finnish bishop and politician acquitted on all charges

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen speak before trial proceedings on February 14, 2022. (Photo: ELMDF).

FINLAND – On March 30, 2022, the District Court of Helsinki acquitted Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen on all charges. The two had been charged with hate crimes for articulating historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

“This is not only a victory for us but for freedom of speech and religion in Finland and beyond,” said Bishop Pohjola in a statement after the ruling. “In seeking to criminalize Christian teaching on sexuality, the prosecution cast a shadow of fear over society. It was important to receive a strong signal from the District Court defending our fundamental rights as citizens and Christians.”

“I would like to thank all of those who have provided support and encouragement during this long process,” Bishop Pohjola continued. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of intercession from all around the world. Ultimately, this is a spiritual battle and a matter concerning the Gospel of Christ.”

The trial and its implications for religious freedom in Finland drew worldwide attention. Dr. Räsänen had been charged for authoring a 2004 booklet which discusses the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality, in the context of the then-ongoing debate in Finland on the legalization of same-sex marriage. Bishop Pohjola was charged for his role as publisher. Dr. Räsänen also faced two other charges for public statements on sexuality, including for a tweet in which she included a photograph of a Bible verse.

The court proceedings drew particular concern, as the prosecution focused on examining the defendants doctrinal beliefs—a “conflation of juridical and theological argumentation,” in Bishop Pohjola’s words, which seemed worryingly out of place in a civil court.

In a unanimous decision, the three judge-panel of the District Court of Helsinki ruled that Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola be acquitted on all charges, declaring that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” It further ordered the state to pay the legal costs of the defence.

The Prosecutor General, who decided to press charges despite an initial investigation by Helsinki police which determined no laws had been broken, had been seeking steep fines against Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola. The prosecution had asked the court to fine Dr. Räsänen the maximum criminal victim compensation possible—equivalent to 120 days of personal income. Bishop Pohjola faced the possibility of a fine equivalent to 60 days of personal income. The ELMDF’s legal entity, meanwhile, was threatened with a corporate fine of €10,000 for publishing the booklet.

The court’s decision to acquit was welcomed by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), which has covered the situation in Finland extensively. “There is a dangerous movement in western societies today to impose a progressive secular religion on others, at the expense of freedom of speech and religion,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “This new orthodoxy seeks to stamp out all opposition, including those who uphold the traditional view of human sexuality, which is supported by both Holy Scripture and natural law. The proponents of the new orthodoxy may find today’s ruling a jarring speed bump to their agenda but not, I fear, a stop sign.”

“Thank God for the Helsinki District Court, which still respects the principles of freedom of speech and action, and responded with a unanimous, clear decision to acquit on all charges,” Dr. Quill continued. “And thank God for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, who have given a bold and graceful witness to both God’s Law and the saving proclamation of the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. They are faithful examples to Christians the world over.”

After the prosecution brought charges against Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in 2021, the ILC issued a public protest signed by the ecclesiastical leaders of 45 confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. It further sponsored a lecture tour by Bishop Pohjola to draw attention to the case and its implications for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The ELMDF is a member of the ILC.

While the decision to acquit has been welcomed by many, the case is not necessarily over; the prosecution still has the opportunity to appeal the decision to Helsinki’s Court of Appeal.

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Mercy in Mission – Aid for Ukraine

UKRAINE – As the crisis in Ukraine continues to deepen, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is soliciting support for emergency relief.

The United Nations reports that more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since its invasion by Russian forces. An additional 6.6 million people in the country are internally displaced. Reliable counts of civilian deaths are not available at this time, but thousands are believed to have been killed in the conflict so far—with the number expected to continue to rise.

Lutheran churches in Ukraine continue to offer emergency and pastoral care to Ukrainians still in the country, while Lutheran churches in other European nations are offering physical and spiritual support to newly arrived refugees.

You can support Mercy in Mission work in Ukraine with a gift through the International Lutheran Council. Financial aid for Ukraine is being directed to Lutheran churches in Ukraine and ILC member churches with a history of direct work alongside Ukrainian Lutheran leadership. Aid is also being directed to neighbouring ILC churches who are assisting Ukrainian refugees with housing and other emergency needs.

Donate to emergency relief and aid for Ukraine online here. You can also mail donations to the address listed below (please make cheques out to “International Lutheran Council” and note the donation is for “Mercy in Mission – Ukraine”).

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 10149
Fort Wayne, IN 46850 USA

ILC member churches with an established history of work in Ukraine continue to provide direct support for relief efforts in the country. Lutheran Church–Canada, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, are supporting ongoing mission and mercy aid efforts inside Ukraine as well as refugee resettlement in neighbouring European nations. Check with these churches for further information on additional ways in which you can support their relief efforts.

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ILC brings greetings as new bishop installed for Australia and New Zealand

Bishop Emeritus John Henderson (right) installs Rev. John Henderson as Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand.

AUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ) installed its new bishop, Rev. Paul Smith, during a service of celebration in Adelaide on February 20, 2022, and the International Lutheran Council was present to bring greetings. The theme for the service was Galatians 5:1—“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

Bishop Smith was elected to lead the LCANZ in October 2021. Prior to his election, he served as bishop of the LCANZ’s Queensland District from 2005-2021. He is the sixth leader to head the LCANZ since the unification of Australia’s Lutheran churches in 1966.

“I ask you to pray for me and for all the people of our evangelical Lutheran Church in New Zealand and Australia,” Bishop Smith said in remarks following his installation, “and for the people of all Christian churches of the world, that we would gladly serve in the Lord’s name.

President Antonio Reyes of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) was present for the installation of Bishop Smith to bring greetings on behalf of the International Lutheran Council. President Reyes represents the Asia World Region on the ILC’s Board of Directors.

LCANZ Bishop Paul Smith and LCP President Antonio Reyes.

“It is amazing how God’s promise of providing for His people and never abandoning them still continues to be fulfilled today,” President Reyes said. “It is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide you, Bishop Paul, as the shepherd of God’s flock here in Australia and New Zealand. May the Lord of the harvest grant you wisdom, strength, and courage as you serve Him and His people.”

President Reyes also expressed his thankfulness for the LCANZ’s longstanding participation in the life of the International Lutheran Council. “My presence here signifies the ILC’s wholehearted intention to walk and work with you,” he said, “to continue to study and learn with you and your pastors the Holy Scriptures—the inspired Word of God—and the Lutheran Confessions as the correct exposition of God’s Word.”

President Reyes also expressed thanks for the cooperative work which exists between the LCANZ and the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, and especially for the love they showed the LCP during the pandemic.

President Reyes’ full remarks can be read here.

Additional information on the installation of Bishop Smith is available here.

The LCANZ is an Associate Member of the ILC,  a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as expounded in the Lutheran Confessions.

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Aid for the Ukraine crisis

The ILC’s Executive Leadership Group meet on March 2. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (right) speaks with Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee  (top) and ILC General Secretary Quill (bottom).

UPDATE: The International Lutheran Council is now accepting donations for Ukraine relief. Click here for details.

ONLINE – Immediately following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Executive Leadership Group of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) met online to assess the situation and identify preliminary steps that needed immediate attention.

These discussions were followed up with a meeting on Ash Wednesday to exchange follow-up reports gleaned from the field on the well-being of Lutheran pastors, their families, and congregations, as well as efforts already underway to assist refugees fleeing Ukraine. Reports indicate that more than one million Ukrainians have already fled the country.

The meeting also addressed immediate emergency needs and possible long range plans for rebuilding and restoration in Ukraine. A procedure for charitable donations was also discussed.

Additional information on the ILC’s aid initiatives, and how you can help, will be released as time goes on.

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