Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.

Of all the labors of the Domestic Mission Committee during the past year, the work connected with the Northern Ireland field was easily the most time-consuming . . . and in many respects the most satisfying.

On reflection, we can say that our relationship with the Covenant Reformed Fellowship had always been good. Those of our pastors who spent several weeks in their fellowship (mostly through classical appointments) would invariably return with glowing reports. “The group is solidly united and zealous for the Reformed Faith.” “It appears that they are busy bearing witness to the truth in their communities.” “Many of the members of the group have an attractive nature and ability to encourage others from outside to join the worship services.” And besides, there was the gracious hospitality. “We were quite overwhelmed,” wrote one, “by all that they did for us to make our stay enjoyable.”

Before this year, however, our enthusiasm was always tempered by a recognition of the fact that sending different ministers to Northern Ireland for short periods of time was hardly adequate to meet the needs of the CRF. The CRF knew that (though they deeply appreciated the provision made for them); the ministers who visited them knew that; the calling church knew that; the Mission Committee knew that. So keenly, in fact, did the calling church feel that lack, that the Consistory decided at last to “loan” their own pastor to work in Northern Ireland for up to one year. Not a light decision, for the largest congregation in the denomination! But Hudsonville believed that the field of labor required more than it had been given to that point. So fully was Hudsonville persuaded of the .necessity of more intense labor, that they declared in a letter accompanying their “call letter” that, “if we cannot do that, it would be time to withdraw from this work.” Filling the pulpit by way of classical appointments they characterized as a “stopgap measure.”

Hudsonville’s sense of the urgency of calling a missionary was not diminished at all by their decision to send Rev. VanBaren for up to a year. For it was on the day before their pastor left for Northern Ireland that the congregation voted to extend a call to Rev. Ronald Hanko. And, in order to communicate to him something of the excitement of the work, they called to his attention the “unanimous conviction” on the part of those who had before been to Northern Ireland that “much work is possible there, interest is high in the core group, and continuing outside interest is evident. There is also the possibility of continuing contact and interesting work in Great Britain.”

At the time of this writing, Rev. VanBaren has just returned to Hudsonville. Six months he was gone. Less than the twelve months which had been allowed for . . . but nevertheless a long time for a congregation to be without a pastor, especially when his absence is right through the “busy” season. From that point of view one might be inclined to wonder whether the timing here was unfortunate, since a call for full-time labor in the field was accepted before Rev. VanBaren was six weeks in Ballymena. It might appear therefore that, if only Hudsonville had known that their 15th call (the one to Rev. Hanko) would be accepted, they could have been spared the sending of their own pastor, and the Mission Committee could have been spared the expense. The truth is however that it would be difficult to exaggerate the timeliness of Rev. VanBaren’s presence in Northern Ireland during those few months. Rev. VanBaren, whose record of stewardship in the work of the church is unassailable, recognized that at once. In a letter to the Mission Committee and his Consistory dated December 5, he noted that he was “struck by the fact that God has opened the way in many particulars so that a missionary can serve here”; and among the particulars was this: “We also are here, I believe, at an opportune time to help make the necessary arrangements for the reception of the missionary.”

It did not take long for the Mission Committee to learn that Rev. VanBaren was in earnest about his role in the work at that point. For, at its meeting of December 17, the committee had from Rev. VanBaren no fewer than seven letters, written in quick succession during the preceding couple of weeks, and each one reflecting new developments and progress in the work. (Electronic mail, incidentally, made it possible for the Mission Committee to be kept apprised of developments as they occurred. How different from the way we were accustomed to having to treat Rev. Bruinsma’s reports, when he was missionary in Jamaica! Month old news, at that time, was thought quite current.)

Figuring prominently in Rev. VanBaren’s letters was of course the matter of finding a house suitable for a missionary family of ten. Given all the options to be explored, and all of the related legal and financial problems that had to be resolved, this was surely a daunting task. In fact, a quick glance at Rev. VanBaren’s reports in December and January might lead one to believe that this project was consuming all of his time and energy. Hardly, however, was that the case. In addition to the work involved in preaching, teaching catechism classes, and leading Bible Study groups, Rev. VanBaren was actively engaged with the CRF in their outreach. Under his leadership more extensive advertising was being done, both in the newspaper and through direct mailing. The latter involved the preparation of a bi-weekly “bulletin” (addressing various doctrinal issues), to be sent to about 250 addresses – bringing response at an amazing rate of 20%!

The heart of Rev. VanBaren’s preparatory work was therefore first of all spiritual. His assistance in the acquisition of a house and an automobile for the missionary was an added bonus. But a very important one. Practical questions there were-as to what and where and how much. In addition, there were legal and technical problems to be worked through, with the help of Attorney James Lanting, of our South Holland congregation. And then there was the matter of decorating and furnishing the house – in both of which Mrs. VanBaren figured importantly in the decision-making, and the CRF in the funding. Everything, in fact, worked so smoothly that Rev. VanBaren was moved to write, “We can thank God that the way for Rev. R. Hanko has opened up so appropriately. I am simply amazed. Here is a beautiful home, nicely situated, with no one in it for whom we must wait to move – and a reasonable sum is agreed upon for purchase.” (The attractiveness of the price, by the way, was enhanced greatly by a more favorable exchange rate, the effect of which was that the purchase of it in January required 25% fewer U.S. dollars than would have been the case several months earlier.)

When it came time to set a date for the VanBarens’ departure from the field, both the Mission Committee and Hudsonville Consistory were of a mind to urge them to stay in Northern Ireland for several weeks after the arrival of the Hankos, to help them in the transition from the work of a minister- pastor in Texas, to that of a missionary- pastor in Northern Ireland. We are confident that the Hankos have found ample reason by this time for gratitude that, in the providence of God, Hudsonville sent their pastor to the field at just the time that they did. Rev. Hanko testified of that in his first report to Hudsonville Consistory and the Mission Committee: “I cannot describe how much his (Rev. VanBaren’s) preparations and work have meant for me in getting started with the work here. I want to .thank the Consistory especially for sending him and for allowing him and Mrs. VanBaren to stay a few extra weeks to help us. Just in getting settled they have been invaluable.”

Hudsonville’s “loan” of its pastor, incidentally, while perhaps the highest evidence of their commitment to the work in Northern Ireland, is not the only evidence of it. The Mission Committee acknowledges with gratitude the fact that, in one meeting, the congregation approved the Consistory’s recommendation that they buy (that is, with their own funds) a computer for Rev. Hanko, an automobile for the missionary’s family, and up to $5,000 in furnishings for the manse in Northern Ireland. In many respects, Hudsonville has served the denomination well in their role as calling church for this field.

Hudsonville concluded its annual report to the Mission Committee with this observation: “This has been an exciting time. We believe we see the clear evidence of God’s blessings upon the labors. We do not, and must not, expect great numbers. But we believe it will soon be possible, with patient labor, to establish a church in Ballymena. The Fellowship is considering several options concerning a building for a permanent worship site. They express also their appreciation to our churches for the help which has been provided for them in their need.”

There are in our denomination two mission fields. In reviewing the labors of the Domestic Mission Committee for the year, one cannot help but notice how many parallels there are between the two. Often, it seems, the similarities are lost sight of, because of the presence also of stark contrasts. The testimony of our ministers who have spent time in the respective fields is that in both of them there are people of God who earnestly, fervently desire our help. In both instances the people with whom we are laboring would be quick to say that they know of nowhere else to go. They can therefore also be said to need our help – the one just more desperately than the other. In both fields the Mission Committee and the respective calling churches have for two years been employing “stopgap measures” – in the one case, pulpit supply by classical appointment, and, in the other, one-month conferences twice a year. And we might add that in both instances the calling church saw clearly the necessity of doing more. The one, you will recall, wrote that “intensive work must be done there – and if we cannot do that, it would be time to withdraw.” The other, in its annual report to Synod through the Mission Committee writes, “There is no adequate substitute for a missionary on the island.” And it is striking that during this past year both calling churches, recognizing the urgency of a need in the field assigned to them, sent their own minister to meet that need. Last, and decidedly least, both fields used in 1992 approximately the same percentage of the synodical budget.

Then there are some differences – as in knowledge of the Reformed faith, strength (and even makeup) of families, financial ability to support the work, culture, race. Not to be forgotten, certainly, is the difference in duration of effort – two years’ worth of stopgap measures . . . vs. thirty.

First Church (G.R.), calling church for Jamaica, is to be commended for its perseverance. They have over the years pressed to do the best they could with resources that were always recognized as being inadequate for the needs of the field. For the past three years they have conducted periodic one-month educational conferences, which, as they see it, have served well for the instruction of the leaders, for promoting a spirit of unity among the churches, and for inspiring in several young men a desire to study for the ministry.

Especially after the conferences of last summer, however, it became apparent that this endeavor, though successful for the leaders, was leaving unattended some important needs of the members. In fact, a number of problems in the life of the churches came to light in that July/August conference – problems serious enough to warrant a different, and somewhat extended, effort early in 1993 in Jamaica. It was at that point that First Church decided that it was necessary to send to the island two veterans of the Jamaican scene – even if one of them had to be their own pastor. Rev. Joostens therefore, accompanied first by Clare Prince (a member of the Mission Committee), and later by Dan Pastoor (long-time member of First’s Jamaica Committee), spent six weeks in Jamaica in January and February, during which time they worked extensively both with the leaders and with the other members of the churches.

First Church’s report of that effort suggests that, though problems undoubtedly remain, there is also reason for encouragement. Noteworthy among the problems are especially these, that the churches are unequally served by the few pastors available, and that the best-prepared pastors must spend so many hours in the “tent-making” aspect of their ministry (to support their families) that they are unable to serve adequately their own congregations, let alone the denomination. The encouraging part is that the people remain committed to us and are as eager as ever to learn; another church has expressed interest in joining the denomination; and three able young men want to be trained for the ministry.

Needless to say, all of this points to the necessity of our having a missionary on the island. Foremost among the disappointments experienced by the calling church throughout the years has been, surely, their inability to provide consistently for that need. In analyzing the declines they have received in answer to their calls after the return of Rev. Bruinsma, First Church has concluded that it is the “daunting complications” associated with bringing a family to the island that have made it practically impossible for the majority of our ministers to give serious consideration to the call. Shortly after synod last year, therefore, First Church decided to postpone calling until they could present to Synod ’93 a plan which would provide a more flexible work schedule for the missionary, thus conceivably minimizing these “complications.” Their intention is to renew at once the calling process, after Synod 1993, and to continue it for the duration of what will be the fourth year in the four-year timetable approved by Synod 1990.

First Church, in their report to Synod, refers to the field in these terms: “viable,” “vast,” “perplexing.” An accurate assessment, it seems to us. Perhaps, in fact, it is the viability and the vastness which together make for the perplexity.

Over the years we have witnessed the defection of a good number of the churches which were originally the objects of our labor on the island. The same holds for the leaders in them – that is, we have lost a good number of them, too. One can easily become discouraged by that, and even conclude that what was once considered to be an “open door” to our churches may no longer be such. But if we focus rather on those who have remained with us, because they were of us, and if by “open door” and “viability” we mean that we have an opportunity still to work with a people who need and want our leadership and instruction, then it seems to us that there can be no doubt but that the door is open and the field is viable.

But then there’s the matter of that “vastness.” It happens that two members of our committee, Rev. Bruinsma and Mr. Clare Prince, have extensive firsthand knowledge of that aspect of the work in Jamaica. If, indeed, there was one thing of which Rev. Bruinsma was fully persuaded by his five years on the island, it was this, that a lone missionary cannot do justice to the needs of this field. Not just the number of scattered churches, but this kind of mission labor, demands more. It was in order to make provision for this need that, while Rev. Bruinsma was still on the island, Synod approved the calling of a second missionary; and later approved our recommendation that, should a second missionary not be available, an elder or ex-elder be sent as a co-laborer with the missionary. In our opinion, those decisions reflected a growing awareness of and appreciation for the “vastness” of the labors which are an inescapable part of missions in a third-world country.

As we suggested, however, it is that combination of an apparent “viability” and a certain “vastness” which makes for what First Church calls a “perplexing situation.” There’s work aplenty to be done; but can we, at this time, do it?

The twice-a-year, one-month conferences, approved by Synod 1990, have one more year to go. We see 1993-1994 therefore as being decisive for the work in Jamaica. The Mission Committee is becoming increasingly convinced that First Church’s assessment is correct, that “there is no adequate substitute for a missionary on the island.” That we were once given in Jamaica an “open door” seems clear on the face of it. That there remains there a legitimate work in a viable field seems equally clear. If the Lord should give us a missionary in the next year, then we must conclude that the door remains open for us, and we ought to press on with renewed enthusiasm for the work, and with gratitude to God for seeing fit to use us in the labor in this little comer of Christ’s Kingdom. But if, on the other hand, the means for a meaningful work are withheld, then the Mission Committee and the calling church must decide before Synod 1994 whether the “door” in fact remains open for us.

Sometimes, from a distance, the magnitude and seriousness of such decisions are not fully appreciated. We earnestly covet your prayers, congregational and personal, as we face them.

To Synod 1992 the Mission Committee reported that it was just beginning to investigate potential for a mission field in Boise, Idaho. For a time thereafter it did seem as if the work which South Holland had so well begun could develop into a denominational labor in that place. The Mission Committee believed that it was building with the Sovereign Redeemer Fellowship a relationship which bode well for an outreach in the Boise area. The Fellowship, however, as the members of it came to know us better through the various ministers who preached in their pulpit, concluded finally that, though they agree with the PRC substantially in doctrinal matters, they disagree with us in some matters of life and practice, and that these disagreements are significant enough to constitute barriers to formal affiliation. So, for the present at least, we will turn our attention elsewhere.

Sometimes, perhaps even often times, the work of missions can be discouraging. There is, however, no doubt in our minds but that we have inherited in the Reformed faith a great treasure – a treasure not meant to be hoarded but shared. And we are thankful for the privilege we have in the Mission Committee to be busy in that work. We have, as it seems to us, so much to learn about missiology; for our experience in it is so limited. We make every effort therefore to learn from our “successes” and our “failures,” confident that the Lord will bless faithfulness to the command of Christ to His church, that the glorious gospel of grace be preached to the ends of the earth.