Prof. R. Decker, the editor of this rubric, asked me to write an article for his rubric. His request was that I give a report of the work we have begun in Birmingham.
Personally, I am glad for this opportunity. It is needful for me to report not only to the South Holland Church and council and to the Mission Committee, but also to all who through their synodical assessments and prayers support the cause and work here. Reports of the actual work being done can arouse and educate the God-commended interest in missions. Besides, the more one knows of the various fields of labor, the better one can “pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (II Thessalonians 3:1).
Having been in Birmingham for a period of time not yet filling three months, we can only give the beginning details and first impressions.
The visible facts of the work are easily told.
Two worship services are conducted on the first day of the week. Thus far we have been holding these services in a meeting room of a centrally located motel. The centrality of this location is determined not by the residences of the people who are presently attending these services, but by the shape of the city of Birmingham. This was done so that the services would not be far from anyone in this area. However, we are currently putting forth efforts to find a meeting place which would be more suitable and more stable than a meeting room of a motel. These efforts, which have been going on almost from the beginning of our stay in Birmingham, have not met with positive success yet. This is a matter of much concern and prayer for us because another and more suitable meeting place would put us in a better neighborhood and would give evidence of permanency to those who might be interested in attending our services.
Also, we are meeting together in various homes for mid-week Bible study. As was-being done prior to our arrival here, we have been doing this Bible study in the light of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Having been in Birmingham for so short a while we can tell you only of our first impressions. And these first impressions have been more about the nature of the work than about the area in which we are working. I believe that it is important that the readers of The Standard Bearer go through some of these impressions of the nature of the work with me. Some might be obvious to all. Others of the readers might be conscious of all of these items already. Regardless, I believe it very important that we all consider again or for the first time what is involved in missionary work.
I think what has impressed us most is the difference between the work of a missionary and that of a pastor. Within an established congregation, things are just that: established. Almost everything that must be done is laid out before the pastor. There are, besides the two worship services, a certain number of catechism classes which meet on such and such a night and some societies which meet at their traditionally designated time. In contrast, the missionary finds nothing set and established. He must learn the community rapidly in order to find a place for worship. He must set the times for worship and obtain Psalters and a pianist (if the latter is available). He must set up the meetings as far as subject, time, and place. He must seek out the best means of advertising and then do it. Of course, all of this is under the supervision of and with the approval of the calling Church and of the Mission Committee, but the missionary must do it, for if he does not, it will not be done. It is impossible for the two supervising bodies to do such work.
Concurrently, the missionary must find and learn the nature of the community. Every group of believers has its own character as a unique part of the Body of Christ. Not only is each member of Christ’s body unique, but also each group of members is unique. For example, the hand with its members is different from the ear and its members. In part, the unique character of each group or congregation is determined by the community in which the group lives. A farming community is different from a city, and the churches in these varying locations will manifest this difference. Just as a pastor must, so the missionary must learn this unique character so that he can bring the Word of God in the best possible way.
Also, the missionary must get to know the spiritual pulse of the community. A pastor must concentrate on learning the spiritual pulse of the congregation, but a missionary has a whole community as the object of his work. Therefore, he must concentrate on making as tangible as possible such an invisible thing as the spiritual pulse of the community. Again, this is necessary so that the work may be done most effectively.
Then, of course, he must get to know the people who worship with him.
Let me try to be more concrete as to why such a knowledge is necessary. First of all, I think this knowledge of the community in which he works-and of the people with whom he works is necessary for the missionary in order that he might know how to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15). Most important in this ability to give an answer to those who ask for a reason of one’s hope is a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. A knowledge of doctrine is necessary for an overall view of the truth of the Scriptures. But the Biblical basis for all of that doctrine- must be on the tip of the tongue. Strangers do not want to hear the position of a Dutch or English theologian to convince them of the truth. It is only the Scriptures themselves which are able to make one wise unto salvation through faith and are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (II Timothy 3:15, 16). Therefore, especially a missionary must be an avid student of the Bible. If someone should reject the words of a missionary, let it be a rejection of God’s Word and not a rejection of a man.
Secondly, a thorough knowledge of the community is necessary that the missionary, though he be free from all men, yet he makes himself servant unto all, that he might gain the more. Paul summarizes it in I Corinthians 9:22b, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” I pray that I might learn more and more what this means.
Closely related to the above, such a knowledge of the people one might be or is working with is necessary because the missionary must know whether to bring the milk or the meat of the Word (Hebrews 5:12). It is important that one knows what is essential to the truth and what is not, what is a matter of Christian liberty and what is not. The truth of God’s Word is an organic whole, each part connected with every other part. Because of that it is possible for a little leaven of error to leaven the whole lump (I Corinthians 5:16; Galatians 5:9). In this body of truth some parts are more important than other parts. For example, in our human bodies our heart is more important than a finger or a toe. Each member is important, but while my toe can be stepped on without permanent damage, my heart may not be crushed. On the mission field, it is very necessary and important to know what is the heart of the truth and what is the little toe of the truth—what may be stepped on for a while without eliciting an immediate and very vocal response; and what parts of the body of the truth are the “first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12) and must receive immediate defense.
Such a knowledge is necessary for obedience toRomans 14:1: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” Think about this for awhile. How does one become obedient to this command of God?
And on the mission field it is necessary to learn compassion. When Jesus “saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36). This must be not a natural response, similar to that which an unregenerate man experiences when he sees the hunger of the Cambodian refugees or of the Vietnam boat people. Nor must it be a condescending love. Rather this compassion must be of the highest spiritual quality for fellow saints who have needs, which needs you can supply because of the unmerited gifts God has given you.
I have mentioned the knowledge which must be gained for effective mission work. There is a very great need for this knowledge on my part. But the greatest and highest gift necessary is wisdom. One does not learn wisdom, it is a gift of God. It is for wisdom more than for anything else that I pray. Pray for our missionaries that they may be given wisdom.
I apologize for the personal nature of this article. But I found it unrealistic to write of that which I am learning and which has become such an intimate part of my life in an objective manner. Also, please understand that I do not present these things as if they are the final answer. I am just learning. And as anyone who has just discovered something, I am eager to talk about it. I would, therefore, welcome any correspondence on these things for mutual edification.