Rev. Smit is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Doon, Iowa and secretary of the Foreign Mission Committee.
Do you know what that word means?
The title illustrates what our Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) and our foreign missionary face in the foreign mission work of our churches. We regard it a privilege to work with foreign peoples, but in our contact with them we immediately realize from their correspondence that they speak their own native languages, and also English, but then only as a second or third language. The Ghanaian word “akwaaba” reminds us of the truth that God’s people are to be found in foreign nations which speak different languages, have different customs, have different national histories, and are of varying religious or ecclesiastical backgrounds. The Lord of the harvest, our Lord Jesus Christ, has been pleased graciously to give our Protestant Reformed Churches the opportunity to preach and bring the gospel of the Reformed faith unto foreign peoples.
Concerning that work in the past year, the FMC is happy to provide you a brief update. We trust that, having read this overview, you will also come to the conclusion that the Lord is giving our churches a significant amount of official work in Ghana and developmental work in the Philippines.
The main work that the Lord has given our churches at this time is the Ghanaian mission field. The setup of the field has absorbed most of the energy and time of the FMC and the calling church, Hull Protestant Reformed Church. Setting up a mission work in a distant foreign field, such as Ghana, has its own unique challenges.
This mission field in Ghana is also unique for us in that it involves a different method of beginning a mission work, which the synod of 1996 decided to implement in Ghana. At that synod of 1996, the churches decided to send a missionary to Ghana who was independent of any established, fledgling congregation or Bible study group in Ghana.
Having no group already somewhat established in Ghana presented some practical difficulties for our missionary. For example, without a core group, much of the work of settling into the city had to be done by the missionary himself. It must be noted, however, that our missionary was not entirely on his own. We were very thankful that the Rev. Gabriel Anyigba lent an indispensable hand to our missionary and his wife. As a result, it did not take long for them to settle in the city of Accra and begin the mission work in July 1999.
Another difficulty our missionary faced was the fact that at first he preached to only a very few in the living room of the mission house. We realized that this would be the case until our mission station became more known. Our beginning was minuscule on that first Lord’s day of official preaching in July 1999 (three in attendance including Rev. Moore). Now, only a year later, we have an average, regular attendance of over 70 in the morning service and 40 in the evening service. Those in attendance also include several complete covenant families.
There are definite advantages to beginning our mission work in the way we did. For example, the worship services were from the outset similar to the worship services in our Protestant Reformed Churches in Canada and the United States. Just as in our worship services, so also in the worship services in the mission gathering, all the elements of worship as commanded by God in His Word are present. The gathering is beginning to embrace the scriptural principles of Reformed worship, including the principle of psalm singing in worship. From the beginning, the mission gathering used the Psalter for congregational singing in worship.
Another example of the similarity in our worship is the fact that the Heidelberg Catechism is preached regularly. The preaching of the living truth of the Heidelberg Catechism is received by the mission gathering with a growing understanding. We learn from this that the Reformed faith and doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are not just for the saints in North America of Reformed or Presbyterian background, but also for God’s saints in Ghana. By preaching the sound doctrines of God’s Word systematically, consistently, and regularly by Heidelberg Catechism preaching, our mission gathering will by God’s indispensable blessing be built up in the faith.
In light of these examples, it seems legitimate to make the observation already that the decision by our churches to enter Ghana independently was a good decision for our foreign mission work in Ghana.
We have learned that entering Ghana independently is also feasible from the viewpoint of the government’s immigration rules. After about a year-long application process, Rev. and Mrs. Moore are now permanent residents in the country of Ghana. The mission work has obtained from the government a missionary quota of two. This means that future missionaries on the field, the Lord willing, will be granted their permanent residency status much more easily and quickly. The mission work is also incorporated, which means that our mission work is legally recognized by the government of Ghana. For these positive developments with respect to the Ghanaian government we give the Lord thanks.
One of the important aspects of entering a mission field independently is working hard at making known the distinctiveness of our preaching and teaching. This our missionary has done by extensive advertising and, most effectively, by word of mouth. Interestingly, one of the other successful tools of promoting our mission work in Accra is the Thursday evening radio program on a local radio station (105.7FM). This 30-minute radio program includes time for a short address and then for listeners to call Rev. Moore in the studio on the air with their questions. Topics of past programs include the Lord’s Prayer, the Commandments, and various steps in Christ’s humiliation and exaltation. Programs usually generate questions from listeners. We are thankful that the Lord has used the radio program to bring visitors to the mission gathering’s worship services and weekly Bible study. Such a witness we find helpful and necessary so that those outside the fellowship may learn who we are by what we preach and teach.
We have found that the mission work prospers not only by means of an earnest, vigorous, and persistent witness through the official preaching and other subordinate means, but also by the presence and assistance of our volunteer missionary assistants. Mr. and Mrs. John Bouma arrived on the field in October 1999, and since that time they have been a tremendous help to the missionary and his wife. In their monthly reports to the FMC they have shown that they are very busy in their work. Although they are not missionaries, yet we believe they are used by the Lord through their godly example and conduct to encourage the mission gathering in a Reformed and godly confession and walk of life. The FMC is convinced that such assistants are necessary on the Ghanaian mission field. We believe that assistants will be necessary on any future foreign fields in the developing countries of the world. This would apply to a field in the Philippines, if the Lord would grant us an open door there some day for a full-time missionary.
Concerning a matter of a different nature, the FMC has also been both amazed and delighted with the ease of communicating with our foreign missionary. Technology has certainly speeded up regular communication with Rev. Moore. In comparison, our missionary in Singapore in the ’80s, Rev. denHartog, had to wait weeks for letters from the FMC and the calling church about decisions on his monthly reports. By the speed of e-mail, the Internet, fiber optics, satellites, and modems, Rev. Moore receives his reports much more quickly. A letter to our missionary does not go the three-week journey of airmail, but rather the three-second journey by e-mail. The ease of worldwide communication and travel is certainly a sign that the Lord is coming quickly. The Lord gives us these things for use in foreign fields while there is still time before the Antichrist and false church will put an end to our mission work.
Frequent contact with our missionary has been mutually encouraging for the missionary and the ruling bodies. We have also learned that many in our churches, even children in our covenant schools, have taken a moment to write the missionary a little e-mail note of encouragement from time to time. This interest and concern delights us because such notes are a visible reminder to the missionary that he, his wife, and the assistants are indeed in our thoughts and prayers. One has to live on a foreign mission field on another continent to appreciate the importance of such visible reminders of support by the saints back “home.” This reminds us of what we read in Proverbs 25:25, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
Support of the mission work has come in many ways over the past year. This support is primarily the prayers of the saints in behalf of our mission work. Our missionary covets the prayers of the saints that utterance may be given unto him, that he may open his mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel (Eph 6:19). Like our own pastors, so also our missionaries need the intercessory prayers of the saints in their behalf for blessing and strength to preach and teach by word and example in faithfulness to the Lord of the harvest.
Support has also come through the abundant offerings in the churches in the past year for our foreign mission work and for the missionary assistants fund (MAF) that is entirely supported by special offerings in our churches. The FMC is thankful to the Lord that our congregations have responded generously to the support of our missionary assistants. This continued support of the assistants appears, from the financial data, to be keeping pace with the financial needs of the assistants. For your information, the financial support of the assistants amounts to approximately $20,000 a year. These funds pay for the housing, transportation, food, medical, and telecommunications costs of the assistants. The volunteers receive no wages or tangible compensation for their work. However, for their willing and free gift of their time and energy, they do reap spiritual rewards which our current volunteers cherish as enduring and priceless. The FMC is thankful to the Lord to witness both the diligence of the assistants and the ready and willing support of our congregations.
Support has also come in other tangible ways, of which we shall mention only two examples. First, Cornerstone PRC donated copies of the Psalter to the field to meet the needs of the mission gathering in the worship services and in their homes for memorization and study. Second, an electric generator was donated by relatives of the missionary in order to provide electricity to the missionary house during the frequent power failures in greater Accra. These are examples of support in which the FMC and Hull council find encouragement in their oversight of the field. Official approval by the FMC and Hull council of such tangible and need-specific support has been enjoyable.
Another aspect of the field which required much time and thought from the FMC and Hull council was the inevitable consequence of the growing attendance at the worship services. While we might be inclined to view a lack of worship space negatively and as an inconvenience, yet from the viewpoint of our infancy as a mission work the lack of space for worship is an unexpected blessing. Interim measures have been used to alleviate extreme overcrowding. Several times the missionary assistant had to erect tents on the front lawn and driveway to accommodate adequately the gathering.
The FMC and Hull council are working to provide a long-term solution to the lack of space. It is clear that we need to provide a place which is large enough for reverent and edifying worship. Synod 2000 approved the FMC’s proposal to purchase property in Accra on which to place a building for worship. Earlier this year the FMC found a suitable piece of property and even rented the property. Our desire was to rent the property until synod 2000 gave permission to purchase it. However, the agreement was nullified by the owner of the land because of a legal problem with the agreement. In late June the owner informed us that she would renegotiate a deal with us, but at a much higher price than we were willing to spend. As a result, we are now looking for another plot in a suitable location and at a suitable price. To avoid future legal problems, we have obtained the services of a reputable lawyer. He is helping us in our search for suitable property.
A structure for worship was erected on the property earlier this year by our missionary assistant, John Bouma. The simple building was only partially completed when the legal problems surfaced in April 2000. The structure was dismantled and removed when it became apparent that the owner of the land would not sell it to us at a price we were willing to pay. We trust that soon the Lord will grant us a property on which to have a worship structure which will adequately accommodate our mission gathering.
There is other work that the FMC and Hull council look forward to doing in the coming year. In order to know the field more clearly, the FMC and Hull council will send a delegation to visit the field this fall and another to visit the field next spring. This will help the FMC and Hull council to understand more clearly the needs of the field and to become personally acquainted with the mission gathering. Such a visit is, of course, another excellent means by which we can encourage our missionary in his work. In addition, these visits are critically important to a mission work which is still relatively very young. The FMC and Hull PRC look forward to making these visits in the coming fall 2000 and spring 2001, the Lord willing.
What we have reported thus far gives you a snapshot of the work of our churches in Ghana. The labors require much thought, time, and prayer, but they are also enjoyable. We continue to learn many things about beginning a mission field in a developing country like Ghana and about developing a fledgling mission field without a previously existing group. This experience and learning will serve us well in our work in other foreign fields, if the Lord is pleased to grant us another foreign field. From time to time we even have learned a few new Ghanaian words, such as “akwaaba,” which means “welcome.”
We believe that God will by His Spirit and grace use our feeble efforts in this little corner in the great harvest field for the ingathering of His eternally chosen church, even out of the nation, tribes, and tongues of Ghana unto the living knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.
The FMC has also been busy with developing our contacts in the Philippines. Although we try diligently to continue our long distance correspondence with our Filipino contacts and groups, correspondence remains somewhat sporadic. This ought not to be regarded as a lack of interest by our contacts in the Philippines. We have learned that although our contacts often do not correspond regularly, they continue to study the materials (RFPA books, Standard Bearer, Reformed Witness Hour booklets, and many pamphlets which our churches produce) which we have sent them. When a delegation visits them in the Philippines, the leaders of our contacts often discuss what they have studied. Hence, it is true that the best means of developing thecontacts into a future mission field is by face-to-face instruction from our delegations.
The FMC sent a synodically authorized delegation in October 1999. As is true of all the delegations, Rev. D. Kleyn and Rev. R. Miersma had a full schedule of visits, lectures, preaching, Bible studies, and meetings with the leaders of several groups in the Philippines. They worked among groups in Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, Manila, and the Daet/Labo area. The delegation found that the work was fruitful and that the preaching and instruction was eagerly received.
In the Daet/Labo area, the delegation worked with leaders and members of seven churches, who desire to work together to becoming a Reformed denomination on the basis of the Reformed truths. To obtain this goal, they seek our assistance.
In Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro the delegation noted some different developments. Groups with which we previously worked had either disbanded, as in the case of the group in Bacolod, or split, as in the case with the Bible Study Fellowship in Cagayan de Oro. The result of these developments has been that in the Lord’s providence our work is narrowed to those who truly desire help to be established in the truths of the Reformed faith. Though these developments might seem negative from the viewpoint of the number of contacts, yet the FMC regards such pruning as necessary for possible mission work. This is true particularly with the group in Cagayan de Oro. As a result of the split in Cagayan de Oro, our contact is now narrowed down to a group of nine families who are led by Pastor Remegio Lapiz and who desire our help to become Reformed in worship, preaching, doctrine, and life.
The October 1999 delegation did more work in Manila than did previous delegations. The fruit of this work is that we have contact with two groups in Manila. We are also thankful for these new and growing contacts. For the FMC the prospect of work in Manila as well as in outlying cities presents exciting possibilities for future work.
With that in mind, the FMC plans to send two synodically approved delegations to the Philippines. One will be sent this summer and the other early in 2001. The August 2000 delegation will preach on the Lord’s days among the groups there and also instruct in lectures on eschatology. These truths are of interest to our contacts. We desire to satisfy their interest by bringing them the Reformed faith concerning the truths of death, immortality, the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the eternal state. The FMC trusts that the respective consistories will release their pastors for this work this year and early next year.
Both of these visits have the mandate from synod to work very cautiously and carefully towards the goal of proposing to a future synod that we send a missionary to labor among our Filipino contacts. The FMC will continue to provide news of these visits and their conclusions.
The FMC takes the opportunity to thank those consistories and congregations who have released their pastors for past delegations. The FMC appreciates deeply the sacrifice made when your pastors are serving on a delegation in the Philippines. This commitment and help is necessary to discern whether we have been given the opportunity to send a missionary to our Filipino contacts.
In conclusion, the FMC covets your prayers. We desire that the Lord will grant us the necessary wisdom and strength to serve the churches diligently and fruitfully. We desire that you continue to make known before the Lord in prayer our need for God’s blessing upon our work.
May we be accounted by the Lord faithful in our work for the cause of the Lord’s kingdom and covenant in our foreign mission work.