Immanuel, God with Us
1 Samuel 7:12, "Till now the LORD has helped us." (ESV)
This coming Sunday Immanuel Ev. Lutheran Church of Frankentrost, Michigan, will remember the 171st anniversary of her founding. In 1847, a group of settlers from Franconia, Germany, came to Michigan's deep forests. They settled to the north and west of Frankenmuth. They were sent by the same man of God who, two years earlier, had sent the Frankenmuth pioneers. Their presence was to provide encouragement (the meaning of the German word "Trost") to those already here.
The mission–minded man who eventually organized four colonies (Frankemuth, Frankentrost, Frankenlust and Frankenhilf) and sent them here was the Rev. Wilhelm Loehe, pastor at Neuendettelsau, Germany. Loehe responded to an urgent plea by the Rev. Friedrich Wyneken.
A German Lutheran missionary to North America, Wyneken had gone by foot and horseback throughout the sparsely populated wilderness of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan in the late 1830s and early 1840s. He surveyed the spiritual conditions of both the settlers and natives alike. From his experiences a cry for help went out. God's people had no pastors to care for them and provide the Means of Grace. Many were suffering and their souls were dying. Also, there was a great mission field among the Indians who needed to hear about the true God and salvation in Jesus Christ.
Loehe's idea for mission was a different model for his time. He concluded congregations needed to settle among those they wished to serve. That way the people would see what it was like to be a believer in Christ. Not just the preacher's voice, but the lives of all the members would also serve as witnesses. To establish a congregation first, and then seek the lost harkened back to the approach Jesus and the apostles had used to spread the gospel.
The memories of those first settlers are fascinating to read. They tell of a time when this area was untamed. Wild beasts roamed and the danger of being lost in the forest was very real. Most of the early settlers accounts tell of the miraculous workings of God to feed, protect, and comfort His people. Life was less complicated back then, but it was a lot harder. Children especially often did not survive.
Immanuel's history from long ago records daily worship. Tin horns called out into the dense trees, announcing services. There are stories of desperate prayers being said when food ran out, and hope they were answered. Lost loved ones miraculously found their way home, even in snow. Strangers passing through received mercy from what little there was to share. Immanuel's first pastor, the Rev. Johann Graebner, later recalled that it was a hard and difficult life–one he wasn't sure he would have chosen but he was thankful to God for it, and for seeing him and the first settlers through their difficulties.
Now 171 years later Immanuel, Frankentrost has as her mission to make known the love of Christ by word and deed among our members, in our community, and to the world. Thanks be to God.
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