“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).
In his final message to leaders and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Concord, WELS’ sister church body in Russia, before leaving the country in early March, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm shared a message of peace—the real peace that Jesus provides to his people.
“I told them two things that we want to do,” says Wolfgramm. “First, enjoy Jesus’ peace. This isn’t the peace the world gives; it’s not a counterfeit peace. Jesus gives us peace because he carries all the things that wreck that peace on his shoulders to Calvary. Then we’re going to share the Savior’s peace. Maybe there is someone who is ready to listen for the first time.”
It’s a fitting message as Luke and his wife, Jennifer, exited a country in which they have lived and served for the past 25 years. On Friday, Feb. 25, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine, they discovered they needed to leave as soon as they could. They left for Albania four days later.
Wolfgramm used that extra time to meet with church leaders as well as preach at several of the congregations. It was a time to offer encouragement and hope, assurances that Jesus’ church would prevail. It was also a time to provide last-minute instructions to church leaders about the practicalities of managing the church’s business affairs.
This wasn’t the first time Wolfgramm met with leaders on that topic. He had been working with them for several months already, starting to prepare them for when the Wolfgramms planned to leave the country in 2024. “We were in Russia for 25 winters. God blessed the church over those times,” says Wolfgramm. “But my work is changing. Even before this [evacuation] happened, I wasn’t exclusively a missionary to Russia. I was also working with other churches in Europe.”
This means that he partners in ministry with a dozen sister churches in Europe, helping with training seminary students, leading workshops, mentoring, and preaching. “My work is to fellowship with churches—talk together, work together, pray for each other,” he says. The church in Russia will continue to be one of the churches with which he partners, just not as a resident missionary.
Says Wolfgramm, “God has been planning this out and preparing us. The timing came as a surprise to us but not to him. We were planning to get there, just not so quickly.”
For the short term, the Wolfgramms are living in Durres, Albania, helping train a seminary student there. As of April 1, they still are able to keep in touch with the three Russian pastors and one seminary student who are leading the 270-member church body. “The first time I was able to talk to all the pastors, I shared my concern for them,” says Wolfgramm. “Pastor Alexei said, ‘We’re in good hands. We’re in God’s hands, and that’s the best place to be.’ They definitely see that this is God at work to speed up the timetable to give them opportunities to share Jesus’ peace in a world that desperately needs it.”
WELS will continue to support the Russian church as it is able to under current sanctions. “Back in the 1990s when the Iron Curtain fell, we were able to rush in with missionaries and plant a church,” says Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator. “The current reality is that another curtain has been set up that again divides us from the Russian people. Our prayers go out for the church members there that their connection to their Savior through the means of grace stays strong as God leads us to a new stage of fellowship.”
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022