Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.
“There is a danger, of course, that we begin to think that our efforts, our program, our machinery, and our funds accomplish the work [of missions]. This is absolutely not the case. The work is the Lord’s, and He alone can and will gather His church. But as surely as we are called to be busy in this work, it is our responsibility to expend our very best efforts in this area of the churches’ calling, in harmony with the means which the Lord has given us. Only then can we expect the Lord’s blessing upon our labors.”
That was a concluding “word of caution” expressed by the authors of a policy for missions which was adopted by the 1965 synod of the PRC. The policy dealt for the most part with the mechanics of missions—how to make effective use of literature and radio, for example. It has been a useful guide in the developing of programs and machinery for labor in the various fields in which our churches have been involved over the years. Rev. Miersma’s extensive use of printed matter and advertising in the San Luis Valley, and the Domestic Mission Committee’s recent introduction of radio broadcasting in the Pittsburgh area are cases in point. This is as it should be. Seriousness of purpose in missions demands that the “machinery” of it not be taken lightly. And regular reports of the missionaries to their respective calling churches and to the DMC illustrate clearly that they do indeed “expend [their] very best efforts in this area of the churches’ calling, in harmony with the means which the Lord has given us.”
Equally clear it is, from those same reports, that our missionaries attribute the fruit of their labors not first of all to their own activity but to the will of the King of the church. And that makes the work of the DMC, though sometimes difficult, never tedious, never simply a once-a-month job to be done, but a great privilege. The work of missions, after all, is the work of the great Sender, who determines the where and the when and the who in the gathering of His church. “The work is the Lord’s, and He alone can and will gather the church.” Our calling is to follow—where He leads.
The British Isles
Hardly does that mean that the church’s doing of missions is an easy thing—just follow. Macedonian calls do not come to armchair Christians. The truth is that the direction of the Lord is revealed only in the way of hard work on the part of the church. Hard work on the part of the DMC and the calling church who must together determine “a field of labor, the time of labor, and the method of labor” (cf. Constitution of the Domestic Mission Committee). Hard work on the part of God’s people generally, who must not only support missions with dollars or pounds, but, more importantly, must pray for missions fervently and specifically. And hard work especially on the part of the missionary who must, according to the 1965 policy for missions, “in a sense create his own field of labor”—as opposed to “sitting back and waiting for assignment to a specific field.”
Further, the fact that both Rev. Hanko and Rev. Miersma have been called to labor in specific places does not mean we have now passed that hurdle, that the matter of places of labor is, for the present at least, settled. For the fact is that in both instances their “assignment” was not simply to labor with a mission group. Rev. Hanko, it is true, was positioned in the Larne/Ballymena area and was expected to work primarily with the Covenant Reformed Fellowship … but also to “pursue other contacts in the British Isles” (cf. Acts 1990, Art. 46). Rev. Miersma was sent to labor initially in the San Luis Valley … but also “to work elsewhere for longer or shorter periods of time” in order to cultivate and develop contacts “in different areas of home missions” (cf. Acts 1994, Art. 15). For our current home missionaries, therefore, the work of “creating their own fields” goes on.
For Rev. Hanko, that means working outside of Ballymena (elsewhere in Northern Ireland), and outside of Northern Ireland (in other parts of the United Kingdom). He had done that, really, from the beginning. For, though the building up of the Covenant Reformed Fellowship was always the main focus of his attention, he did not neglect the pursuit of contacts in the broader U.K. After organization of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, Rev. Hanko has been able to devote a greater amount of time to developing contacts elsewhere. All of which was to the liking of the CPRC; for organization had never been intended by the CRF to be the be-all and end-all of their efforts. They made that clear in their request for organization, as submitted to synod 1996, when they spoke of a desire not simply that they become an indigenous congregation, but that the CPRC be the “beginning of an indigenous denomination.” Not for a minute therefore did they, so to speak, rest on their laurels after achieving the much-sought-after goal of organization. Vigorous activity in the form of literature distribution and lectures continued unabated as church extension work within the community and mission activity beyond. The work of creating fields goes on.
During the year that followed the organization of the CPRC, Rev. Hanko did what he could to nurture contacts, especially in Wales; but it became increasingly clear that responsibilities in Ballymena, including those to this family, made it difficult for Rev. Hanko to do justice to work outside of Northern Ireland. Synod 1997 therefore instructed the Mission Committee “to attempt to send someone to the UK periodically to help in this work.” The DMC arranged to have Candidate Daniel Kleyn take up the work in the CPRC last September, to free Rev. Hanko to spend most of that month in Wales. Then, in December and January, Prof. Hanko spent several busy weeks lecturing and preaching in North and South Wales. Missionary Hanko returned to Wales again in March and planned to go again in early May. We are hoping, too, that, when Prof. Hanko travels to the U.K. this summer for the BRF Family Conference, he will be able to extend his visit by a couple of weeks for additional work in Wales.
Prof. Hanko spoke at the last three of the biennial BRF Family Conferences. So he had already come to know and to appreciate the people who each time made their way, from various parts of the U.K., to the site of that week-long affair. He was therefore quick to agree to give up a well-deserved between-semesters’ break at the seminary to work in Wales at the turn of the year. He readily admits that his “heart has been in the British Isles for some years,” and acknowledges that “it is difficult not to permit one’s great sorrow that these few sheep have no shepherds to bias one’s thinking.” Attempting nonetheless to make an objective judgment, he offered this to the DMC, that “there is no question about it that there is a field of work there.”
The sentiments of Prof. Hanko are echoed by others who at one time or another have had opportunity to associate with these “scattered sheep.” The DMC agrees. It was only the lack of a “concentration of contacts” where a missionary could establish a base that led us to advise synod ’97 that more preparatory work needed to be done before a second full-time missionary to the U.K. be called by the PRC. The work of Missionary Hanko and Prof. Hanko in the past months has been useful to that end. And we hope to be able to arrange for work of longer duration (several months, if possible) later this year, and are advising synod accordingly. We cannot know at this point what more the King of the church has in store for us in the British Isles. For now, we can only thank Him for the blessed fruit He has given on our labors there thus far, and continue to press ahead where He leads.
For Rev. Miersma, the cultivating of contacts in different areas of home missions brought him during the past year to Houston, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Spokane, Washington.
Early in July of 1997 Rev. Miersma and Rev. Mahtani (pastor of Trinity PRC) spoke at the SWAMI (Sindhis with a Mission International) Conference in Houston. (SWAMI is a national organization of newly converted Indian Christians who desire to evangelize others of their ethnic group.) Rev. Miersma was convinced that he and Rev. Mahtani were able to leave “a clear and strong witness” with the young Christians of SWAMI, many of whom were hearing the distinctives of the Reformed faith for the first time. A good part of the 4th of July Rev. Miersma spent talking to Hindus, Muslims, and Sihks in Houston’s Indian community. A valuable experience he considered it all to be, in that it gave him “opportunity to speak to those who have never heard the gospel and to learn how to do this work across cultural boundaries.” He returned to Houston one more time in October, to give a Reformation Day lecture there, and to give further assistance to Trinity’s evangelism work.
The work in Pittsburgh was considerably more extensive. Synod 1997 decided against the calling of a missionary to the Eastern States, believing that the work should be further developed by our present home missionary and the DMC in order to determine whether it warranted “the commitment of a second missionary.” Rev. Miersma therefore went to work with a will. He arranged to make bi-monthly visits to Pittsburgh. And minister-members of the DMC spent at least a weekend in Pittsburgh during the months when Rev. Miersma was not there. The testimony of Rev. Miersma, corroborated by all others who have worked there, is that the little group in Pittsburgh “eagerly receives the Word and instruction both in preaching and catechism at all age levels.”
The key word here, in the opinion of our home missionary, is “instruction.” The group in Pittsburgh is largely of Roman Catholic background with “little practical knowledge of Reformed practice and church life.” It goes without saying, perhaps, that the distinctives of the Reformed faith and the principles of Reformed practice are such that they must be learned, they must be assimilated, if they are to be lived by. And this in turn requires patient and consistent instruction. There is no question that the group has made progress under the kind of instruction they have so far received. And, too, they have grown in number—which is a testimony to the zeal of the members of the group to witness to others. And their witnessing in turn is a measure of the appreciation which they have for Reformed truth. But there can be no question either that, as Rev. Miersma puts it, we are “reaching a limit in what can be done there on a part-time basis.” In view of Rev. Miersma’s responsibilities elsewhere, therefore, we believe that the time has come to call a second home missionary, stationed in Pittsburgh as a base for work in the Eastern States.
Such is the work of creating new fields.
The other area that came into the scope of our home missionary’s activities is Spokane. Several years ago the Sovereign Grace Reformed Church, of which Rev. Robert Hargrove is pastor, applied for membership in the PRC. They withdrew their request when the Mission Committee made it clear that divorced and remarried persons cannot be received as members in our churches. In the years that followed, Rev. Miersma maintained contact with Rev. Hargrove, and in so doing learned that the SGRC had come to see that their looking elsewhere for church affiliation was a mistake. A visit to Spokane by Rev. Miersma in September of last year was followed soon after by a letter from the SGRC to the Mission Committee. “Through the process of examination and observation,” they declared, “God brought us back again to the Protestant Reformed Churches. We, as a congregation, stand in agreement with your strong doctrinal positions and distinctives.” They stated forthrightly that they knew that there were a “few areas of difficulty,” but indicated that they were “open to instruction” and were convinced that the difficulties could be overcome. They then invited the Mission Committee to “come and visit with the church to discuss the course and viability of becoming a PRC mission work and church.”
In early November two members of the Mission Committee made that visit … and found that matters were exactly as the SGRC had stated them. The SGRC is a solidly Reformed church. And the road to becoming such was not an easy one. Over the course of 20 years the church progressed from being Arminian Baptist to being Calvinistic Baptist, then to become covenantal and postmillennial Presbyterian, and now fully and consistently Reformed. And they lost members at every step of the way—to the point where now their total membership is only some 30 souls. They no longer have a church building of their own; and Rev. Hargrove tries hard to do the work of the ministry, while holding down also a full-time job elsewhere. His is a tent-making ministry out of sheer necessity.
Clearly, the SGRC needs to grow through evangelism. More work, therefore, for the home missionary. Loveland, the calling church, decided to send Rev. Miersma to Spokane on a one-week-per-month basis, to preach for the SGRC, and to give instruction in the areas which need strengthening.
Here again, it’s too early to see where this will lead. But we are favorably impressed by what we know of Rev. Hargrove and the Sovereign Grace Reformed Church of Spokane, are glad for the opportunity to work with them, and will be pleased if this contact develops into a work which requires more intensive effort on the part of our missionary.
Thus does the Lord point out the field: through the patient and persistent efforts of the missionary.
San Luis Valley
Meanwhile, Rev. Miersma maintains an active presence in the San Luis Valley. Preaching and teaching constitute a large part of his work there, as it would in any other setting where a pastor is responsible for regular proclamation of the gospel to a gathering of believers. And, in spite of the increasingly apparent spiritual lethargy in the Valley, our missionary and the members of the mission group have continued their efforts to make their presence known in the community. They have tried a public Bible study in the local college. They have arranged for the broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour on a local radio station, using the radio program as a means also to advertise their Bible study and, especially, their worship services. They even developed a series of newspaper ads in both English and Spanish in an attempt to reach the Spanish population in the Valley. The number of visitors to the services, however, has been “minimal,” says Rev. Miersma, and all of the advertising has “thus far failed to produce any noticeable results.”
That’s after more than three years of labor. The members of the group “struggle with what more can be done.” And the calling church begins to wrestle with the question of whether it would be advisable, in light of opportunities elsewhere, to relocate their missionary.
That is, of course, one of the most difficult questions in the church’s doing of missions: where should the missionary be based, how long should he concentrate his efforts in a given place, how should his time and effort be divided between the work at the base and the work which beckons elsewhere? The difficulty is illustrated clearly by our attempt to maintain some kind of a balance in Rev. Miersma’s involvement in the Valley, in Pittsburgh, and then Spokane. Last year the DMC, concerned that Rev. Miersma was being overextended, advised synod 1997 to call a second home missionary, whose labors would be concentrated in the East, while Rev. Miersma would focus on the West. Synod decided that the contacts in Pittsburgh ought to be developed further, to determine with more certainty that the work warrants the commitment of a second missionary; and after laboring there for another year, we have come to believe that the demonstration of commitment on the part of the group, the evidence of potential work in the area, and the level of activity of Rev. Miersma elsewhere dictate at this time the calling of a missionary in the Eastern States, based in Pittsburgh. We plan to advise synod accordingly.
But that still leaves the Valley and Spokane to be dealt with. The original intention regarding the work of the home missionary was that he “begin his labors in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. He will labor there until the will of the Lord is accomplished, although he may also investigate other areas of interest as they arise. When mission work in one area is terminated (because a church is organized or the work is unfruitful) the missionary will move elsewhere, yet under the jurisdiction of Loveland’s consistory” (Acts 1994, p. 81). This is exactly where those difficult questions have to be faced. Loveland has wisely advised that Rev. Miersma “continue his labors from his base in the San Luis Valley through 1998. Before the end of 1998, the Loveland consistory and the Mission Committee would then thoroughly review and evaluate the situation with the missionary to determine if he should remain based in the San Luis Valley or be moved to another mission field.”
The DMC concurs. Circumstances, we are sure, will be monitored closely during the coming months by the parties involved. And, in the doing of that work, we look for continued good cooperation between the Mission Committee, which supervises the domestic mission activity of the churches in common, and the calling church, which actually perform the work of missions, through their missionary. Laboring together, according to a policy and a constitution laid out for us years ago, is a distinct privilege and pleasure—especially so as we together follow the same Leader. As Herman Hoeksema put it in an SB article on missions 65 years ago (the May 15, 1933 issue), Christ “prepares the field, He points out the field to His church, He prepares and calls and separates the men for the field. And the church must follow Him and go where and when He calls.” Please remember the Mission Committee, the calling churches, and the missionaries in your prayers, that they might labor untiringly, in the confidence that in so doing, it will also become clear where and how the King of the church will be pleased to use their efforts, however small they be, to accomplish His good purpose.