Mr. Charles Terpstra, member of Faith PRC in Jenison, Michigan and full-time librarian/registrar/archivist at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary
Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns, by Mrs. Jean Kortering, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2022, 368 pages, $24.95 paper. [Originally self-published in 2007.]
In 1992, after serving as a pastor for thirty-two years in Protestant Reformed churches throughout America, Rev. Jason Kortering and his wife Jean moved around the world to Singapore and served God throughout Asia for the next ten years. Imagine. You are in your 50s, healthy, living in the comfortable community where you grew up. Then the Lord calls you to serve Him in a faraway land, to leave your family behind, to sacrifice the precious moments you so looked forward to with your grandchildren. That is what the Lord called them to do. But as Jean writes, “I always preferred to think of our years in Singapore as a privilege rather than a sacrifice—a sacrifice would make me feel it’s something I’m doing, whereas a privilege to do this work is really a rich blessing given to us by the Lord. There are comparatively few who have that privilege, and the Lord in his goodness had given that to us” (pp. 3-4).
She originally wrote this collection of stories to her grandchildren to tell about the Lord’s work of calling His children out of darkness into His marvelous light in several Asian countries. Her hope was that the stories would “help to bridge the gap of separation” that was there between them and their grandchildren during those years and also to make them “realize anew the urgency we have to daily pray for missionaries and missions and at the same time to appreciate more fully the great blessings you children have in family, church, and school” (p. 5). Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns is not a full, year by year narrative of the decade when the Korterings lived in Singapore. But it is a collection of stories from 1992-2002 as well as several years after that when they returned during retirement. Here is a summary of the three parts of the book.
Part one has a history of the primary church to which Rev. Kortering ministered when they lived in Asia: the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). In my judgment, this history alone makes the book valuable to any reader from the Protestant Reformed churches and their friends. One will learn about the roots of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC); the role of men by the names of Johnson See and Goh Seng Fong, Lau Chin Kwee, and Jai Mahtani; the original visits from PR ministers and elders in the 1970s; and the first PR missionary to Singapore (in the 1980s), Rev. Arie denHartog. Another chapter tells about the Korterings’ first trip to Singapore, a six-month trip in 1991, and the subsequent call to labor there as minister on loan. The ERCS asked the PRCA for a senior pastor to help them with “their beginning efforts in mission work and theological training.” Grandma Kortering adds, “Mission work has always had a soft spot in Grandpa’s heart, so it wasn’t surprising that Grandpa would be thinking very seriously about that possibility” (pp. 9-10). Indeed, he brought it up one night when they were out to eat at a restaurant in Singapore on that 1991 trip. Grandma Kortering did not sleep at all that night (p. 10)! When they returned to the States, he got the call, and the rest is history…some of it in this book.
Part two of the book contains ten amazing stories of people they personally knew and interviewed from Singapore, Myanmar, and India, most of whom are converts from paganism. She tells of a little girl who got caned by her pagan mother for going to church, but whom the Lord later used to lead her mother to faith in Christ; a woman whose family devoutly consulted with necromancers and fortune tellers, but who found peace for herself in the gospel after struggling through depression and thoughts of suicide; another woman who was raised by a staunchly Buddhist mother in the midst of poverty, gambling, drugs, and prostitution, but whom God graciously led to Christ and the Reformed faith; a man whose family was involved in Chinese witchcraft and black magic, who testified of strange demonic activity in his life that we cannot fathom, but who came to believe in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord…. These stories are sometimes strange, always humbling, and often encouraging as they demonstrate the sovereign grace of God drawing His elect out of darkness and moving them to count the cost of discipleship and to follow Christ.
Then there is a chapter that tells the story of Titus, who first came into contact with the PRCA in 1994. Titus later came to Singapore from Myanmar and studied for a few years with Rev. Kortering around the kitchen table in their apartment using Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics. Jean writes, “Grandpa said [Titus] was the most delightful person he ever taught. He always came well prepared, having read all the assigned reading, and he was always eager to absorb more” (p. 122). Titus returned to Myanmar and has been faithfully laboring there in the ministry of the gospel ever since. This chapter will be fascinating to anyone interested in the background of the Protestant Reformed Churches in Myanmar (PRCM).
After that, there is a chapter that tells the story of Paulraj and Kasthuri. Paul and Kas (as they are nicknamed) came to Singapore from India after getting married in 2001. For one year, they both studied together under Rev. Kortering at the newly formed ARTS (Asian Reformed Theological Seminary). They embraced the Reformed faith. The chapter tells the story of their church background, marriage, family, and labors in Vellore, India. Jeans writes affectionately, “Paul and Kas are such dear people; we just wish all of you could meet them. They are so committed to the Reformed faith and are willing to give everything they have in order to share this precious truth with others” (p. 138). Paulraj too has been laboring faithfully in the gospel ever since the days when the Korterings visited them. This chapter will be a joy to anyone interested in the background of the Reformed church and Grace Foster Home in Vellore, India.
Poverty is a common theme throughout the book. As one who labored in missions in a poorer Asian country myself, I can appreciate those many references and the incredible challenge of missions and money. The reader who is well informed in these challenges may or may not agree with all of what he reads about it in this book. But he will have to admit that the Korterings struggled, having the desire to establish self-supporting churches, but also moved with bowels of compassion toward the poor: “We always had to smile that regardless of how much money we took along to Myanmar, we always came back empty-handed” (p. 127). “Another thing we discussed is what it would take for the church there to be self-supporting…he [Titus] believes the church could be self-supporting in about a year’s time” (p. 220). The reader may judge for himself whether the instances of personal giving on the part of the Korterings as recorded in the book involved situations of real need and did not seek to elevate the economic status of the recipients. That would be the personal opinion of this reviewer.
Part three of the book has Grandma telling her grandchildren the fascinating tales of their numerous mission trips from Singapore to other countries from 1996-2006. There are chapters on five different trips to Myanmar, four to India, one to the Philippines, and one to Malaysia. Rev. Kortering enjoyed these trips “immensely. This was real mission work!” (p. 168). These stories are truly fascinating, even if perhaps heavy at times on details (for example, the repeated references to foreign exchange rates and hard-to-pronounce names and places. In that connection, I found it helpful to keep Google Maps open by my side while reading, so I could follow the course of their journeys from place to place; that was very helpful for understanding the location and extent of their travels). Jean tells about conferences, preaching through a translator, the frustration of not knowing the local language, the experience of moving through the sea of people in India as white Americans, the sick feeling of watching people worship idols, the danger of being conned in a third-world country, a Presbyterian seminary in northern India, a Christian hospital in southern India, contending against heathen religion and false doctrines like Arminianism and Charismaticism, dealing with church controversies and splits, seeing an orphanage, electrical blackouts, headaches, vomiting, and the sad story of the sudden death of a friend who joined them with his wife on one of their trips to Myanmar.
I appreciated Jean’s positive assessment of their admittedly exotic cultural experiences. Although she shows realism in talking about certain sad and painful struggles, at the same time she keeps a positive and godly attitude that is admirable. The Lord suited her well to be a help-meet for her missionary husband. She speaks of friendly people (Philippines), beautiful scenery (India), cute children (everywhere), and “fun” experiences. There were times, of course, when they could not stomach the local food. One time, they secretly fed their dinner of liver and fish eggs to a cat! (p. 158). Another time, “We saw a rat scurry across the floor. Oh well, the food was good, and India is no place to be squeamish” (p. 267)! But she endeavors to be positive: “It was absolutely delicious” (pp. 155-156). “We always took poori for breakfast. For poori you get two pieces of an Indian bread (Indian breads, by the way, are very delicious) and some sauce that has small pieces of potato, onion, and other things in it. You rip off a piece of the bread, scoop up some of the sauce with it, and put it in your mouth. All eating is done with your fingers, and actually, for that kind of food, I do believe fingers work better than forks” (p. 304). Her descriptions of the delicious Indian and Burmese food made my mouth water as I remembered the great Filipino food we enjoyed during our years in the Philippines.
The book is a treasury of cultural observations. The North American reader will be whisked away to places and customs far different from his own and will want to sing, “Christ shall have dominion over land and sea, earth’s remotest regions shall his empire be….” The book makes clear that the Lord qualified the Korterings to adapt to very different cultures, heart-breaking poverty, language barriers, sickness, and more. As the great apostle wrote, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more…. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (I Cor. 9:19-23).
I commend the RFPA for publishing this book of mission memoirs. I recommend it to all. May reading it inform and inspire lay believers and ordained ministers alike regarding the urgency of missions and our calling to go into all the world and “say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth” (Ps. 96:10).