Rev. Miersma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Chuch of New Zealand.
As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.
Greetings from New Zealand! As we are refreshed by the good news which we receive from you, so we pray that likewise you may be refreshed in hearing form us. There are many thousands of miles separating us, a distance which seems to shrink with each letter that arrives in the mail box. Several years have gone by since you have heard from us in the form of a newsletter in the Standard Bearer. Therefore, in response to a number of requests from many of you for such an article I will use this opportunity in this guest article to tell you a little more about us here in New Zealand.
However, before we start the news going your way we want to thank you for all the news that has come to us from you. A special note of appreciation to those who have sent faithfully each month the bulletins, church and school newsletters, other church periodicals, and even such gems as the Doon Press (by way of Grand Rapids, mind you). Such regular church and school news means much to us and is enjoyed by all the families of the church. A “thank you” also to the third graders in Loveland who each wrote a letter, many of them expressing that they thought that they had “the best teacher in the whole world.” You would be surprised at some of the news we learned from these letters. Then there are the evangelism committees who send to us their latest pamphlets, all of which are quickly read and then advertised and distributed here in our evangelism efforts.
As you read this, perhaps trying to stay cool with an air conditioner during the hot summer months, the saints here in New Zealand are trying to stay warm, for it is in the middle of the winter here in the southern hemisphere. The winters in the Wellington area are cold, wet, and windy. By cold we mean that on some mornings we have frost, with temperatures climbing to about 45-50 degrees F. during the day. That may not seem to you to be cold for winter, but add an all-day drizzle, with a fresh southerly blowing from the south pole, and you have a bone-chiller. Perhaps the saints in Northern Ireland can relate to that kind of weather. Now add the fact that most homes and churches do not have central heating. The church in which we worship is heated by little electric heaters high up on the wall, where most of the heat stays as well. Meanwhile a cold draft on the floor serves to keep your feet ice cold. However, we do have nice days also, which make up for the unpleasant ones.
As to the weekly activities, they are what you would normally find in any of the Protestant Reformed Churches: twice weekly worship services, catechism classes, and Bible studies. The departure from the normal would be in the circumstances under which these activities are conducted. Much of this is due to the fact that we do not have our own church building. Those of you who belong to small and/or beginning churches know firsthand what some of the difficulties and inconveniences are. In our case we rent a church building from an Anglican congregation around whose schedule we must work, which means that we cannot have our services until 11:00 a.m. Sometimes we must look for another place, when the Anglican congregation needs the building on particular occasions for their own purposes. This is only part of it. One also must contend with worshiping in a building which is sometimes quite foreign to what one’s own building would be. The song books and Bibles in the pews will all be different from the familiar Psalter and King James Version. One encounters such things as kneeling benches, the pulpit off to the side instead of in the center, announcements and pamphlets advertising another church’s activities and beliefs. Thus, in order to have what we need for our services, we must put out, all of the Bibles, Psalters, and pamphlets before the service, and put them away again when we are finished. The same applies to the equipment that is used to record the worship services and to the sign outside the church with our name and time of services printed on it.
Being without one’s own building has an effect also on the mid-week activities. All Bible studies and catechism classes, and Session and evangelism meetings must be held in the homes of the members of the congregation. The underlying disadvantage of all this is that it is very hard to establish our own identity in the community. Through the Session, and the evangelism society working under it, we are trying to establish that identity both in the vicinity of the church and elsewhere throughout the two islands. A bookshop and tape library are established and advertised, booklets and pamphlets are distributed countrywide, and lectures are regularly given in various parts of the country. In the last couple of months we have been holding an afternoon worship service every other week about forty-five miles north of Wellington. At this stage it is too early to tell whether that will bear the positive fruit for which we are looking and working.
What has been the fruit of this labor as far as adding numbers to our small flock is concerned? None. We do not want to tell you about the various things that we are doing and leave the impression that wonderful results are being achieved as to numbers added. When all is said and done, no matter what one has desired and how much he has labored, one must always come to the humble conclusion that it is only the Lord who will add to His church, and He will do that in His own time, when it His pleasure to do so at all in a particular place. Meanwhile, we continue with the seven families that the Lord has given us, five of which worship together regularly in Wellington, and two of which continue to worship in their own homes. One of these families lives on the south island and the other a hundred miles north of Wellington.
A few words should also be said to give you a picture of the spiritual climate in which we are laboring in New Zealand. Let me do so by way of contrast and comparison. The Protestant Reformed Churches in America traditionally have been established and continue to exist for the most part in areas that are relatively conservative, and in large part both Dutch and Reformed. You are quite at home and very much like your neighbors and others in the community. They have the same background both culturally and religiously. That is reflected in the whole community in its schools, churches, government, and businesses. Their whole way of life is very similar to your own, When you speak to them they know and understand what you are saying.
Here in New Zealand the situation is quite different. Thirty percent of the population are either natives or immigrants whose worship is both heathenish and idolatrous. The other seventy percent are white European immigrants, of which only a very small part attend church regularly. The small remnant that do attend church regularly, with few exceptions, belong to denominations that have long left the truths of the Protestant Reformation, or never had them, the Roman Catholic Church being one. Now mixed in all of this are little groups of people who belong to no church at all, but meet in homes and halls. What one has as a result is a country which is at heart godless. This is manifested in every aspect of life. Complete indifference to the truth is the rule of the day. And because we are small and not well known, we are looked upon as one of so many little house groups, some of which are cultic. It is in this spiritual wilderness that we labor, a difficult and often discouraging labor, but we are confident that God knows who are His own and that He will gather them by the preaching of His Word, which the world calls foolishness.
Our labors, however, have not been limited to New Zealand. In response to a call for help from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, the Session sent the pastor and his wife to labor in the Burnie and Launceston congregations in Tasmania for a period of three months, December 1992 – February 1993. The church here in New Zealand knows from experience what it is like to be without a minister for years at a time. Having their own minister now, they deemed it a privilege to have the opportunity and the means to help someone in similar need. We pray that the Lord will use this to strengthen and advance the cause of His kingdom also in this part of the world. One cannot express in words the hunger and desire that was manifested for the Word of truth and the joy that was evidenced in its reception. Let us remember the fellow saints of the EPC of Australia when we come to the Lord’s throne in our prayers.
In conclusion, we want to thank all of you as individuals, families, churches, and denomination for your prayers and support. The work could not continue as it presently is without your generosity and love. The Lord willing, my wife and I hope to see many of you soon, since we are scheduled to have a vacation in the U.S.A. during your summer. We covet your prayers and pray that the Lord may bless us together in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.