COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Bolivia and Paraguay

The Evangelical Christian Lutheran Church of Bolivia distributes food to those in need.

WORLD – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continue to provide spiritual and physical care to members in the midst of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, we highlight the response of ILC member churches in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Bolivia

The nation of Bolivia has reported 138,695 cases of COVID-19 to date, with more than 8,300 deaths. There are currently 28,846 active cases of the coronavirus in the country. Early in March 2020, the government moved to close borders and enact quarantine measures throughout the country. Church services were restricted in Bolivia early on.

The Evangelical Christian Lutheran Church of Bolivia (Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica Luterana de Bolivia – ICEL) is working to support its members during the crisis, even as the virus affects some of its own members. ICEL President Limberth Fernandez himself fell ill with COVID-19 but has since recovered. Sadly, a staff worker of the church’s radio station in Sucre has passed away from the disease. President Fernandez further reports that “we have had many cases of members and their families affected by the virus, as well as other deaths” in the past few months.

ICEL President Limberth Fernandez provides a daily devotion via the church’s Facebook page.

In response to to the pandemic, the ICEL moved quickly to provide online devotional resources for members. The church’s pastors, vicars, and missionaries, have provided daily devotional videos via the church’s Facebook page, in both the Spanish and Quecha languages. The church has also led a national study of Luther’s Small Catechism which has been well-received.

Congregations themselves have stayed connected through the use of online platforms like Zoom.

Still, President Fernandez notes, online outreach is an imperfect solution, as many members of the ICEL do not have easy access to the internet. “It is impossible for us to reach a large number of our members who are from the countryside,” he says, “places where they do not have access to the internet or that unfortunately are not trained in the use of these technologies.”

The church has provided support for Bolivians in practical ways too, including through the distribution of basic necessities. The church continues to look for additional ways to support people.

A growing challenge for the ICEL is the financial stress that the pandemic has placed on the church. “We have received almost nothing in offerings during this time,” says President Fernandez. The church is working hard to find alternate sources of income to ensure the salaries of pastors can be maintained.

Paraguay

Paraguay has reported 50,344 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with nearly 1,100 deaths. Just under 16,500 cases remain active in the country. In early March, the government suspended school classes and other group events, with quarantine measures being introduced shortly thereafter.

IELP President Eugenio Wentzel leads online devotions.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP) continues to serve people with practical and spiritual support in the midst of the current situation. “Our country was one of the first in the region to impost quarantine, which prevented massive infections,” notes IELP President Eugenio Wentzel. But the downside has been an increase in unemployment. For this reason, the IELP has focused on distributing basic necessities to people, including food baskets as well as health and hygiene items.

Like other churches, the IELP has relied on the internet to reach members during the pandemic. “From the beginning,” President Wentzel says, churches “have been working virtually with different platforms to carry the message of the Gospel, with biblical studies, services, and devotionals.”

Different regions of the country have different restrictions, meaning some congregations have been allowed to hold face-to-face services in groups of up to fifty; some areas have allowed gatherings of twenty; others have had to rely on virtual gatherings only.

As a result of the restrictions, the church body also held its annual National Convention assembly virtually this year.

A challenge for the church remains calling and installing pastors during the current crisis. “Our church depends on sister churches to provide candidate pastors for vacant parishes,” notes President Wentzel. The closure of borders makes it difficult to call or transfer pastors. In one specific case, he says, one pastor who has accepted a call has waited months for circumstances to allow him to move to his new parish.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

ILC welcomes second Tanzanian diocese into membership

Google Maps. (Map data © 2020 Google.)

WORLD – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council held online meetings September 21, 2020, during which time the board voted to accept the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania – Lake Tanganyika Diocese (ELCT-LTD) into membership.

“As we evangelize, we have come to realize that the ILC is the faith-based organization with which to cooperate, for it can help strengthen us to witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ boldly,” said ELCT-LTD Bishop Ambele Mwaipopo, noting the ILC’s strong confessional Lutheran theology. “The ILC can play a role of nurturer so that the ELCT-LTD keeps in the right direction.”

The ELCT-LTD, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), counts more than 10,000 members, 35 pastors, and 22 congregations. It grew out of mission in the ELCT in two Tanzanian administrative regions, namely Rukwa and Katavi, and was formally constituted in 2014. The ELCT-LTD was registered as a legally autonomous diocese in 2015.

ELCT-LTD Bishop Ambele Mwaipopo.

“It’s a joy to welcome the Lake Tanganyika Diocese into membership,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to encouraging and learning from one another in the years to come, and to building a deep and abiding spiritual relationship. May God continue to bless the ELCT-LTD as it carries out its vital ministry in Tanzania.”

Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary for the ILC, also expressed joy over the Tanzanian diocese’s acceptance into membership. “We thank God for this new partnership between the International Lutheran Council and the ELCT-LTD,” he said. “I look forward to getting to know Bishop Mwaipopo and his diocese better as time goes forward.”

The ELCT-LTD has been accepted as a Recognized Organization member, a category which allows organizations other than independent church bodies (for example, councils, districts, dioceses, organized movements, and individual congregations) the opportunity to partner with the ILC. It joins the ELCT’s South East of Lake Victoria Diocese, which was also accepted as a Recognized Organization member of the ILC in early 2019.

Additional information on membership in the ILC, and how to apply, is available here.

Other Business

Members of the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors and staff hold meetings online.

The September meeting also saw the ILC’s board discuss additional membership applications, and make plans for the 2021 ILC World Conference, tentatively scheduled for September 21-24, 2021 in Kenya. Because of current uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, final decisions on the feasibility of an in-person conference will be made in early 2021.

The board also heard regional reports, as well as reports on ILC programming, like the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, which is currently paused during the coronavirus crisis. Reports on supported projects in Nigeria and in Wittenberg, Germany were also received.

During the meeting, the Board approved the appointment of Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo to fill a vacancy on the ILC’s Seminary Relations Committee. Dr. Omolo is Principal of the School of Theology at Neema Lutheran College, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya. He joins Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim (Lutheran Church of Korea); Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England); Rev. Dr. Sergio Schelske (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina); and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod).

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The International Lutheran Council is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The ILC exists for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among its members and throughout the world.

You can support the work of the ILC through online giving. You can also donate by mail:

International Lutheran Council
P.O. Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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Papers from ILC’s 7th World Seminaries Conference Published

ONLINE – The papers from the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 7th World Seminaries Conference have now been published and are available online.

Seminário Concórdia, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil – IELB), has published the papers in its academic journal, Igreia Luterana (“Lutheran Church”), Vol. 81, No. 1 (2020). 400 copies of the journal have been published simultaneously in both English and Portuguese, and a copy will be sent to each ILC seminary.

The papers are also available to download free online in both English and Portuguese at revistaigrejaluterana.com.br.

Papers include:

  • Confession is Crucial and Context Counts – Werner Klän (English / Portuguese)
  • Christology in Asia – Sam Thompson (English / Portuguese)
  • Lutheran Identity in a Post-Christian Context – Christoph Barnbrock (English / Portuguese)
  • Spiritual Warfare in a Lutheran Perspective – Nicholas Salifu (English / Portuguese)
  • No Longer Married, But Still Engaged: The Role of the Christian Church in the Face of Declining Influence – Joel Biermann (English / Portuguese)
  • Ecclesial Lutheran Identity and the Church’s Mission in the Face of the Reality of Favelas – Samuel Fuhrmann (English / Portuguese)
  • Migration and Mission – Douglas Rutt (English / Portuguese)
  • The Theological Curriculum and its Construction – Anselmo Graff (English / Portuguese)

The volume also features an introductory essay by Anselmo Ernesto Graff entitled “Both good and bad things globalize” (English / Portuguese).

The 7th World Seminaries Conference took place October 15-18, 2019 in Baguio City, Philippines. Further information on the 2019 World Seminaries Conference is available here.

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The International Lutheran Council is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The ILC exists for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among its members and throughout the world.

You can support the work of the ILC through online giving. You can also donate by mail:

International Lutheran Council
P.O. Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

Burkina Faso: “We Are Very Discouraged…”

Lutherans struggle in Burkina Faso, a nation riven by rising terrorism, internal displacement, and food insecurity

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BURKINA FASO – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is urging prayer for Lutherans in Burkina Faso, as the church there struggles in the midst of widespread violence and terrorist attacks.

The nation of Burkina Faso has faced multiple terrorist attacks over the past five years, with targets ranging from military and police, villages, markets, schools, and churches. The United Nations reports that violence in the nation has led to the displacement of more than one million people as of August 2020—an increase of more than 453,000 since the beginning of 2020, and a dramatic change from early 2019 when there were 87,000 internally displaced people in the country.

Today, five percent of the entire population is now displaced. More than 2,500 schools have been closed, and health care access has been significantly decreased in the areas most regularly affected, especially northern and eastern parts of the country.

Members of the small Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burkina Faso (Église Évangélique Luthérienne du Burkina Faso – EELBF) have not escaped the growing violence. Over the past three years, the EELBF has seen twelve of its members killed in terrorist attacks. Several others have disappeared and remain missing.

“We are very discouraged,” confessed President Tanpo Tchiriteme of the EELBF. “We ask for your prayers that peace would return. Pray also for those who have lost family members—orphans and widows—and for all of us.”

Of the missing, he adds, “we hope that by the grace of God we will find them.”

The displacement of people in Burkina Faso has led to the closure of multiple EELBF congregations and preaching points, complicating Gospel-proclamation and practical care for members in the beleaguered nation.

“Our sisters and brothers in Burkina Faso are suffering,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. “I encourage Lutherans around the world to lift up the nation of Burkina Faso in prayer. O God, be merciful to a suffering people. Bring an end to the growing violence and grant your people peace. We especially pray for the pastors and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burkina Faso. Grant them the peace which passes understanding, and give them strength and hope to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—good news sorely needed in these difficult times.”

Those wishing to support the work of the EELBF during the current crisis can donate via The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), which has supported work in Burkina Faso since 2000. Gifts should be designated for “Mercy Work.” 

Even before the rise of terrorism in the country five years ago, Burkina Faso faced significant challenges. Burkina Faso remains one of the poorest nations in the world, with about 40 percent of the country living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. As of 2018, the United Nations estimated that nearly one million people in the country needed food security support, and that more than 187,000 children under the age of five could be expected to face severe malnutrition.

These challenges have been aggravated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of displaced people, the extreme poverty, and the lack of access to health resources makes it difficult for people to practice safe hygiene and social distancing. As of August 24, 2020, the country has recorded 1,328 cases of the coronavirus, with 55 deaths. 223 cases remain active.

The pandemic has not slowed instances of terrorism either. Since July 27, 2020 sixteen schools in the east part of the country have been burned down, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. On August 7, 2020, gunmen also attacked a cattle market in an eastern village, leading to the death of about twenty people with many others injured.

Prayer for Burkina Faso:

Gracious God, heavenly Father, You know the shock and sorrow that the events of these days have spread across the land. We are helpless before the evil that afflicts us and therefore cry out to You for comfort, shelter, and protection. Mercifully embrace the frightened in Your love, empower the weak with Your strength, restrain the wicked by Your might, and preserve the righteous in Your grace, giving us Your peace and turning tragedy to triumph; though Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

– From the LCMS Pastoral Care Companion

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burkina Faso is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

Finnish theologian and missionary enters into glory

Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, a major figure in Finnish Lutheranism and African missions, passed away on July 6, 2020 at his home in Uusikaupunki. He was 75 years old.

Dr. Simojoki left a deep spiritual impact on Finland and more broadly on missions. He was known as a powerful preacher of the Gospel, a versatile theologian, a courageous ecclesiastical debater, and a prolific writer and wordsmith.

Dr. Simojoki was ordained by Archbishop Martti Simojoki at Turku Cathedral in 1972. He served the parishes of Kodisjoki and Pori before being elected pastor of Lappi in southwest Finland. During this time, he became acquainted with the spiritual heritage of the so-called Prayer Revival of Western Finland. He served as the longtime editor of the movement’s magazine Länsi-Suomen Herännäislehti.

Dr. Simojoki was a founding member and longtime General Secretary of the St. Paul’s Synod in 1975, a forum and think tank for the confessional Lutheran defence of the office of the ministry in public discussions—including in the theological debate on woman’s priesthood, a debate which led to deep divisions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

In 1989, Dr. Simojoki was invited to serve as a missionary of the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland to Kenya, where he served as a teacher at the Matongo Lutheran Theological Seminary and as pastor to a congregation in Nairobi. While serving in the field, he completed his doctoral thesis on the reception of the Book of Revelation in Finnish theology, which he defended at Åbo Akademi University in 1997.

In 1996, with the support of the Association of the Western Finland Prayer Movement, he joined the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, pioneering their work in Africa. In that role, he led numerous translation projects of Lutheran literature into dozens of African languages. He taught in many countries across the continent, including in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together with Rev. Dr. Robert Rahn and Rev. Andrew Mbugo, he helped found the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. He also helped lead Gospel ministry efforts in hostile places like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Before retiring in 2010, Dr. Simojoki completed a translation of the Lutheran Confessions into Swahili.

Dr. Simojoki helped to establish the Finnish Luther Foundation in 1999, and was subsequently also involved in the founding of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He served as chairman of the church’s Lutheran Hymns committee, producing a number of new hymns through original writing and translation.

His membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese led the Turku Archdiocese to defrock him from ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2014. He spent his remaining years helping to build the Mission Diocese. In 2014, the Mission Diocese published a Festschrift in honour of his 70th birthday, the title of which summed up Simojoki’s spiritual heritage: It is True as it is Written.

In retirement, Dr. Simojoki continued to serve as pastor to the Laitila congregation of the Mission Diocese. His ministry there bore witness to the focal point of his teaching and ministry: that God works through His Holy Word. From week to week, he focused on teaching and preaching. The gifts of Christ were to be distributed as they were instituted, so that even the weakest may possess the grace of Christ. The day before his death, he preached his final sermon at the congregation’s summer festival in Pyhäranta.

Dr. Simojoki is survived by his wife Marja, their six children, and twenty-four grandchildren.

Rev. Dr. Simojoki’s motto was Ps. 118:17, a fitting memorial to the faith of the great theologian and churchman: “Non moriar sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini – I shall not die but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

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From a report by the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, with information also from a report by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

The ELMDF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

ILC Board looks toward 2021

Members of the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors and staff hold meetings online.

WORLD – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held regular meetings May 26-27, 2020 via online videoconferencing, during which time the board continued planning for the ILC’s 2021 World Conference, as well as received a report on the ILC’s ecumenical discussions with Roman Catholics.

The International Lutheran Council’s 27th (12th) World Conference will take place September 21-24, 2021 in Kenya. Some on-the-ground preparations have been interrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but planning otherwise is progressing normally. The board will announce further information, including the conference theme, at a later date.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt holds a Zoom meeting ILC board members and staff.

During the May 2020 meetings, the Board of Directors also accepted the concluding report of the informal academic dialogue between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The document will be now distributed to the churches of the ILC for study and reaction, with plans to make official recommendations on the report during the 2021 ILC World Conference.

“The dialogue groups from both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic sides have done marvelous work,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the final report. “I am grateful to them for their diligence, and for the results of their theological discussions. They deserve our sincere thanks.”

The board also considered ongoing membership applications during their meetings, as well as regular business such as reports from ILC programs, organizations, and world regions. The current pandemic has led to the postponement of several ILC initiatives, including regional conferences in Latin America and Europe, as well as classes in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program.

The board also approved an update to the ILC’s Mission Statement, which now reads:

The International Lutheran Council is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The ILC exists for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among its members and throughout the world.

The next meeting of the ILC Board of Directors will take place online on September 21, 2020.

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COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Russia and Togo

Participating in Easter worship online, with ELCR General Secretary Pastor Mikhail Ivanov broadcasting from St. Mary Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

WORLD – The member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to reach out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we highlight the work of ILC member churches in Russia and in Togo.

Russia

Russia now reports 187,859 cases of COVID-19 as well as 1,723 deaths so far. Different areas have enacted quarantines and lockdown procedures, with many citizens ordered to self-isolate, and a do-not-work order runs at least through May 11, 2020.

Rev. Igor Alisov of St. Trinity in Moscow prepares to lead evening devotions online.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCR) has moved much of its work online during this situation. On a daily basis, several congregations (and two dozen on Sundays) are live-streaming or publishing record videos of worship services, theology classes, Bible studies, confirmation classes, devotions, and more. Each week, Bishop Ivan Laptev and General Secretary Mikhail Ivanv go live online, answering viewers’ questions.

“The Church is exploring a new missions field in the internet,” the church reports. “The Word of God has come to every home. And even secular specialists—through the expertise in internet technologies—are becoming involved in the work of Christ.”

Other ongoing activities include online meetings of youth and the publication of Bible classes for children. The Theological Institute has implemented distance education programs.

The church is also reaching out with practical care as well, providing support for those in need of material assistance who have no other means of support.

“We are longing to meet with one another again, and with Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” the church reports. In the meantime, “we continue to pray, praise, and worship together as we joyfully celebrate the Easter season.”

Togo

In Togo, 145 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, as well as 10 deaths. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, several official measures have been taken, with gatherings restricted to 15 people are fewer.

Rev. Remy Lari Lamboni holds a worship service with five members of his parish in Sankpong, Togo.

The Lutheran Church of Togo (Église Luthérienne du Togo – ELT) faces a difficult situation ministering to its members during this crisis. “The coronavirus pandemic has affected our church negatively,” notes President Kolani Lambon Lare. “The public celebration of Holy Communion, Baptism, weddings, conventions, Sunday schools, and church meetings are all stopped.”

In remote areas, some pastors have been permitted to hold small gatherings of five to ten people. During these services, church members are asked to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash with hand sanitizer. Some pastors are also able to provide baptism and holy communion in small family settings.

The church has no website, complicating their outreach to church members. The ELT has turned to WhatsApp to share devotions with members every Wednesday and Sunday. President Lare has also encouraged members to study their Bibles at home, and to pray against the pandemic.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Ghana and Haiti

ELCG President John Donkoh leads evening devotions online.

WORLD – Lutherans continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the globe. In this report, we focus on the response of ILC member churches in Ghana and Haiti.

Ghana

Ghana has reported 2,719 cases of COVID-19, with 18 deaths. In response to the crisis, the country banned all public gatherings on March 15, including worship services. Several regions have been gone into partial lockdown or quarantine.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) has urged its members to follow all government protocols and remain at home. At the same time, the church is working to identify members at risk because of the lockdowns. “We note that in some communities, the majority of people live from hand to mouth, and cannot stay at home and isolate themselves, because that would bring about their swift starvation,” notes ELCG President John Donkoh. Thanks to support from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the ELCG is rolling out a range of various activities to reach out to the needy and less privileged in their communities.

COVID-19 awareness material shared online from the ELCG’s National Lutheran Youth Executives.

The church is also launching an interactive online program in collaboration with the Lutheran Media Ministry, to keep faith alive for youth, women, compassion children, and their parents. Each Sunday, regional pastors preach in turns live via Facebook, and sermons are translated into local Ghanaian languages where broadcasts are taking place. At the same time, the church encourages its members to also engage in personal study of Scripture, to pray, and to continue studying the Catechism.

The Lutheran Media Ministry Studio in Accra is also assisting with Christ-centered programs to share the good news of Jesus with the whole country. From Maundy Thursday through Easter, the church presented a series of messages on suffering, death, and the resurrection of Christ to the nation via FM radio.

The church is also responding to questions of faith and fear from the general public as well as major media on various theological topics.

“This is a very challenging time, but we don’t lose heart because Jesus has overcome the world,” says ELCG President Donkoh. “The period of lockdown has been uncomfortable for many…. People are grieving that life has not worked out as they had hoped.”

“We seem to be living in a broken world,” he continues. “A world with bad news. COVID-19 is indeed disorganizing our normal life.” And yet, he says, “the Holy Spirit through the blessed Word relieves us from the fear of death, and gives us the power to triumph over this great and final foe. Through the great power of the Gospel—the good news of Jesus’ blessed death for those who are subject to death, and His glorious resurrection from the dead—we are gifted with hope in this world.”

Haiti

The country of Haiti has reported 100 cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths so far. To arrest the spread of the disease, the Haitian government has restricted gatherings of more than 10 people, including at churches.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (Église Évangélique Luthérienne d’Haiti – ELCH) is reaching out to people during this difficult situation, which is aggravated by recent instability in the region. The church reports that a lack of infrastructure in the nation also creates challenges; a majority of the population, for example, do not have access to electricity.

The ELCH is relying on WhatsApp—a form of communication in widespread use in the country—to distribute messages, sermons, and other information to congregation members. But this is often an imperfect solution, as those without regular access to electricity may not be able to read or hear sermons until several days later.

Visitations are also prohibited in order to prevent the spread of disease, effectively preventing pastors from visiting the sick.

“In this time of distress, we focus on God,” notes ELCH Secretary Thomas Bernard. “As we are battling with this pandemic, God is the only one who can save us with His message of grace and forgiveness. As Christian leaders, we encourage our members to remain faithful in times of suffering because through suffering we may be equipped to comfort others. We know that even in times of suffering, ‘God is still our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.’”

ELCH President Eliona Bernard sends greetings to Lutherans around the world, encouraging pastors and church leaders: “May our Lord continue to equip and strengthen you all so that you continue to faithfully serve His flocks!”

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

COVID-19 and ILC churches in India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom

President S. Suviseshamuthu brings a video Easter greeting to the India Evangelical Lutheran Church.

WORLD – Members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic currently gripping the world.

In this second post in our series, we highlight the situation of ILC member churches in India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

India

A nationwide lockdown in India was implemented on March 23, and will continue at least through the end of April. So far, India has reported more than 12,700 cases of COVID-19 and 423 deaths.

The situation has proven challenging for the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC). Worship services are banned, which was particularly difficult during Holy Week and Easter. Some pastors and congregations are able to broadcast services online, and some members are able to watch from their homes. The church, however, is unable to administer Holy Communion during the lockdown.

Movement from one place to another is also restricted. And while some pastors are allowed to visit nearby homes to pray with members, in other places this is not allowed.

On the eve of Easter, IELC President S. Suviseshamuthu sent a message of encouragement to the church on YouTube and WhatsApp, likening the situation facing them to that described in the first chapter of Joel. Joel describes a crisis that had “never happened during the time of old men, the inhabitants of the land,” President Suviseshamuthu writes. “The priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn. The field is wasted. The land mourns. Joy is withered away from the sons of men. The meat offering and the drink offering are withheld form the house of your God.”

“But in the very next chapter, Joel speaks of the day of the Lord,” President Suviseshamuthu continues. If we “rend our hearts and turn unto the Lord our God,” we will find “He is slow to anger, and of great kindness, if we repent from evil.”

“This makes us to realize that Jesus is the only way,” President Suviseshamuthu explains. “He loves us profoundly. That is the only reason He laid down His life on the cross. Jesus loves each one of us without discrimination. Let us separate ourselves from the world to be united only with our Saviour. Let us confess daily. May the Lord protect us and lead us through the wilderness.”

South Africa

In South Africa, more than 2,500 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with 34 deaths. On March 23, the country enacted a nationwide lockdown, which will be in effect at least until the end of April.

This has led to major challenges for the St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa (CLCSA). Churches are not allowed to gather in groups of more than ten, funerals are limited to just family, and no weddings are allowed. Easter services were cancelled in South Africa, as in many nations.

Online preaching from the St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa.

Many churches around the world have turned to electronic means of ministering to members during the current crisis, and the CLCSA is no different, reaching out via social media. But many of the CLCSA’s members are elderly and not familiar with this sort of technology. Many are also rural, living in remote areas which do not have easy access to the internet.

“Our church is in a learning curve as to how to serve our membership,” explains CLCSA bishop Mandla Khumalo. “We have learned and are learning even more the importance of households becoming the church, with fathers effectively being encouraged to go back to using Luther’s Small Catechism to minister to their families.” Bishop Khumalo notes especially the value of the daily services in the catechism. “This is leading us to understand more fully what fellowship means on the family level—how the church begins at home, and how the worship building is only a place of fellowship.”

The CLCSA is facing other difficulties as a result of the coronavirus too. Holy communion and visitations, including to shut-ins, have been suspended, and pastors can only attend to members in extreme cases after receiving permission from the authorities. Some international staff have also been repatriated, further affecting the ability of church and its agencies to minister to its members.

The church is also facing financial difficulties since many of its members are unfamiliar with telephone or online banking, and are unable to give in person. And this has a cascading effect on the church’s education and social ministry work. The church receives no government funding, and with schools closed, there are challenges paying staff and covering overhead costs. What is more, many of the students depend on the church’s food program and now face food insecurity as a result of the lockdown.

Despite these challenges, Bishop Khumalo also sees an opportunity to reach people anew with the good news of the Gospel during this crisis. Some people who normally “would not attend church in any way” are nevertheless deciding to tune-in to the CLCSA’s online outreach “because of the curiosity created by this pandemic.” The church is proclaiming the message of Jesus to those newly willing to listen.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has so far reported more than 103,000 cases of COVID-19 and 13,729 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. On March 20, the government initiated a lockdown which resulted in churches being closed for public worship and which strictly limited the public’s ability to leave their homes.  While clergy have been categorized as key workers, and can thus leave the home to work, congregants are not allowed to attend churches.

ELCE Chairman George Samiec livestreams his sermon for Easter Sunday.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England has reacted quickly to the situation to ensure continued pastoral care for members. By March 29, all congregations had begun offering alternate worship arrangements, including online video conferencing, live online worship services, pre-recorded worship services, and written material emailed or posted every week for members to read on Sunday.

“The absence of the Divine Service in the life of the Church is painful,” notes ELCE Chairman George Samiec. “We look forward to the time when we can worship together and receive from the Lord of the Church all His blessings.”

In the meantime, congregations continue to use alternate means to continue ministry. Some congregations are also now broadcasting Matins and Compline during the week, while Bible Studies and confirmation are being conducted via video conferencing. Congregational WhatsApp groups have been formed. And pastors are regularly phoning members to provide care.

The ELCE’s theological institute, Westfield House, has moved to provide classes online. And Lutheran Radio UK has amended the Daily Offices on Sundays to include sermons and prayers.

The ELCE ministerium is also using video conferencing to consult with one another, Chairman Samiec noted, to “learn from each other in terms of technology, to think collectively about how to go forward and what to do to minimise any ‘digital divides’, and how best to resume public worship if COVID-19 fears still exist.”

The situation also puts a strain on the fiscal well-being of congregations. To that end, the ELCE Executive Council has established a ‘hardship fund’ to help congregations deal with financial stresses.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

COVID-19 and ILC churches in Chile, Japan, and the United States

Pastors, vicars, and seminarians of the the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile are offering a daily devotional study online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WORLD – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact people across the globe, member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) are stepping forward to provide physical and spiritual care to the people in their nations.

The ILC is launching a new series to highlight the response of our churches to COVID-19. Despite challenges, the proclamation of the Gospel continues. Despite difficulties, the needy are still provided for in body and soul. Please, remember the churches of the International Lutheran Council in prayer as they minister to their flocks around the world.

In this first post, we consider the response of three member church bodies in Chile, Japan, and the United States.

Chile

The first case of COVID-19 in Chile was reported on March 1, 2020. Since then, the country has reported nearly 8,000 cases of COVID-19, with 92 deaths. In response to the crisis, the government has closed borders and imposed quarantines or lockdowns on several regions.

As the situation began to unfold, the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile—Iglesia Luterana Confesional de Chile (ILC-Chile)—moved to offer devotional resources online. The church offers daily devotional videos to “assist our members with the comfort of the Holy Word,” notes ILC-Chile Bishop Omar Kinas. The series features pastors, vicars, and seminary students, as a way of involving all members in the church response. The church is also offering group Bible Studies and live-streams of the Divine Service of the Word online, as well as sending activities for children.

“We understand that this is not the ideal way,” Bishop Kinas says of the online outreach. “However, we have taken advantage of technology in order to continue proclaiming the Holy Gospel.” Pastors also continue to offer private communion to members while following necessary safeguards and social-distancing measures.

The church is ministering to others in physical ways too. Donations through the churches’ Mercy Boxes have helped the CLCC to provide material support to those who have lost their jobs or are unable to leave their homes for work.

Local health authorities were also invited to use the chapel office in Cerror la Cruz, Valparaiso for a flu vaccination campaign to protect the elderly. And the local pastor’s wife, Jessica, has made and donated hundreds of masks to protect people during the pandemic.

“Although this pandemic has brought several changes and challenges, it is undoubtedly a great opportunity for our church to share with others the Crucified and Risen One, who has carried all our illnesses and bought us everlasting life,” notes Bishop Kinas. “We pray for the whole Church of Christ, that we may set our sights on the one has already destroyed the evil one, sin, and death, and has given us eternal salvation.”

Japan

Good Friday service at St. Paul Lutheran in Asahikawa, Japan.

Japan has reported more than 7,600 cases of COVID-19 and 143 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The country declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 for Tokyo and six other prefectures.

The emergency has forced the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) to find alternate means of reaching its members. “Due to the declaration of a state of emergency, many churches have cancelled all gatherings, including Sunday worship,” notes JLC President Shin Shimizu. “However, some churches are distributing written sermons and handouts to church members regularly. Others are posting worship services on their websites.”

The situation is a challenge, President Shimizu explains, but we find comfort in the words of Scripture. He quotes from 2 Chronicles 7:14—“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

United States of America

The United States has recorded more than 600,000 cases of COVID-19 so far, with more than 25,000 deaths. The country has closed borders, while different states have imposed different measures, including shelter-in-place orders and quarantines.

The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) reports that nearly every aspect of their ministry has been affected by the pandemics. “We have adapted our routines to tend to the sheep of Jesus Christ and do the work of an evangelist based on national, state, and local regulations,” says AALC President Pastor Curtis Leins.

AALC Pastor Jamie Strickler leads worship on Easter Sunday at a Drive-In Service at St. Timothy Lutheran in Charlestone, West Virginia.

He notes that some pastors live in jurisdictions that allow for “drive-in” services, with pastors leading worship and preaching to parishioners in their cars, with the help of sound systems. Many pastors are also recording worship services (either the full liturgy or scaled-down orders of worship) which are then shared online. Some are leading Bible studies through live-streaming, pre-recorded messages, podcats, video-blogs, and virtual classrooms.

“This is not to say that this time is free of frustration for our pastors,” President Pastor Leins explains. In particular, he says, “it is difficult and sometimes impossible to offer pastoral care to the dying and to those who mourn in these times of extreme limits.”

“We have continued to remind our pastors that the virtual experience is no substitute for direct pastoral contact, such as a phone call or a visit with proper precautions,” President Pastor Leins continues. The church has also issued a letter to its ministerium discouraging virtual celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar.

The AALC published an electronic copy of its national periodical, The Evangel, before Holy Week to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while also offering the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.

In addition to spiritual support, local churches are offering practical care where possible as well. One congregation, for example, has lent its church van to transport meals for home-bound school children.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.