Souksamay Phetsanghane, a professor at Luther Preparatory School (LPS), Watertown, Wis., remembers vividly a fall day in 1996 when he and his friends were playing basketball in the church parking lot and Vicar Joe Johnson came over and joined in. Johnson’s act of friendliness played a significant role in Phetsanghane’s decision to become a pastor. It also plays a significant role in how he approaches his calling to the students at LPS.
“People encouraged me,” he says, “and now I’m here to encourage others.”
That encouragement takes many forms, but one way that Phetsanghane encouraged his students this year was through mission and ministry trips to Iowa, Germany, and Czech Republic.
It began in January when he asked three male students to accompany him on a weekend trip to Davenport, Iowa, to help him fill a vacancy at Gethsemane. The group left after school on Friday and made the three-and-a-half-hour drive. On Saturday, they visited hospital patients and shut-ins and enjoyed fellowship with other members of Gethsemane. On Sunday, the students helped with the Bible readings and worship music.
Matthew Koelpin, an LPS senior at the time, says, “Before my trip to Gethsemane, I was set on going to college for some type of engineering at Texas A&M. I thought that I couldn’t be a pastor. After the trip, I realized that God gave me the gifts I needed to be a called worker. My heart was warmed by the members of Gethsemane, who helped me to look at the ministry in a different light.”
Koelpin, now a freshman at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., notes, “This experience was the biggest factor in my decision to attend Martin Luther College on the pre-seminary track.”
In June, Phetsanghane took four students to visit WELS’ sister church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church—Germany (ELFK). Students worked with a congregation there to present a joint English/German worship service. They also attended and sang at the synod’s convention.
“Traveling to Germany with Pastor Souk and getting to know Pastor Drechsler and the members of his congregation showed me the importance of keeping in touch with our fellow synods,” says Sandra Toyoda-Bell, now studying at Martin Luther College to be a teacher. “This trip gave me the experience to practice my German in real-life settings . . . and witness how God is working through the church in Germany.”
In July, five LPS students and Phetsanghane were part of a mission team to Czech Republic to help with vacation Bible school there. Ella Bergemann, now a senior at LPS, helped in the music and theater portions of the day. She says, “While sharing the gospel with children every day, I was able to understand more deeply just how great of a need there is to share Christ with all people. All humans of every background have the same spiritual needs, and it is the same Jesus who fulfills them. By seeing the power of the Holy Spirit at work in a completely new setting, I was inspired to say, ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me!’ It encouraged me to continue to pursue a full-time career in the ministry.”
Phetsanghane, meanwhile, made one ministry trip this year without his students. He attended a celebration of ministry retreat in San Antonio, Texas, organized by the Grow in Grace Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Who should be leading one of the workshops he attended? Vicar (now Pastor) Joe Johnson. Phetsanghane continues to be grateful for the encouragement he received from Johnson and notes, “It is still a wonder that our Lord allows me to do this awesome and amazing task!”
Author: Forward in Christ
Volume: 109, Number 10
Issue: October 2022