Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
Years ago, prior to my coming to the Protestant Reformed Churches, I heard the charge—later found to be slanderous—that the Protestant Reformed Churches do not do missions. That was related to the other slanderous allegation of “Hyper-Calvinism” often heard leveled at the PRC. Those allegations were of serious concern to me. I investigated them thoroughly before I became a member of the PRC. I found them false, astoundingly false, gross misrepresentations of faithful churches of Jesus Christ.
Of the thirty ministers that currently serve in the active ministry of the PRC—not counting the seminary professors who are also ministers of the Word and sacraments—twelve of them either have served or are currently serving in mission fields of the PRC. That is an amazing forty percent. I doubt there are many denominations that even come close to that.
Though we do not claim expertise in missions, and certainly have no reason for human pride, our denomination has received manifold blessings from our faithful God in our mission work. We have sister churches in two nations, Singapore and Northern Ireland, that are fruits of our mission work, besides numerous congregations in our denomination that find their roots in our domestic mission work.
These blessings can be directly connected to the faithful and promiscuous preaching of the gospel of sovereign and particular grace which defines our mission work. For that preaching is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16).
In the years since joining the PRC, and particularly in the years of my ministry in these churches, I have had opportunity to serve on both the Domestic Mission Committee and the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC), and serve presently on the FMC and as pastor of the congregation in Hull, Iowa, the council of which has oversight of the mission field in Ghana, West Africa.
All these things have given me to see that as churches we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to God for the privilege and the blessing He has given us in the work of missions.
Having said these things, however, I would also point out that from a couple perspectives we have urgent needs with respect to the work of missions. I speak of more than the obvious necessity of keeping this work in our prayers, important as that is.
Synod 2001 took a bold step in the area of foreign missions.
Seeing that the blessings of God are manifestly evident in the labors in Ghana, and that the labors there have become too much for one missionary, synod approved the recommendations of Hull’s council and the FMC to proceed to the calling of a second missionary for that field.
Not knowing how long it would take before God, in His inscrutable wisdom, would provide a second missionary for the field, Hull began the calling process. With the first call, the Lord laid it upon the heart of Rev. Wayne Bekkering to accept the call and to move with his wife and a daughter to that foreign country, and to take up the labors as missionary. He now serves with Rev. Richard Moore and his wife, Jan.
In addition, the FMC for several years, and at synod’s direction, had done investigatory work in the Philippines, to see whether the Lord had given us an open door there for foreign mission work. After several years of sending delegations and establishing contacts in that country, the FMC came to synod with the recommendation that the time was ripe to call a missionary to work in that foreign field.
Although there was much discussion at synod concerning this recommendation, and legitimate concerns were expressed about the financial obligation involved, as well as the current shortage of ministers in the churches, synod decided to approve the recommendation that the Doon, Iowa PRC serve as the calling church and begin the process of calling a missionary, to see whether God in His good pleasure would have us send a man to labor in that country.
Little did the FMC or Doon’s council expect that before the end of the year 2001, God would give the churches two new foreign missionaries, one for Ghana and one for the Philippines. After having visited the Philippines as member of a delegation from the FMC, Rev. Audred Spriensma of Grandville, Michigan, announced on December 9, 2001 that he had accepted Doon’s call to serve as missionary in Manila, Philippines.
We view God’s provision of missionaries for these fields as His blessing. After all, He has given us the calling to preach the gospel to all creatures. We view this work as our duty, as well as our sacred privilege.
But this work also has costs.
The cost of this work is not only monetary. It is a cost of manpower. That is very evident in this time when the churches have a shortage of ministers.
In recent years the PRC have not had to endure a shortage of ministers. We have gone for several years now with few vacancies in the churches. But that has changed, largely because of the increase of mission work conducted by our churches. And while one can argue that it is healthy for the churches to have a small number of vacancies, to allow movement among the ministers, there is no denying the fact that the churches are now experiencing a large number of vacancies.
One has to go back thirty years and more to see anything like the number of empty pulpits we presently have in the churches, with five congregations in the process of calling ministers. With several ministers, including Rev. Moore, reaching the end of their active labors in the near future, and only two men graduating from seminary this year, the Lord willing, the shortage that we face presently is going to continue, and even increase.
Even though we have a shortage of pastors, we may not neglect the call Christ gave us to preach the gospel to all creatures. But there is certainly a need for urgent prayer throughout the churches, that God raise up men to labor in these fields that are white for harvest—both at home and abroad. Parents, as well as ministers and elders, must also encourage young men in whom are seen essential gifts necessary for the ministry, that they consider seriously whether or not God would have them study and prepare for that high calling.
More directly connected with the work of missions, there is also a need for missionary assistants in Ghana. From the beginning of the work, it was seen as necessary to have helpers on the field for our missionary. To this time the Lord has given us those helpers—first in John and Judy Bouma, and presently in Arnold and Charlotte Bleyenberg. The FMC and Hull’s council are extremely grateful for the willingness of these two couples to take a year out of their lives and to serve on the mission field as volunteers.
But the one-year term of service by the Bleyenbergs comes to an end in early April. The FMC continues to seek a replacement for this couple.
This service is without monetary reward. Only expenses are covered by the gifts of God’s people in the churches. But this work has proven necessary.
It is especially necessary that we have a man who can serve for six months to a year in this capacity. It is beneficial, of course, that a couple serve. That provides not only the labor of a man’s assistance to our missionaries, but the companionship also of a woman for the wives of our missionaries. It is even possible for a family to serve, given the right circumstances. But the work of the missionary assistant is such that it relieves the missionaries of much work that otherwise would detract from their essential labors of preaching and teaching.
We ask that men or couples in the Protestant Reformed Churches who might be able and willing to do this work contact the Secretary of the Foreign Mission Committee, Rev. Richard Smit, P.O. Box 163, Doon, Iowa 51235.
We are thankful to the people of God for their financial support for our missionary assistants. We continue to encourage gifts to be given for that cause. Although initially the plans of the FMC were also to seek missionary assistants for the Philippines, the report of our recent delegation and the advice of those with whom we labor in the Philippines is that such assistants are not needed there. At this time, therefore, the FMC seeks missionary assistants only for Ghana. The situation in the Philippines will be re-evaluated at a later date, after our missionary has moved and settled into the work there, God willing.
But the cost of the work of missions is also monetary. That is true of both our foreign and domestic mission work. Synod 2001 expressed concern about this matter. It is a pressing concern. After approving the labors of the FMC, including the calling of two new missionaries, synod took a decision encouraging liberal gifts to the collections taken for the cause of foreign missions, in order to offset the costs to the synodical budget for our foreign mission work.
This decision was not meant to be buried on page 43 of the Acts of Synod. It was meant to be publicized.
The synodical assessments of the Protestant Reformed Churches, which is the amount of money budgeted to cover the expenses of all the labors of the churches in common, took a significant increase for the year 2002. This includes the cost of our mission work, seminary, care of emeriti ministers, provision for needy churches, student aid, contact with other churches, and the expenses of the broader assemblies. This budget for 2002amounts to $845 for every family in the PRC.
Bear in mind that this synodical assessment is in addition to the budgets of every local congregation, which adds another $1,400-$2,000 or more to the obligation of every family, just in order to fulfill the needs of the general fund, and in some cases building fund, of each church. Added to that, of course, are the worthy causes for which offerings are taken in all the churches, important causes for the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, causes which also require our hearty support.
And this does not take into account the cost of grade school and high school tuition, which for some of our larger families in Hull now amounts to more than $20,000 a year! Nor does this take into account the needs of our Protestant Reformed Christian schools, which in many cases are pressing needs.
While it is true that we live in a prosperous society, we must not forget that most of the members of our churches are common laborers, men of the working class, those who have to struggle at times, especially to provide a covenant education for their children.
Synod, sensitive to the needs of our working families, looked at an outlay of nearly $328,000 for foreign missions in 2002, and another nearly $300,000 for domestic missions, and expressed concern about how much the average family can handle, without other urgent causes being affected for ill from a financial point of view, including the labors of our local congregations and the precious cause of Protestant Reformed Christian education.
For this reason we urge liberal gifts on the part of those to whom God has given much. We urge liberal gifts for the cause of missions, both foreign and domestic. Although the same can be said for any other worthy kingdom cause, let us remember, when the offering plate is passed for the cause of missions, the words of II Corinthians 9:7, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Those who are so inclined can also send gifts designated for either foreign or domestic missions, or any other synodical cause, to the synodical treasurer, Mr. Joel Zandstra, 4949 Ivanrest Ave., Grandville, MI 49418.
The financial needs throughout the Protestant Reformed churches and schools are many. These are worthy causes. God has blessed us richly. God has also called us to many labors.
But this article is for the cause of missions.