William Oomkes is a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, MI and a member of the denominational Domestic Mission Committee.
On August 15, 1992 the conferees set their sights toward the “Stricklands” Conference Center located on the Belfast Lough, in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland. They came from such places as the heart of London, the southern coast of England, the far north of Scotland, the northern part of Northern Ireland, and the United States, to the Belfast area. One thing most of us had in common – we had never met each other before. Another was the desire to know more about the covenant of grace.
After dinner on Saturday night we had a period of introduction and fellowship. Evening devotions were led by Pastor Jim North, the newly elected chairman of the British Reformed Fellowship, sponsor of the conference. Pastor North set the tone of the conference as he opened God’s Word to us fromMalachi 3:16: “They that feared the Lord spake often one to another….” He expounded to us the Word of God, giving us both the beauty and the benefit as we meet around God’s Word. The beauty is that they who fear the Lord are of a kindred mind; and the benefit is that the Lord hearkens and hears that speaking one to another, and He remembers it in His book of remembrance.
On Sunday morning we had prayer time for about one hour followed by a worship service. In the afternoon we traveled to the Ballymena city hall for a special 3:00 p. m. worship service with between 150-200 in attendance. (The Covenant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland did extensive advertising of this service.) Sunday evening we gathered for a question time in which questions dealing with doctrine and the practical aspects of living in Northern Ireland were answered. This gave many people the opportunity to learn of the doctrinal positions of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The conference itself consisted of eight speeches in this order: Monday morning, “The Source of the Covenant in God Triune,” by D. Engelsma; in the evening, “The Covenant with Adam: A Covenant of Works?” by H. Hanko. Tuesday evening, “The Cosmic Character of the Covenant,” by D. Engelsma. Wednesday morning, “The Covenant with Abraham,” by H. Hanko, and in the evening, “The Covenant Calling of the Antithetical Life,” by D. Engelsma. Thursday, “The Covenant as a Pattern for Marriage,” by D. Engelsma. Friday morning, “The Training and Rearing of Covenant Children,” by H. Hanko. Tapes of these speeches are available in the US and Canada by writing to Bill Oomkes, 6299 Wing S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49512 ($30.00 US for all eight tapes). In Europe, write to D. Callendar, 127 Cregagh Road, Belfast BT6 OLA (about 12 pounds British).
At all of these speeches there were visitors, the number of which varied depending whether it was a daytime or nighttime speech. Some of these visitors were people who traveled one hour each way. This gives evidence of the Macedonian call and the need for preaching the Reformed truth in Northern Ireland. Both Prof. Engelsma and Prof. Hanko gave four lectures and preached two sermons in an eight-day period. Both of these men were seen going off to the “Quiet Room” or just taking a walk in the company of one or two of the people who had questions or desired counseling.
Lest you think that all we did was listen to speeches, we must add that the Fellowship was determined that we see the Emerald Isle. Monday afternoon was spent at Carrickfergus Castle, where Ring William of Orange, the Dutch conqueror, set foot on Northern Ireland to rescue the island from Catholicism (there were those from America who were quick to point out that if it were not for a Dutchman, Northern Ireland would still be under the Catholic rule). Tuesday, an all-day bus tour took us to the beautiful north coast and Giant’s Causeway. Wednesday afternoon was spent at the Folk Museum in Bangor. Thursday was another all-day bus tour to the Mourne Mountains and the beautiful resort city of Newcastle on the Irish Sea. Friday was an interesting experience in the heart of Belfast with its ever-present soldiers and armored cars. This was a shopping experience that was unique, with a helicopter hovering about 5,000 feet above the city, photographing all the activity below, and with armed soldiers, armored trucks, and security checks located everywhere. Yet you walk the streets with a greater sense of security than in any of the major US cities.
The British Reformed Fellowship is to be commended for a very well-balanced conference. Every activity was well thought out. Some of the comments from the attendees ranged from, “I never heard preaching like this in my life,” to, “This was a taste of heaven.” This conference was well received, much Reformed literature was sold and distributed, and many hearts were strengthened, giving evidence to the truth of God’s Word in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10a: “Two are better than one; because they have good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow . . . .”
A note is also in order about the Covenant Reformed Fellowship. They literally went out of their way after the conference, on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning, to get all 16 Americans and 2 Englishmen to and from church, taking us to their homes for Sunday dinner, taking us to the airport, and providing a joyous time of fellowship as we parted ways after church on Sunday evening. For over a year this conference had been the center of their conversation, and now it was “complete.” It showed in their enthusiasm. Many tears were shed as we had to say good-bye to God’s people with whom we had lived the last nine days and whom we truly came to know and love.
The Lord surely has given us much work to do on this island, and He has many sheep that desire to be led in the green pastures of His Word. Our prayer has become much more fervent that the Lord of harvest will send forth His laborers in this field, soon.
P.S. Did I hear Edinburgh, Scotland in 1994?