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Mr. Doezema is a member of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.

The work of the Domestic Mission Committee, like that of most other Synodical Committees, is not highly visible. Not that it cannot be, or should not be. It just isn’t. And that’s too bad. Maybe we should have, in The SB, short quarterly reports from the secretaries of the major committees. Then one wouldn’t have to wait for the agenda for Synod in order to learn about what’s happening in the British Isles, or in Tasmania, or in Jamaica, or in Florida. A good test to determine the worth of such regular reporting can perhaps be found in discovering whether our readers know more about Larne than they do about Jamaica; for, if memory serves me correctly, the secretary of the Contact Committee has done more to disseminate information than has that of the Domestic Mission Committee. Whatever the case, we hope that this article will give our readers a little flavor of what has been happening in missions in our churches this past year, and what decisions must be faced, relative to those labors, by Synod 1990.

The year has been comparatively uneventful—compared, that is, to previous years when there were no fewer than four full-time missionaries, stationed in various parts of the country and abroad, all of whose labors were the concern not only of the respective calling churches but also of the Mission Committee, which has an important part to play in supervising the mission activities of our churches in common. One by one, however, in ’88 and ’89, those missionaries took calls to serve as pastors in various of our congregations. Gone too, of course, were the mission stations—two of them having in fact been granted permission to organize.

The Mission Committee has nevertheless, since then, been active. Florida, for example, has demanded our attention. Synod 1989 instructed us to investigate the Bradenton/Venice area, with a view to making a recommendation to this year’s Synod as to whether or not we have there a viable field for mission labor. Since that kind of determination cannot be made from a distance, the Mission Committee arranged for various of our ministers to spend a couple of weeks each in the area. Rev. Houck, while he was still a missionary, worked for three weeks in Florida on two different occasions. Rev. Bekkering, Rev. Bruinsma, Rev. Gritters, Rev. Key, and Rev. Woudenberg were also there for a short time. For their labors on our behalf we sincerely thank them and their respective consistories.

Reports we received from them were, for the most part, optimistic. That began already with Rev. Bekkering, who worked in Florida immediately after Synod 1989 and saw potential for continued and expanded labors in the south. Not long after that, we received a letter over the signature of eleven individuals in the Venice area urging us to send a missionary or minister of our churches to “present the truth of the Scriptures with a view to establishing, if the Lord will, a Protestant Reformed Church in this area.”

The Mission Committee has no well-defined, objective criteria to determine when an area is ripe for the labors of a missionary. It is a matter therefore of gathering as much information as we can, weighing all the evidence, reaching our conclusions, and then preparing advice for Synod. Sometimes, perhaps, the evidence may very soon become overwhelming, even compelling. Mom often than not, conviction comes gradually, as events seem more and more to lead us in a particular direction. In the case of Florida, debate on the floor of the Mission Committee has been sometimes warm. We are well aware, as a committee, that the rather prominent seasonal presence of Protestant Reformed visitors to the land of winter sunshine has in the past been and continues still to be a complicating factor in our churches’ consideration of this area as a potential field for mission labor. Over the course of the year however the Mission Committee became more and more convinced that we are being shown in Florida an open door, and that we cannot let the “PR factor” (which is really a separate issue) determine the legitimacy of a mission labor in that place. We have in Venice, according to the reports of three minister-members of the committee who have themselves already spent a couple of weeks in that area, a definite opportunity to bring the gospel. Interested families love the preaching, plead for a missionary, and are apparently willing not only to support the work financially but also, and more importantly, to involve themselves personally in the labors which are expected of a “core” group once a particular area is declared a “field.” That group currently consists of five families. And the Venice area, which is growing steadily and has a large school system, seems to offer potential for a mission outreach. The Reformed faith is not strong in the area. An opportunity we would have, therefore, to preach the good tidings of the Reformed faith to many who were never privileged to receive instruction in it. It is with all this in mind that the Mission Committee will ask Synod 1990 to declare the area of Venice, Florida a denominational mission field.

Another exciting opportunity for the Protestant Reformed Churches is a possible labor in the British Isles. Synod 1989 instructed the Mission Committee to study the matter of calling a missionary to labor in Larne, with the possibility of pursuing also contacts in the British Isles. We were directed to lean heavily on the advice of the Contact Committee, which was then laboring still with the little Covenant Reformed Fellowship, part of which was a remnant of the Bible Presbyterian Church, with whom we had until recently sister-church relationships. The Fellowship is made up now of five families and two individuals. In addition, them is another family, and three more individuals, who attend regularly and show deep interest in the Protestant Reformed truth. Lectures in nearby Ballymena attract fifteen to twenty additional interested people; and ads in local newspapers, offering pamphlets or tapes, regularly bring requests for 20 to 30 items. Interest in England is scattered and isolated; but it is real, it seems to beckon, and it added an intriguing element to our consideration of the British Isles as a focus of our mission work. What is decisive however, for the present, is the very solid core group of five families (with 15 children) in the Larne/Ballymena area of Northern Ireland, all of whom are firmly committed to the Reformed faith and have requested from us a missionary. On the strength of that, the Mission Committee will recommend that Synod 1990 approve the calling of a missionary to the British Isles, locating him in the Larne/Ballymena area as the initial center of his labors.

Then there is Jamaica. It happens that Jamaica is the one and only field which our churches currently have. And we’ve had it for a good long time, for it has been some 30 years ago that we were introduced to the work on that island in the Caribbean. And where are we now? What have we accomplished? The number of congregations… has dwindled. And the congregations which remain…are smaller. Besides, some of the problems with which we had to cope at the beginning have persisted to the present. One could very easily become discouraged by all of that, and wonder even whether the blessing of God has rested upon our efforts there.

It is with those realities that the Mission Committee and the calling church have had to wrestle. But what axe the realities of the situation? What about those 30 years? We have to remind ourselves that, though Jamaica has appeared regularly on our Mission Committee agendas for over many years, we cannot claim to have labored there for very long at all. For, during most of those 30 years, our work consisted of nothing mom substantial than sending emissaries and carrying on correspondence by letter. In no way can that be said to constitute mission work, which requires the presence of a preacher.

But what then about those last five years, the years during which Rev. Bruinsma labored diligently on the island? Where are all the positive, concrete results of that? Should we not have more to show for those efforts? The truth is that there were positive results—in the organizational structure, in the strength of the leaders, in the spiritual growth of the people. But is thatenough?

I remember one of our ministers once wondering what we would expect of a pastor here in the States, were he to be assigned responsibilities comparable to those given to our missionary in Jamaica. By “comparable responsibilities” I understood him to mean that a minister in, say, Michigan would be given the oversight of work in a couple of congregations in Grand Rapids, of another congregation in Grandville, still another in Jenison, and likewise one in Hudsonville and in Holland and in Kalamazoo, with the help of two young ministers. (And that is to say nothing about the added difficulties and stress of living in a different culture and having to home school one’s own children.) His point was this: would we then wonder at the end of five years why there were not seven flourishing congregations in the west Michigan area? From that perspective, and in light of the actual needs of a foreign field like Jamaica, it would seem that the inescapable conclusion is that our efforts to date have been, at best, feeble, meager.

And what about the weaknesses and failings which persist among the people? Those, we think, are reasons, not to forsake them, but to continue with them in the compassion of Christ. No evidence do we have that the people among whom we labor are hardened in wickedness and rebellion against the Word of God which we have brought them. Rather, we have abundant reason to believe that God’s people are there. And the Lord in His good providence has given us opportunity to share with them the wonderful heritage of the truth which is ours as a gift of grace alone. That, if nothing else, should spur us on togreater efforts. We might not be able, with our resources (both human and material), to carry on a work as extensive as those of larger denominations; but our smallness is no excuse for less than wholehearted commitment to a cause which constitutes Christ’s one great commission to His church.

But how to work effectively in Jamaica, given our resources—that is the question with which the Mission Committee and First Church and our Synods have had to struggle for years. That the work requires the presence of a missionary or minister to labor on the field is a given. It is clear, too, to all parties concerned, that the demands on the missionary which are inherent in the work in the Jamaican hills makes a companion in the labor a virtual necessity. Synod has in fact instructed us to try to meet that need by calling two missionaries. Faced as we are, however, with a minister shortage in our own churches; and recognizing too that the Lord has given to our churches other resources, in their many capable elders, the Mission Committee will propose again that Synod approve our sending an elder as a co-worker to assist the missionary until such a time as we are able to have two missionaries in the field. We will attempt to demonstrate, in our overture, that there is abundant biblical precedent for employing men unordained to the ministry as co-workers in missions, and to point out too that the great value of elders’ assistance is a matter of record in our own work, both in Singapore and in Jamaica. Our Synods prior to 1983, in fact, repeatedly made provision for it in the conduct of our work in Jamaica.

First Church, meanwhile, was busy working out a set of Guidelines for a different kind of labor in Jamaica. They too saw the unlikelihood, in the foreseeable future, of obtaining two missionaries to Jamaica, as well as the difficulty involved in obtaining even one. Feeling keenly their responsibility toward the field which had been entrusted to them for oversight, First Church was anxious to be busy again with the people they had learned to love. We speak of course particularly of those from First who had themselves spent time on the island. That makes a big difference. To those of us who have been there, both from the calling church and the Mission Committee, word (for example) that Elder Tomlinson was examined by the Jamaican Classis and ordained in February of this year to the ministry of the Word—that news, we say, has special meaning. “Tomlinson” is not just a name. We think of an amiable, warm, unassuming, serious-minded, humble black man whose love of the Lord, and appreciation for the Protestant Reformed Churches because of his love of the truth, are unassailable. And when we receive from Rev. Williams this: “Please continue to remember us in your daily prayers that whatsoever hath pleased the Lord to be done for our good may be done by the decisions of your Synod to the glory of God and for our good”—when we read that, we say, our hearts go out to the saints them and we want to get on with the work. It was out of that desire to be busy in the interim (i.e., while there are not yet men to labor in the field fulltime), that First Church prepared the Guidelines which call for a minister and an elder to go to Jamaica twice a year, for two months at a time, to labor particularly in the instruction of leaders and potential leaders. This will, under the blessing of God, assure some continued progress toward our goal of establishing truly indigenous churches in Jamaica, even in the absence of a missionary. The idea is not, of course, that this seminar approach could go on indefinitely. For one thing, we emphasize again that it is intended only as an interim activity; and, for another, First Church envisions an end to this type of labor after four years.

More, much more, could be said, about Jamaica and about all of our other labors. We offer the above, not as a comprehensive report of the extent of our work in 1989-1990, but to give our readers a feel for the nature of the work, and some knowledge of the main aspects of it. A lot of time and energy goes into the work on the Mission Committee. Especially is that so for the already hard-pressed minister members of the committee. But it is a labor which can be and is rewarding. And we have experienced in it the blessing of our God. We covet your prayers that that might continue, for the good of our churches and the advancement of the cause of Christ as we am given to represent it.