Our Work in the San Luis Valley

Rev. Miersma is home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

The San Luis Valley is one of the largest alpine valleys in the world. Located at seven thousand feet in southwestern Colorado, it is surrounded by mountains. While its climate is that of the southeastern desert in the U.S.A., it has deep sources of water underground, waters which once formed a lake after the Flood and which have since sunk below the surface. Through the valley flows the beginnings of the Rio Grande River as it makes its way southward to the Mexican border. It is a thinly populated area whose primary occupation is agriculture by means of irrigation from deep artesian wells and the river. The main cities in the valley are Alamosa and Monte Vista, cities of about seven and five thousand people, respectively. It is here that the Lord has given us an open door to preach the gospel.

Several years ago a number of families in the valley who had come to the truth of God’s Word and the Reformed faith by their reading and study came into contact with our Loveland congregation. They were dissatisfied with the preaching available to them in the area and sought Loveland’s help in laboring toward the formation of a Protestant Reformed Church. Through the labors of Rev. R. Cammenga, the Loveland congregation, the Mission Committee, and our ministers, particularly of Classis West, they received pulpit supply and assistance. While some of the families initially involved have fallen away, the core group has endured and grown spiritually through that pulpit supply. For some time they have had regular worship services, using reading sermons when a minister was unavailable. The Lord has also now answered their desire for a missionary of our churches to labor among them.

In December my family and I arrived on the field after a warm welcome and installation as home missionary in Loveland. We began our work on Christmas day with the commemoration of our Lord’s birth with much thanksgiving, and that work continues as we seek to bring the Word of God in the valley. Mission work involves many changes from the regular work of the minis try, so that one must grow and develop in doing the work which the Lord has given to us. While there are many nominally Christian churches in the area, they are largely of the Arminian Baptist type or of an apostate liberal type. Spiritual and doctrinal ignorance prevails in the valley. This problem is compounded by scriptural ignorance and a diversity of corrupted Bible versions which promote error and obscure the truth of the gospel. The work in the valley therefore presents many challenges as we seek to bring a clear, distinctive, Reformed witness in the valley.

Catechism classes and Bible study are an important part of the preaching and labor we have undertaken. Most of the children in the core group are young, as are my own children, and in the beginning stages of catechism instruction. They form a solid future for the families here as they grow up in the truth of the gospel. The Bible study which currently meets every other week, in part due to the need for babysitters, is also composed of couples with younger children. The services have been well attended, with a steady stream of visitors not only from our churches but also from the community. We have at present five families, including my own, with several older widows, which form the core group. Three other couples are also attending the Bible study.

Laboring without church buildings and places for meeting is always difficult, but the Lord has provided also in this respect with what is needful for the work. The San Luis Valley’ Mission of the PRC meets for worship in a chapel located at the Colorado State Veterans Center just outside of Monte Vista at Homelake. The chapel which is only occasionally used by other church groups is ideal for the purposes of our public worship. As many of the families stay for lunch between services, there is also an old dining hall we may use as well.

Setting up a mission field and beginning the labor takes time. Books and pamphlets need to be sought and acquired, advertising needs to be planned, workable means for catechism and Bible study explored. The beginning in the San Luis Valley is small; the rural environment and scattered population will make reaching new contacts difficult. But it is from such small beginnings that many of our churches have formed. In today’s post-Christian society in North America it is with such groups that are relatively small in number that we will find ourselves more and more being called to work. As God continues to gather and preserve a remnant that love the gospel, that labor will flourish. But as the love of many waxes cold in the times in which we live we must look not simply to numbers of individuals in our mission work but to that work in generations, as God preserves a remnant for His Name and gathers them.

In a post-Christian society, with many nominal Christians such as we find in the San Luis Valley, the distinctiveness of the gospel has been lost. An Arminian, man-centered humanism has taken the place of the true gospel of Christ. There are many who walk in ignorance of the fact that what they know as the “Christian” faith is in fact not Christian at all. This presents a different set of challenges to the work of missions than laboring among those who are familiar with the Reformed or Presbyterian heritage and doctrine. It presents a very different set of challenges from those confronting the saints in Singapore where many have never heard the gospel. Not only must the truth of the gospel be preached, but a false gospel which is not the gospel must be unlearned, corrected, and rejected.

Because of the multiplying of corrupt translations of the Bible, paraphrases are common on the mission field in North America. These paraphrases rewrite God’s Word according to man’s wisdom and interpretation. This too presents a challenge to our mission work, both in the San Luis Valley and in North America. Tracts and pamphlets can no longer simply cite texts and give verse references. The Bible the reader possesses may itself be so corrupted that such citations lead astray from the truth or obscure the truth. We seek to show, ground, and prove the truth of our doctrine which we preach out of a high regard for God’s Word. But that regard has been lost among those round about us. As we labor in the San Luis Valley we will have to develop new materials for the work we face today in bringing the gospel. For the same reason many of our older pamphlets, excellent in themselves, as those written by Rev. H. Hoeksema, may also have to be revised and expanded by our evangelism committees if they are to continue to be useful for our work. Texts which are cited must now be quoted in full or footnoted in full to show that what we teach is God’s Word and not the wisdom of men. A knowledge of God’s Word among those who name themselves “Christian” cannot be taken for granted as it once was. And woe be unto us if these things must be said of our own members. The spiritual, doctrinal, and scriptural ignorance confronting us in our mission work is a warning, lest we also lose the heritage which God has given us.