Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee and of First Church’s Jamaica Mission Committee.
Included, often, on the Sunday bulletins of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship in Ballymena, Northern Ireland is a little section entitled “Encouraging Quotes.” The “Quotes” come from letters of recipients of the literature and/or tapes distributed by the CPRF as part of their faithful witness to the truth. Not long ago one of those bulletins carried the response of a Northern Ireland reader of a publication of the CPRF. It read like this:
This is a note to express my gratitude for your mailing to me regularly copies of the Covenant Reformed News. The truths expressed by yourself and others of the Reformed faith are as showers of blessing in a land where truths based on the Word of God seem to be scarce today. I find your literature inspirational and enlightening. Thank you, may the Lord bless you in all your labors.
Inspiring and enlightening—like showers of blessing. Indeed, literature today figures large in a church’s outreach. In fact, it has done so for hundreds of years. Ever since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, the printed page has been pressed into the service of the church. Rev. Angus Stewart, Hudsonville’s missionary to Northern Ireland, has certainly made effective use of it in the British Isles. He preaches in Ballymena, lectures with some frequency in other locations—and by the printed page he reaches out to every part of his designated “field.”
And beyond. By other means.
Think of this—from another of Rev. Stewart’s correspondents:
I spoke to [a friend] last night and she mentioned that she had listened to the
sermons. She found them to be excellent. I looked at the website and saw that I can download them on my Ipod (MP3), which I have done. I look forward to listening to them. It’s great to have access to your sermons…. David Engelsma’s “common grace” and “world-flight” article in the PRTJ is excellent! …Thanks for the great work you are doing.
That was from France!
Currently we have two-three couples listening to messages every week from the PRC and your website. I’ve transferred them into audio CD for portability. I am planning to do a complete series with them from the Heidelberg Catechism. The Three Forms of Unity you gave me, I could let them use for reference during the message.
That, from Australia!
I have a friend … who wants to send a donation … to the Church in Ballymena …. He has been listening to your series and reading from the website…. The first Reformed church we found was the PRC. The first Reformed sermons we heard were the PRC…. We cannot adjust to just any other church…. Please pray for us. We need much grace and mercy to go through this every day.
Does a “mission field” have no boundaries?
Ah, yes, how the world has changed since the days of Gutenberg! Better—how the world has changed in the last 25 years! Twenty years ago Rev. Bruinsma was missionary in Jamaica. When he was preaching to the little congregation in Waterworks, that was pretty much the extent of his influence for the day. The Internet was still only a dream. No one in all of France had an Ipod. The Bruinsmas’ quite adequate home in Westmoreland didn’t even have a telephone. Today, he’s stationed in Pittsburgh. He arrived there just a couple of months ago. And already he’s thinking of leading the worship services in a little Fellowship in North Carolina—while remaining in Pennsylvania. Conceivably, by installing relatively inexpensive equipment in the two places of worship, and being hooked up on both ends to a high-speed DSL line, Rev. Bruinsma can be preaching to the saints in the Pittsburgh Mission—and be seen at that moment on the screen in the assembly of the Protestant Reformed Fellowship in Fayetteville. Or vice versa. This is exciting.
And what about our western home missionary? Well, Rev. Thomas Miersma’s web page brought him in contact with a Russian/English translator in, would you believe, Kazakhstan. The man wanted information on the covenant, the doctrines of grace, and the millennium. And he got it … from a missionary in Spokane — as he had gotten other material from a missionary in a little fellowship in … Ballymena! This man had also discovered Rev. Stewart’s web page on the Internet. Both missionaries, now, are corresponding with him and consider the contact to be “a sincere and genuine one.”
What are the implications of all this for a home missionary’s “field”? Nothing profound, perhaps. But it is interesting how the concept has evolved in the PRC’s work in missions over the years. Early on, the field was the community in which the missionary la labored. Nothing more. In 1941 the Mission Committee did report that, in consultation with “Fuller Ave. Consistory,” they had decided that “for the time being our missionary is to locate in Sioux County, Iowa, and labor in the Middle West.” This, they said, implied that the missionary’s “method of working will somewhat be changed”—in that “up till now our missionary has usually concentrated his labors in one particular community and took up his residence in that community. This time out West he will try to open more than one field at a time.” Already therefore the concept was getting a little broader. But the idea still was not so much a larger field as it was multiple fields in a larger area.
Synod 1953 approved a recommendation of the Mission Committee that a missionary be called “specifically for the State of California, with Chino as the first objective.” And 20 years later, in 1973, synod approved the Mission Committee’s “offering a missionary a field of labor with a two hundred mile radius.” No small field was that, stretching as it did from Philadelphia to Prospect Park in the densely populated Northeastern States.
As a rule, however, the North American “fields” were communities: from Byron Center in 1948, to Ripon in 1983, Birmingham and Charlotte in 1979, Northwest Chicago and Blue Bell in 1984, and Venice in 1990.
In 1994 there was a deliberate attempt to broaden the scope of a missionary’s place of labor. Synod that year approved calling a home missionary. That was a shift from the then-current practice of calling a missionary to aspecific field. A place of labor was indeed designated (the San Luis Valley) but only as the location of his initial residence and work. He would be available to investigate other possible fields throughout the country. That’s how a work in Pitts burgh was started—by a mobile Rev. Thomas Miersma. In 1998 synod approved calling an eastern home missionary, who, again, would be stationed initially in Pittsburgh but would follow up leads with a view to starting, D.V., other fields elsewhere in the east, while the western home missionary did the same in the west. Hence, Fayetteville and Spokane, respectively.
Even with that shift in the designation of the area to which a missionary is called (from a Venice, FL in 1990 to the whole of the eastern part of the country in 1998), the emphasis remains, as it should, on the “field” or “fields” within that larger area. That’s because the goal of missions is not simply to get the word out, by preaching here, there, and everywhere, but to concentrate efforts in a given area with a view to establishing a church there. In keeping with that, there has been, in all of the fields over which the DMC has supervision, not only regular preaching on the Lord’s day, but on-going catechism instruction; leadership training classes to prepare men for serving in the offices; the broadcasting of the Reformed Witness Hour and the holding of public lectures in the area; distribution of literature; all kinds of advertising….
One of the positive fruits of that, incidentally, will be seen at this year’s synod when consideration is given to the request of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland to organize. That will be most gratifying, as will be also the TSC’s request that Mr. Martyn McGeown be admitted to the seminary as a diploma pre-licentiate student beginning in Fall Semester 2006. He’s one of the “sons” of the church in Ballymena. And he will be trained for what the CPRF sees already to be a need for manpower for the maintaining and expanding of the work in the British Isles.
Neither Pittsburgh nor Spokane is thinking of organization in the near future. Not that there is a lack of commitment. From that point of view, it’s a delight for the DMC and the calling churches to visit them, to witness their zeal for the truth and to hear of their desire to share it with others. It’s “numbers” that is lacking. And that can sometimes be discouraging—especially when one ponders what has come of almost all of the “fields” mentioned earlier in this article. Which reminds me of something I read recently in Pink’s The Sovereignty of God. Pink was reflecting on exactly that kind of discouragement—and insisting that it ought not to be.
He preaches the gospel as faithfully and zealously as he knows how [says Pink of a hypothetical evangelist], but he finds the vast majority of his hearers are utterly indifferent and have no heart at all for Christ…. He becomes thoroughly disheartened, and asks himself, What is the use of it all? Shall he quit, or had he better change his mission and message? If men will not respond to the gospel, had he not better engage in that which is more popular and acceptable to the world? Why not occupy himself with humanitarian efforts, with social uplift work, with the purity campaign? Alas! That so many men who once preached the gospel are now engaged in these activities instead. What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? First, he needs to learn from Scripture that God is not now seeking to convert the world, but in this age He is “taking out of the Gentiles” a people for His name.
What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? This—a proper apprehension of God’s plan for this Dispensation. Again: what is God’s remedy for dejection at apparent failure in our labors? This—the assurance that God’s purpose cannot fail, that God’s plan cannot miscarry, that God’s will must be done…. That we are not responsible for results: that is God’s side, and God’s business. Paul may “plant,” and Apollos may “water,” but it is God who “gave the increase.”
Our business is to obey Christ and preach the gospel to every creature, to emphasize the “Whosoever believeth,” and then to leave the sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word in quickening power to whom He wills, resting on the sure promise of Jehovah—”For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please (it may not that which we please), and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
…. (All italics Pink’s.)
I have been privileged to serve on the Domestic Mission Committee for quite a few years—long enough to have seen many of the fields mentioned above come to what would appear on the surface of things to be … nothing. I read Pink—and was encouraged. I needed to be reminded of God’s plan for this dispensation and to be assured that His purpose cannot fail or His plan miscarry. He gives the occasions, the opportunities, to plant, and to water. And He gives the resources and the means to do so. And then, most wonderful to contemplate, He is pleased to use our feeble efforts to bring His own to a knowledge of the truth.
The opportunities abound. And the means that the Lord has provided are, to this writer at least, thrilling. I’m thinking, again, of the Internet. Imagine this, that came out of correspondence generated by Dr. LeMaster’s Fayetteville Protestant Reformed Fellowship’s website:
I discovered some conservative Presbyterian and Reformed denominations on the Internet and began reading their explanations of covenant theology…. I had discovered quite a few, including the Protestant Reformed Churches, Christian Reformed Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and a few others. It was my father, though, who really brought my attention to the PRC. After that, every chance I got, I would study their website. I was convinced that the Three Forms of Unity were the truest expressions of Scripture and that the PRC followed those standards without any compromise.
That was from a young man in Alabama—16 years old! Incredible. And that’s only one example of many. People from all over the world are “discovering” the Protestant Reformed Churches via the Internet. A lot of it comes out of the home study of a retired PR minister in Hudsonville. Rev. VanBaren has spent literally hundreds of hours developing the www.prca.orgweb page. That site has worldwide implications. Who is there, in today’s world, who does not have easy access to the Internet? No doubt there are still folks in Waterworks and elsewhere in the hills of Jamaica who are still without telephones. And there are surely many in the ‘older’ generation who, like me, remain happily computer illiterate. But for the rest, anyone who wants to know anything about the history, the work, or the faith and practice of the PRC can find it all right there—at www.prca.org. And, increasingly so, on the websites that are being developed on our mission fields. In a recent newsletter to the churches, Rev. Miersma wrote that he now has Behold He Cometh andWonder of Grace available on-line atwww.reformedspokane.org, as well as all the liturgical forms and some material from the SB. And, he said, “in connection with our specific concerns, we also put up material directly addressing the corruption of worship taking place in the Spokane community.” The website, then, serves a purpose both near and far. “We have found,” Rev. Miersma continued, “that many of our visitors have often spent some time, even a couple of months, on the various PRCA websites before they come to visit.” That’s local extension work. And, as we have seen, there’s also Spokane … to Kazakhstan.
True enough, the Internet has been exploited by the devil to drag men down to hell — perhaps more than any other invention of man ever has. But in their development of this marvelous technology, men are doing no more than beginning to make use of the powers inherent in God’s creation. Powers that He has put there … to serve the church. And one cannot help but think that the Internet is indeed for just such a time as this. A day of abounding apostasy. A day in which the work of missions can do no more than gather from here and there a small remnant according to the election of grace. In such a day, to have such a tool placed in our hands by the King of the church—that, to this writer, is exciting!
Does that mean that our missionaries ought to change their focus from preaching, to becoming efficient webmasters? No. For one thing, there can be “links,” of one website to another, so that the countless hours spent in that little study in Hudsonville can pay huge dividends also on the mission fields. And, for another, www.cprf.co.ukdoes not have to be all the work of Rev. Stewart. And it isn’t. On that website are: 400 audio pieces, 120 Covenant Reformed News articles, 40 quotes, 110 articles, 118 pamphlets — with regular addition of more audio sermons, more articles, more pamphlets, and continual reorganization of material. And who did all of that? Surely Rev. Stewart had a hand in it. But, as he writes in his annual report, “many CPRF members and attendees helped us type up many pamphlets not previously available on-line.” And Martyn McGeown is the Webmaster. Rev. Stewart doesn’t let a website distract him from sermon-making. And the beauty of it all is that, without any extra effort on his part, the sermon that he prepares will be heard not only in Ballymena, in a downstairs room rented by the little Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship in Northern Ireland, but also in Texas, and Australia, and who knows where all else. This, let me repeat, is exciting.
There is a sense, of course, in which our missionaries’ “fields” are still just Ballymena, Pittsburgh, and Spokane respectively. That’s as it should be. The goal towards which the DMC, the calling churches, and the missionaries direct their energies is the establishing of a church in each of the locations. But for 2,000 years the field of missions has been “the world” (cf. Matt. 13:38). And never before in the history of the church of the new dispensation has that “world” been so accessible. According to Rev. VanBaren, 10,000 hits per month onwww.prca.org! And the Reformed Witness Hour Committee testifies to the same in their annual report to synod. They too have an Internet site. And they report that complete program downloads are approaching 10,000 per month.
For me, all of this helps put two families in Fayetteville, four families in Pittsburgh, five families in Spokane, and nine families in Ballymena in perspective. What is this but a working out of “God’s plan for the dispensation”? And that plan doesn’t miscarry.