Commissioning Service

Scheduled for June 15, 2024, at 11:00 a.m. CT

Meet the missionaries who were commissioned on June 15:

Rev. Nathan Wagenknecht – Native Christians Network missionary

Missionary Nathan Wagenknecht accepted the call to serve as Outreach Counselor on the Native Christians mission team in 2024. He will coordinate outreach to the Native American tribes in the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, working closely with Native members who want to reach out to other Natives with the pure gospel message. He will also lead the expansion of digital outreach and ministry training efforts for the Native Christians Network.

Prior to joining the Native Christians team, Wagenknecht served as a missionary in Latin America from 2000 to 2015, with Multi-Language Productions from 2015 to 2018, and as an associate pastor for English and Spanish ministries at Faith in Anchorage, AK, from 2018 to 2024.

Wagenknecht met his wife Julie in the Dominican Republic when she was serving as a Kingdom Workers volunteer. They were married in 2009 and have been blessed with two children: Mateo and Natalia. The Wagenknechts look forward to making Farmington, N.M., their home and serving the Lord on the Native Christians team.

Rev. Peter Janke – Missionary to Australia

Rev. Peter Janke has served on the Asia One Team since graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2016. His original work included online course development and teaching online classes in conjunction with Asia Lutheran Seminary to equip and train church leaders and pastors throughout Asia.

Janke, along with Asia One Team Missionary Matt Doebler, will be relocating to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in summer 2024 to reach out to the native Australian population with the gospel in conjunction with two of WELS’ partner churches and expand outreach to a large Chinese population that has immigrated to the area. Additionally, Janke will continue to serve as the Asia One Team liaison with church partners in Indonesia and Japan.

Janke is married to Alanna, and they have two sons, Marvin and Jonas.

Mr. Jake Vilhauer – One Africa Team missionary

Jake Vilhauer, son of Shann and Frieda Vilhauer, was born October 31, 2001, in Thornton, Colo., and baptized at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Westminster, Colo., that same year. He was confirmed in the Christian faith at Shepherd of the Valley in 2016. He graduated from Rocky Mountain Lutheran High School in 2020 and Martin Luther College in 2024, after majoring in secondary social studies with a minor in coaching.

Jake married Madelynne (née Hockenbery) on June 1, 2024. He and Madelynne will be moving to Lusaka, Zambia, later this year where Jake will serve on the One Africa Team teaching and conducting outreach.

Mr. Matthias Borgwardt – Teacher at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School, San Carlos Apache Reservation, Ariz.

Matthias Borgwardt, son of Daniel and Natalie Borgwardt, was born May 1, 2000, and baptized at Immanuel Lutheran Church in La Crescent, Minn., on May 7, 2000. He was confirmed in the Christian faith on April 27, 2014, at St. John Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minn. He graduated from Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School in 2018 and Martin Luther College in 2024 (B.S. Education). In 2022, Matthias accepted an emergency call to teach sixth through eighth grade for the 2022-23 school year at Emanuel First Lutheran School in Lansing, Mich. Matthias will teach sixth grade at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona.

Rev. Ben Bitter – Peace, Trinity, Fla.

Ben Bitter, son of Pastor David and Stacy Bitter, was born on March 7, 1997, in Helena, Mont. From there, his family moved to Fargo, N.D. in 2004 and Milwaukee, Wis., in 2013. Ben attended public schools before graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran High School in 2015. He studied Civil Engineering at North Dakota State University for one year before transferring to Martin Luther College in 2016 to pursue training for pastoral ministry.

After graduating from Martin Luther College in 2019, he spent one year in Linares, Chile, assisting a mission congregation and teaching English classes. While at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, he served as a bilingual assistant at St. Peter in Milwaukee, Wis. He spent his vicar year at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in New York City.

He and his wife Emmalie, née Olsen, were married on June 3, 2022, in Richfield, Wis. Ben and Emmalie will be moving to Trinity, Fla., where Ben will serve as a home missionary at Peace Lutheran Church.

Rev. Clayton Fury – New mission start: Conway, Ark.

Clayton Fury, son of Mark Fury and Jill Honeck, was born on January 4, 1998, and brought into God’s family through Holy Baptism on February 8, 1998. He was confirmed at Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Houston, Tex., in 2012. He graduated from Luther Preparatory School in 2016, Martin Luther College in 2020 (B.A.), and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2024 (M.Div.).

While at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Clayton worked as a chaplain at Kingdom Prep Lutheran High School, at Lighthouse Youth Center, and served as the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary student recruiter. During his vicar year, he served at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

Clayton and his wife Lauren, née Stuebs, were married on May 21, 2022. They were blessed with a daughter, Evangeline, in February 2024. Clayton was assigned to serve as pastor at a new mission start in Conway, Ark. Conway is one of the fastest growing cities in Arkansas with currently around 70,000 inhabitants. This new mission has an active core group of 15 souls. Clayton and Lauren are excited to join this group of believers in reaching the lost souls of Conway with the gospel.

Rev. Tristan Pankow – Living Shepherd, Laramie, Wyo.

Tristan Pankow, son of Pastor Joel and Rebekah Pankow, was born on July 19, 1997, in Holdrege, Neb. Tristan was baptized on August 3, 1997, at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Norton, Kans., marking the beginning of his lifelong journey in faith. He moved with his family from Topeka to Bay City, Mich., in 2012 and graduated from Michigan Lutheran Seminary in 2016. He graduated from Martin Luther College in 2020 (B.A.), and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2024 (M.Div.). During his vicar year, Tristan served at Good News Lutheran Church in Mount Horeb, Wis.

On May 23, Tristan was assigned to serve as a home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyo., a mission congregation serving about 80 souls. An avid outdoorsman, Tristan enjoys fishing, hiking, backpacking, and college sports—interests that make Laramie a fun fit for him. Tristan looks forward to connecting with and growing his congregation, embracing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as he shares the gospel in the Laramie community.

Rev. Eli Steinbrenner – Good Shepherd, Plymouth, Wis.

Eli Steinbrenner, son of Pastor Aaron and Shelly Steinbrenner, was born on February 21, 1998, and baptized into God’s family on March 8, 1998. He attended Peace Lutheran Church and School in Hartford, Wis., where he was confirmed. He graduated from Luther Preparatory School in 2016 and then from Martin Luther College in 2020. He served his vicar year at Beautiful Savior in Green Bay, Wis., before returning to graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2024.

He and his wife Rachel, née Schewe, were married on November 25, 2020. Eli and Rachel will be moving to Plymouth, Wis., where Eli was assigned to serve as a home missionary at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Good Shepherd was approved as a home mission enhancement in spring 2024.

Rev. Jacob Ungemach – New mission start: Cincinnati (Oakley), Ohio

Jacob Ungemach, son of Joel and Carrie Ungemach, was born on December 9, 1996, in Red Wing, Minn. He was confirmed in the Christian faith at First German Lutheran Church and School. He graduated from Manitowoc Lutheran High School in 2015, Martin Luther College in 2019 (B.A.), and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2024 (M.Div.).

During his time at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Jacob had the privilege to serve his vicar year at Living Savior in Asheville and Hendersonville, N.C. As a senior, taught for the TELL Network and interacted with Bible students from across the world.

Jacob and Grace, née Christman, were married on August 4, 2019. Grace works as Manager of Marketing and Operations for WELS Multi-Language Productions. Jacob and Grace will be moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Jacob was assigned to serve as the Mission and Outreach Pastor for Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church. Along with members from Beautiful Savior, he will work to plant a second site in the Oakley and Hyde Park neighborhoods of Cincinnati.