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A delightful trouble

A man sharing online the peace he has in Jesus creates a problem—the need to coordinate multiple baptisms around the world.

David didn’t mean to cause trouble. When he started an online Bible study from his home in Toronto, Canada, in March 2022, he didn’t know that in less than a year it would lead to 40 East Asians from 20 cities around the world wanting to get baptized. “I apologized [to my pastor and others] for the trouble I caused the WELS because of such an elaborate baptism. They smiled at me and said, ‘It was indeed a trouble, a delightful trouble,’ ” says David.

David’s zeal for the gospel is evident. But it wasn’t always that way. Growing up and living in East Asia, he was an atheist. “I had no religion. We were educated by the government,” he says. But through a series of events and a network of people, he discovered Jesus Christ, the true God—and a peace that he wanted to share.

Becoming Lutheran

David’s first introduction to Lutheranism was at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2017. He was visiting there quite often because his wife, Nancy, was teaching Mandarin at the university. David, an associate professor and writer on history, philosophy, politics, and literature, was always looking to learn more. His studies had shown him that much of what he had previously known historically had been lies and deliberately emphasized the corruption of Western civilization and Christianity. But from his research David knew the positive effects that Christianity had in North America and Europe. He wanted to dig even deeper.

“On my first day there, I was invited to a Bible study for the international community by a professor from a Chinese university who knew that my academic field was the history of ideas and that I would be willing to learn,” he says. He and Nancy began attending the large local Baptist church. They also were befriended by several Jehovah’s Witnesses and studied the Bible with them as well.

While in Madison, David wanted to improve his English, so he began attending English as a second language classes offered by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, the WELS church and student center near the university’s campus. It was there he met Carol Trapp.

Carol had been teaching classes to international students since 1983. “We would always ask at those classes if anyone would like to do a Bible study,” she says. When she asked David, he immediately agreed and encouraged others to attend as well. “He wanted to understand what the Bible said, having read some of that history and how it all lines up,” says Carol. “He was already thinking there was more to [the Bible] than just history.”

Carol, David, and Nancy quickly connected. “A Bible study was set up for my family and two other families, and Carol drove half an hour or so on cold winter nights to begin her Bible teaching,” says David. “To this day, I can remember several nights when she came into the room, all covered in snowflakes and smiling.”

Seeing the family’s interest in wanting to learn even more, Carol introduced them to her husband, Tom Trapp, pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel. “Under Pastor Trapp’s teaching, Nancy and I were baptized together as Lutheran ‘sheep’ on February 1, 2018,” says David. They returned to East Asia later that year.

Learning—and sharing—God’s truths

Enamored with Western culture, David and his son, Yibo, immigrated to Toronto in 2019. This also allowed David to continue his academic studies and writing. Nancy stayed behind to continue her teaching at the university, finally moving to Toronto in 2021. David and Carol were still staying in touch, so when Carol discovered that David had moved to Toronto, she immediately told him that he needed to visit Hope, the WELS church there. She introduced him to Mark Henrich, pastor at Hope, and David and Yibo began attending, even though they lived a distance away.

To cover his living expenses and continue his academic research, David began giving online lectures on literature, history, politics, and philosophy. Many people all over the world began to know him. Thousands of people viewed his lectures on YouTube. “They trust me because I don’t tell them any lies. I just talk the truth,” says David.

At this time, David still didn’t feel as if he fully understood the Bible and its teachings: “I know that the Bible influenced the whole civilization, but I didn’t know the details.” He says he thinks his heart also needed God. He wanted to study the Bible and had been considering attending a seminary since his time in Madison, but he felt his poor English made this impossible. Once he was in Toronto, he approached Henrich to share his desire to study God’s Word full time. Henrich immediately encouraged him to study to be a pastor through WELS’ Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). David was accepted into the program in 2020 and quickly moved through two levels of the program, while continuing to study and prepare for his online lectures.

His studies—both through the PSI and independently—caused him to begin shifting the focus of his lectures to emphasize the positive aspects of Western culture—like the ideas of freedom, equality, justice, and political philosophy. He explained and clarified popular criticisms of Christianity throughout history, slowly breaking down the barriers to Christianity that had been placed in front of his listeners all their lives. “They cannot connect [to] the Bible because there are lots of stones,” says David. “So I move a stone, then move [another] stone. They know the truth, and then they will like the Bible.”

He continues, “I know what the lost sheep need and desire, and I can find the link to bring them to Christ. I know that Christ is at work, and I know that I am a tool that needs to work well.”

David and Nancy with Mark Henrich East Asia
Left: David and Nancy with Mark Henrich. Right: Geoffrey’s baptism at Hope, Toronto. Geoffrey (far right) is one of David’s online students in his Bible class. When traveling to the United States on business, he took a few extra days to travel to Toronto to meet David and be baptized. He had never met David in person before this.

Causing “trouble”

But in March 2022, David started to get concerned. He wasn’t sure if he was cut out to be a pastor. “To test my suitability as a pastor, I thought I would try an online Bible study first,” he says. “I started to talk to some of my online friends with whom I usually communicate a lot about this matter, and soon after that, I formed a Bible study group of more than 30 people.”

Word spread, and that number quickly ballooned to 50 and then 100 people. “I wanted to coordinate a time so that we could meet on the Internet at the same time, but the time difference was more than 16 hours. I had no choice but to split it,” he says.

The group was unique, filled with individuals at a high academic level. Many of them David had never met in person before. “They had a lot of questions that were difficult,” says David. “Thank you, Lord, for previously preparing and equipping me for academic research so that I can face any challenge with ease.”

David and Carol Trapp at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
Carol Trapp and David at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., in 2022. “He calls me his spiritual mom,” says Carol. “David is just so happy about the truth of the Bible. The truth matters to him so much, it brings him to tears.”

But that’s when the trouble—the delightful trouble—began. The Holy Spirit was at work, and many of these individuals wanted to get baptized. “But how can we carry out this sacred ministry when we are scattered all over the world?” says David.

Henrich contacted Neil Birkholz, WELS’ North American Asian ministry consultant, who began reaching out to coordinate baptisms around the globe. Since March 2023, 40 of David’s students have been baptized in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Madrid, and multiple locations in East Asia. More baptisms are on the horizon.

Besides continuing his classes and his online work, David also has started a Bible study group in Toronto, working closely with another PSI student, Guili, who recently joined Hope. Guili’s goal is to build a Mandarin-speaking, confessional Lutheran church attached to Hope in Toronto to minister to the more than 500,000 East Asians in the area.

“For years we prayed at Hope to one day start a daughter congregation. We prayed and discussed but nothing happened,” says Henrich. “Now there is a growing East Asian community that meets for Bible study every Sunday night. Might this be a surprising answer to our prayers?”

Surprising? Maybe. Or perhaps another delightful trouble!

Author: Julie Wietzke
Volume 110, Number 8
August 2023

A dot in God’s network

God’s network that he has established through WELS ministry is breathtaking in its expanse and power. Let me ever so briefly share with you how I got connected to Flora.

Pastor Timothy Bourman baptized Flora April 2023.
Pastor Timothy Bourman baptized Flora in April 2023.

David, who is a member of Hope in Toronto and studying to be a pastor, ran a class that Flora attended. Flora became interested in the Christian faith. David connected with Neil Birkholz, a WELS mission consultant in San Diego for all things Asian. They discussed how to connect Flora with a local church. They referred Flora to me, the local New York City WELS pastor, because of Flora’s family connections in NYC. Flora and I began to study. Most times, we studied on Zoom. She would be sitting in her apartment in East Asia early in the morning and I’d be sitting in my basement office late at night due to the time difference. Sometimes we would meet in person during her frequent trips to New York. Through those connections, I instructed Flora in the Christian faith and later baptized her in the heart of Queens this past April. There was not a dry eye at church that day.

In many ways, I consider myself a bit player in God’s great plan to save through his gospel. Hundreds of times over the years, WELS missionaries or WELS pastors simply pass on yet another of God’s chosen to our local ministry. We share the gospel and the Spirit works. I’m just a dot in God’s network, and I have to say, it is such an honor.

Timothy Bourman is a home missionary at Sure Foundation, Queens, New York.

“I want to work for God”

Hope, Toronto, has not only one East Asian member studying to be a pastor through the Pastoral Studies Institute, but two.

Mark Henrich welcoming Dujie and Guili as members at Hope, Toronto.
Mark Henrich welcoming Dujie and Guili as members at Hope, Toronto.

Recognizing the ministry opportunities in Toronto and abroad, Guili began studying full time to be a pastor earlier this year. “I want to work for God,” he says.

Guili and his wife, Dujie, first learned about the message of the gospel ten years ago in East Asia when Dujie was invited to a Bible study by a mom in her parenting group. They were baptized a few months later. They immigrated to Toronto six years ago and recently were connected to David. They joined Hope, Toronto, this past February.

They already are jumping into ministry work, hosting a Bible study every Sunday night in their home for other East Asians. They invite their children’s friends’ parents, their neighbors, and their friends to join them. “Toronto is a big city. More and more [East Asians] are coming,” says Guili. “Some . . . are like me before—they don’t know God. I think they need Christ. They need a Savior.”

He and David are working together to spread that message of a Savior—at home and abroad.

Pastoral Studies Institute: On the frontline

Neil Birkholz, Harland Goetzinger, and David in Toronto East Asia
Left to right: Neil Birkholz, WELS’ North American Asian ministry consultant; Harland Goetzinger, PSI director; and David met in Toronto to discuss David’s theological education as well as future ministry opportunities. David is one of 28 students currently studying through the PSI.

When David expressed interest in attending a seminary in 2020, his pastor, Mark Henrich, encouraged him to study through WELS and contacted the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a joint program between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., that provides theological training to North American students from a variety of countries and cultures. PSI professors met with David to determine if he was a good candidate for the program.

Once he was accepted into the program, the PSI coordinated instructors—including Henrich—to take David through four levels of courses to fulfill his preseminary and seminary training. Some classes are taught in Mandarin, David’s first language, by WELS Mandarin-speaking pastors. While some classes are held in person, many are online. Most students take one or two classes at a time since they also work full time. David is taking four—and asking for more. He currently is in level three of the program.

“It’s extremely exciting being on the frontline of everything that is happening,” says Harland Goetzinger, PSI director. “As a church body, we should be very proud that WELS is supporting an effort to creatively bring the message of the gospel to people who have come to the United States or Canada and want to study to be a pastor to their people group and then help accommodate them to reach back to their homeland and be able to bring the gospel there as well.”

European baptism

Jennifer Wolfgramm shares how her husband, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm, WELS Europe team leader, baptized James and his family in Madrid. James connected with WELS through David’s online Bible study.

Although Luke and I had e-mailed James in English, upon arrival in Madrid we quickly learned James does not speak English. Luke and I prayed that God would bridge the language barrier.

God answered our prayers. James brought a solution—a handheld Chinese/English translating device that his daughter uses in school. You talk into the device, and the device speaks the translation. No typing, just talking and listening, so Luke and James could converse even while driving. They talked continuously until evening.

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm baptizing Eva in Madrid.
Missionary Luke Wolfgramm baptizing Eva in Madrid.

And then God surprised us! James, Luke, and I met a young East Asian woman, Zoe, at a Chinese restaurant. Zoe was the result of James’ Google search for a translator. He hesitated to hire a stranger with an anti-Christian prejudice, but Zoe is a Christian with no church home.

Zoe was more than a translator—she had just as many questions as James! She was very moved by the gospel message: “That is so beautiful!” We talked non-stop until nearly midnight.

We parted tired, happy, and excited for the morrow. We assured James all he needed was a bowl with water and maybe a towel. Luke said, “I will do the worrying, the Holy Spirit will do all the work, and you can just enjoy it!”

Monday noon we met James; his wife, Jane; his 12-year-old daughter, Eva; and their English-speaking friend Flora. Jane is kind, friendly, funny, and so happy to know her Savior. Luke baptized James, then Jane, then Eva in the little foyer of their apartment.

Spain is the new home of 200,000 East Asian immigrants. James and Jane are a very talented couple who treasure the gospel. What will God do through them?

Online exclusive

A vicar who speaks Mandarin

Vicar Benjamin Kieta (far left) with Nancy and David and Guili (far right).
Vicar Benjamin Kieta (far left) with Nancy and David and Guili (far right).

Benjamin Kieta, vicar at Hope, Toronto, got his first taste of East Asia when he participated in a mission trip there through his high school, Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich. He then took Mandarin for three years at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., knowing that he wanted to spend more time in East Asia doing ministry work. When he and his now-wife Heidi graduated in 2019, they headed abroad, not knowing that changing government policies and “a viral pneumonia in Wuhan” would cut their time short, forcing them to return to the United States after only five months. Benjamin enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary the next year and was assigned as a vicar to Hope in May 2022.

“Heidi and I spent all this time learning Mandarin and dedicating ourselves to this ministry, and the opportunity never really materialized for us in East Asia,” says Benjamin. “But then God put us at Hope, and it ended up being a fantastic opportunity to use the skills we had learned.”

Benjamin, who understands how ministry in East Asia and in WELS works, is helping David make connections and build relationships as ministry opportunities expand in Toronto and abroad. He also is teaching Pastoral Studies Institute courses to David and Guili in Mandarin. He attends the weekly Mandarin Bible studies held at Guili’s home.

He says his vicar experience has really shown him the importance of equipping others for ministry work—people who may have even more opportunities for outreach than the pastor himself. “God will bring us really gifted people—people like David. That gives us a chance as leaders in the church to spend time nurturing and equipping these people, being cheerleaders and building them up, taking obstacles out of their way, so they can do God’s work.”

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