Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.
San Luis Valley
It was surely an answer to prayer that the next call, to Rev. Tom Miersma, was accepted. Within a couple of months our home missionary and his family were occupying a rented house in the SanLuis Valley. And in the few, short months that have passed since then, the Mission Committee has had good reason to express its appreciation for the zeal with which Rev. Miersma has evidently thrown himself into the work.
With input from members of the group, Rev. Miersma has begun to prepare written material for use in outreach among those who have little in the way of theological foundations. And he is paying attention to format. It happens that Rev. Miersma’s undergraduate work included a major, not only in philosophy, but also in art; and, prior to his years in the seminary, he worked for several different publishers. That kind of background, and the affordability today of home computers and desktop publishing programs, make a happy combination for developing means of outreach which are enhanced by eye-appeal.
Desktop publishing is only one aspect of what Rev. Miersma refers to as “a whole new realm of technology (which) has developed, with new means for distributing God’s Word and the Reformed faith.” It would be possible, he continues, to “set up a data base of pamphlets and other material in a dedicated computer/ file server/bulletin board type format on Internet which would be accessible to anyone interested in the material on a worldwide basis.” At our missionary’s suggestion, the Mission Committee is even now investigating the possible use of Internet as a means of distribution. (Yes, there are indeed several men on the Mission Committee who do know something about Internetting, Onlining, Downloading, and CDROMming.)
And the tent camper has not been forgotten. That’s because it is Rev. Miersma’s business to look beyond the valley. Though his work is to begin in the SanLuis Valley, and the mission group there must be the main focus of his work initially, he must also be “available to work elsewhere for longer or shorter periods of time,” with a view to helping the calling church and the Mission Committee “cultivate and develop many contacts in different areas of home missions” (Acts 1994, Art. 15, p. 16). Hence the potential role of the home-away- from-home in the work of our missionary. The tent trailer, says Rev. Miersma, “makes it possible to take my family with me, and out of which I can readily function both on preaching assignments and field work.” He figures that “the cost of driving plus camping fees is considerably less than airfare and motel expenses; we are able also to cook most of our own food.”
But what about school for his boys? Wouldn’t our missionary have to restrict his investigative work to the summer months, or else plan to leave his family behind? On the contrary. “Because we homeschool,” writes Rev. Miersma, “my ability to travel and labor with my family is not affected by the formal school year. We have found that our children are able to do some of their school work also in the car and trailer. This gives us a great deal of flexibility for the work we are doing, and this flexibility should not be overlooked when it comes to working new fields. As we took our trailer to Classis West and camped in the snow for two days, I can testify that it is workable even under these conditions…. The trailer was designed for Canadian weather and includes a propane heater.”
Our home missionary has shown himself to be one who is ready to take the lead with respect to pursuing contacts. He says concerning various contacts of his own in the northwest that it might “be possible to organize a kind of itinerant preaching loop over a period of weeks . . . to develop also potential new fields of labor.” And he adds that “such a trip could be planned and done in other areas, and in the southern USA also in the winter. Whether there is warrant for such a trip at present is not my immediate concern but to present the concept of what could be done if it is desirable.”
It’s apparent therefore that Rev. Miersma is mindful of the broader calling of our home mission work. But not to the detriment of the work in southern Colorado. That’s clear not only from reports of his energetic labor in the valley, but also from his suggesting that, “by coordinating field labor with vacation time it would be possible to reduce also the amount of time I am absent from the SanLuis Valley.” (Working vacations. How’s that, for putting the work of the church first?)
Our missionary is energetic, innovative, and self-sacrificing. And the calling church, under the capable leadership of Rev. VanBaren, has taken good hold of every aspect of the labor. Loveland has established the kind of working relationship with the missionary and the Mission Committee which bodes well for the future. All in all, we are becoming more and more persuaded that Synod acted wisely in approving the calling of a missionary not limited to one small area. Through this means the Mission Committee will be better able to carry out its mandate to “find fields and recommend them to our churches” (Mission Committee Constitution, IV, B).
“The past year has again gone very well. The interest in our work continues to grow both here in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. Now that the initial excitement has worn off it is a little easier to assess the work that is being done and the Fellowship itself. We are thankful to say that in both cases the blessing of God is abundantly evident.”
So writes Rev. Hanko at the beginning of his second annual report to the calling church and the Mission Committee. Perusing the monthly reports of the past year we find ample evidence that what Rev. Hanko testifies concerning the blessing of God is true. And we find in those sources no indication that the wearing off of the initial excitement has done anything to dampen the zeal with which our missionary in Northern Ireland has carried out his work. A spot check reveals: monthly Bible studies on the book of Revelation, for which he prepares carefully worked-out study outlines. No fewer than 18 widely advertised public speeches and lectures in Northern Ireland. Three half-day conferences in England and Wales. A bi-weekly one-page study-sheet sent to nearly 500 addresses throughout the U.K. Written responses to over 300 letters. A speech for the Philosophy and Religion departmental group of the Christian Union at Queen’s University. A public debate on common grace with a minister of a Reformed Presbyterian Church in Belfast.
And the members of the Covenant Reformed Fellowship would no doubt affirm that that’s only a beginning. In fact, the emissaries who went to Northern Ireland on behalf of Hudsonville Church and the Mission Committee report that “more than a few times positive remarks were made about the hard work and long hours put in by our missionary.” Nor did the members of the CRF forget to mention their appreciation for the missionary’s godly wife, “for her example of charity and selfless hospitality.”
And the appreciation is no doubt mutual. For Rev. Hanko has as much reason to be glad for the work of the members of the CRF as they do for his. They continue to share the load as they are able, taking care of such things as taping the sermons, tending the bookstore, keeping financial records, and distributing tapes and literature. The testimony of Rev. Hanko is that “this saves me a tremendous amount of time and work.”
Another time-saver, by the way, is a piece of equipment recently acquired by the CRF—a digital duplicator. Prior to the purchase of this machine, Rev. Hanko was using a tired photo-copier for producing the bi-weekly newsletters. That was expensive . . . and tediously slow. When downtime for repairs added to the frustration, Hudsonville decided that something had to be done. It happens that digital duplicators are made for the kind of work the CRF is doing. High volume work. Fast. Cheap. Rev. Hanko was ecstatic. Saves him, he says, about six hours of time for every issue.
On Hudsonville’s recommendation, the Mission Committee paid $1,500 toward the purchase of that machine. But that was only a third of the cost. The remainder was picked up by Hudsonville, through special collections. That’s the kind of oversight of the field which Hudsonville has given to the field from the beginning. Not only are they alert to needs, they also contribute generously to the cost of filling them. Within just the past half year they have purchased a heavy-duty washer and dryer for the Hankos, paid for the sending of Rev. Gritters to visit the field in January, sent gifts for the Hankos with the delegation to Northern Ireland, decided to take monthly collections for the support of the work in Northern Ireland, and agreed to pay the airfare for seminarian Kuiper when he goes to Northern Ireland to preach for the CRF during the weeks of Rev. Hanko’s furlough. Hudsonville earns the gratitude of the denomination for their supervision of this field.
The decision to send a delegation to the field was a joint one, on the part of the calling church and the Mission Committee. Our intention is that, each year, a member of Hudsonville’s Council and a member of the Mission Committee visit the field in order to 1) inquire into the physical and spiritual well-being of the missionary and his family; 2) discuss with the missionary his work, the spiritual condition of the CRF, and his goals for the future; 3) evaluate the preaching; and 4) visit the members of the core group to encourage them in the work. It happened that, this year, the delegate from both bodies was a minister: Rev. Gritters, pastor of Hudsonville, and Rev. Spriensma, member of the Mission Committee. And their visit was very much appreciated by the members of the CRF. Shortly after the return of the delegation, both bodies on this end received a thank you letter from Northern Ireland, with 44 signatures attached. The one to Hudsonville read, in part, “We the members and families of the Covenant Reformed Fellowship wish to thank you for releasing and sending Rev. Gritters to visit us and to help us with the work we are doing. Not only did he and Rev. Spriensma visit all the families of the Fellowship, and meet and speak with the men about the work of the Fellowship, but they were able to give much help and encouragement to all of us in many other ways as well. We especially appreciated the help and advice they gave us with regard to the matter of organization. We are already following up on their advice and will keep you informed as we proceed.”
In connection with this matter of organization, the delegates noted in their report that it was their conviction that “there are men (in the CRF) qualified for serving in office. The members themselves express willingness to submit to whoever might be elected. In addition, the CR.F has drawn up a Constitution (a ‘church order’), copies of which have been made available for our examination. All of this points to a maturity among them, an ability to work together, and a good potential for a church.” Apparently there was a consensus that the process of organization should begin this year, so that the request may be finalized by the time of Synod 1996.
Hardly, however, are the goals of the CRF only or primarily inward looking. Speaking of their goals to the delegates from the States, Rev. Hanko noted that it is their desire to be instrumental in the establishment of other churches in the United Kingdom which call their own pastors, and are able to band together and support each other. To that end, good contacts have been made in the Portadown area in Northern Ireland and in the Wrexham area in the northeast of Wales, not far from the English border and from the large cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Cooperation with the British Reformed Fellowship has proven to be very beneficial in promoting these contacts.
It was the British Reformed Fellowship, you will remember, which sponsored the Family Conference in Galashiels, Scotland, at which Profs. Engelsma and Hanko spoke last summer. The testimony of our missionary was that the conference was a great blessing to all who attended (about 120, all told). He writes, “Many at the Conference were hearing the doctrines of grace presented clearly for the first time, and both they and others, almost without exception, were convinced of these precious truths. Even those who were better acquainted with the teaching of the PRC on common grace and the offer of the gospel went away strengthened in their beliefs. The addresses delivered at the Conference and the two sermons preached at the Lord’s day worship services were outstanding, and the professors should be commended for the way in which they represented the PRC to those present.”
One final benefit of the visit of the delegates to Northern Ireland earlier this year is that they were able, on the basis of personal observation and discussions with the parties involved, to return with several specific recommendations for different emphases in the conduct of the work—recommendations which have, since then, been approved both by the consistory of the calling church and the Mission Committee. Our experience, therefore, is that annual visits of this nature are definitely worth the effort and expense involved.
For the immediate future the Hankos are looking forward with eager anticipation to a five-week furlough (a bi-annual affair) this summer. Rev. Hanko is scheduled to attend a half-day conference in Wrexham, sponsored by the British Reformed Fellowship, on June 24 and 25. And then on June 29 the family will go to Belfast for a flight to New York. While he’s in Grand Rapids Rev. Hanko will of course meet with the Mission Committee and Hudsonville’s Council. But Hudsonville has been busy making plans to make sure that there will be other things to occupy our missionary’s time while he’s in the States. Rev. Hanko’s vacation time was in fact increased from three to five weeks, on the years of his furlough, exactly in order that he might have time, on the home front, to promote the field. Hudsonville will probably therefore have him hustling from Michigan to Illinois to Iowa and who knows where else while he’s here. We’re confident however that this will be something that our missionary to Northern Ireland will enjoy doing. And we surely look forward to seeing him and hearing about his work during the two years since he left us for the United Kingdom.
Way back in 1965 Synod adopted a “New Policy” for missions which included a reference to how radio should fit into the scheme of things. According to that policy, special radio broadcasts should be developed “to serve in the preparation and discovery of a field or potential field of labor.”
Over the years, that was never implemented. Until now. At least, at long last we are beginning to make some progress in implementing it. In the absence of a “radio pastor,” the most daunting aspect of the task is the preparation of the messages themselves. Revs. Bruinsma, Haak, and VanOverloop have committed themselves to producing them. Rev. Bruinsma has begun preparing messages on the doctrine of Scripture and its authority. Rev. VanOverloop will follow with several sermons on the doctrine of the church and what it requires of us practically. Rev. Haak will in turn provide several on the doctrine of the covenant and its implication for marriage and the family. The three ministers plan to stress our Protestant Reformed distinctives as well as the Reformed faith in all of their sermons.
But that’s only the beginning. One of our sub-committees has been working diligently on developing openings and closings, and coordinating the music and the advertisement of literature with the particular messages given. They have, too, explored various means of producing the master tapes. At the time of this writing they are looking seriously into the possibility of buying equipment to do the work ourselves.
We have adopted a name for our broadcast: “The Word of Truth.” It will however be some time before the first message is aired. We have learned, especially over the last couple of years, that this is no small undertaking. We commend First Church’s Radio Committee for what they have managed to do for so many years in the broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour.
As we reflect on another year we recognize that our efforts have been feeble. Feeble, not only as that characterizes all the work of men, but feeble when considered in the light of the magnitude and gravity of the task We echo the lament of Rev. Hanko, in one of his monthly reports, that limitations of time and resources can be so restrictive. The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Nevertheless, we have seen during the past year many evidences of God’s blessing on those little efforts. We thank the Lord for them, and for the opportunity which we have of being involved, as Mission Committee, in the great task of preaching the gospel to the nations. Having confidence that the work is His, we look to the future with optimism.