Sunday morning. There is an air of eager expectancy among the early arrivals at the Christian School in Bradenton, where the Protestant Reformed Churches are now holding services. Formerly we met in the Manatee River Hotel, but for various reasons we sought a new meeting place and gained consent from the local Christian School Board to use one of the classrooms for our meetings. Those who have come a bit early are eagerly awaiting the arrival of others, especially of new faces, as is experienced every Sunday. This is so different from some of my earlier experiences in mission work. Often when a new field was opened, and I happened to be present, we were filled with anxiety, wondering whether any one at all would show up for our meetings or services. Our hearts virtually missed a beat every time another car drove up. We were happy when we had enough people to hold a meeting. Here in Bradenton we anticipate seeing many who attend our services regularly, and are always eager to make new acquaintances. It is true that many who attend our services and our weekly Bible Study Group are members of one of our Protestant Reformed Churches, who are spending a few weeks or a few months in Florida; These are a God-given support in the mission efforts that are being carried out. They make it so much more pleasant for strangers from other denominations to come to our services, since these visitors know that they will not be the only ones there. Besides, many from other churches plainly enjoy the fellowship that they have with us.
Soon others arrive. Some of them are well known to us, because, even though they are not members of our church, they faithfully attend our services. Some have relatives or friends in our churches. Some have had earlier contact with our churches, either having been members, or having attended services in our churches, or having read our periodicals. Some never attended our services before, and some never knew of our existence, but saw our ads in the local paper. Most of those who are from other denominations are either from the northern States or from Canada. Our audiences number all the way from twenty-five at the beginning of the season to more than seventy at the height of the tourist season. To date this audience consists quite consistently of two-thirds of our own people and one third from other churches. This means that at our services we have from ten to twenty-five or thirty people present who do not regularly enjoy the truths as proclaimed from our pulpits. We must remember that this audience changes somewhat from week to week. Those who are here for a short visit return to their homes, new faces appear and new acquaintances are made. The result is that during the winter season we do have contact with a number of people from various parts of our own country and of Canada.
Every minister who has been here has greatly enjoyed preaching the Word to this audience and leading the Bible Study Group from week to week. From the attention and from the singing it becomes evident that the Word is well received. It has been said that it is so quiet during the service that one can hear a pin drop. This always makes preaching a special pleasure, as only he can know who has been in the pulpit. When we read of Jesus’ public ministry, we read that there were times when He could perform no mighty works in a certain place, because of their unbelief. On the other hand, we also read that there were occasions when the people eagerly received His Word, because He spoke so that even a child could understand Him, and with authority, which was lacking among the scribes. The latter is certainly the case in our Sunday services. The people receive the Word with gladness. They testify of being strengthened in the faith, of being spiritually fed, of experiencing the power of the Scriptures, the Gospel of salvation.
Our people here have often wished that others of our churches could be present in and after our services. Remarks are made by those who heard us for the first time, like, “That is the kind of preaching in which I was brought up”; or, “That is the truth that I learned as a child, which is so sorely lacking in our day.” Some express concern about the apostasy in the churches of today. Others, as one remarked last Sunday, note that under our preaching they experience the riches of the truth of the Scriptures.
During the week we have opportunity to meet some of our Sunday guests at the Bible Study Group, where we are studying the Book of Revelation. We also avail ourselves of the opportunity to visit people in their homes, which is usually a pleasant experience. About eight couples who attend our services regularly have homes here in Florida. True, they do spend a few weeks or months in the north during the summer, but they do have a permanent residence here. Some have trailer homes, some have apartments, and some have a full house as in the north. Although it is never wise to count noses in any mission endeavor, it can be stated that a number of those who have permanent homes here have expressed the desire that we purchase land, build a church, and prove that we have every intention of continuing our work until a church is organized. They speak very optimistically of a future church in this area.
Sometimes a fear is expressed among the members of our churches, that we are holding services here in Bradenton to cater to the few elderly couples who leave their own churches to spend the winter in a warmer climate. I can well understand that fear. Many of us feel very strongly that a faithful member of the church should attend the services in his own congregation every Sunday, for his own benefit, as well as for the communion of saints and for the welfare of the congregation. I am in hearty agreement with that. Except when I go out to preach I want to be with my own people in my own church, and I miss that fellowship when I am not there. It always saddens me when on some holiday week end, like a Labor Day week end, a number of vacant seats stand out in our churches. Yet we are living in a time when people travel and do take vacations. I admire those who arrange their vacations in such a way that they can still attend worship services in one of our churches. Therefore I can sincerely appreciate the efforts of those here in Bradenton, who are here for health reasons, to arrange for our own services here and to strive for organizing a local Protestant Reformed Church. Assuming now that most of those who come here in the winter do so because it is important for them to avoid the intense cold of the north, we can see that God uses also these people to prepare for us an open door for the preaching of the Word in this area. Who knows how God wants to use these efforts at this place for the furtherance of His church and kingdom?
The remark has been made that by holding services in this area we are encouraging members of our churches to leave their own church and come here. It is still a question in my mind whether this is any more true of the work here than it is of the established church in Redlands, California, or elsewhere. It is also questionable whether there are that many more now than before who spend a few weeks or the season in Florida. In any case, we do have members of our churches that spend their summer vacations away from home, and in that case we urge them to make every effort to attend one of our churches. Our services here in Bradenton serve the same purpose, be it during the winter months.
Yet it is not for our own people that services are being conducted in this area. First Church, which sponsors these efforts, wants to reach out to those outside of our churches, to proclaim the glorious truth that God has entrusted to us also to others who are not privileged as we are. For this purpose the Lord has certainly given us an open door in this area, and it is our duty to take every possible advantage of this open door. One might object that these people are here only temporarily, soon to return to their own communities, scattered throughout the United States and Canada. This is true for the most part. Yet this is also an added reason why the preaching of the Word can be, under God’s blessing, effective here. I am convinced that those who attend our services here have a different and better opinion of our churches than before. The devil has found a powerful weapon against us with all kinds of slanderous reports, which have given our churches a bad image in the eyes of many. That becomes evident from our conversations here. But the truth of the Word of God is a power that refutes those evil, Satanic attacks. Just how our God will use these people for His own good purpose when they return to their homes, no one can say. But we do know that He is able to use His Word as He deems best, for His Word never returns void. It always does His sovereign good pleasure, both in those who are saved and in those who perish. It is our calling to sow the seed and wait upon the Lord for the harvest.
It has been said that it may take years before we have a church in Bradenton. Although this is not necessarily true, let us grant for the moment that this may be the case. Our past experience has taught us that a congregation which comes into existence almost overnight soon experiences the bitter agony of trouble, created by those who had ulterior motives for joining us. Our past experience has also taught us that the Lord takes His, own time about arousing real interest in the hearts of others. He wants us to be patient and to wait upon Him. We should also do so here, even as in our other fields. But I am convinced that there is reason to believe, even as many who live here assure us, that in due time a church will be organized in this area.
Nor can it be said that a congregation in this area would consist only of elderly people and winter residents. We are informed that there are many summer vacationers, who spend some time along the beaches here. We also have reason to believe that a congregation could be organized consisting of parents and children as well as elderly people, with a full orbed congregational life that consists of catechism classes and other activities, as well as Sunday worship services. There is here a rather large Christian school, where we are holding our meetings. There is another Christian school just outside of Bradenton. Young families are moving into the area as the possibility of finding work increases. There are more young families here now than ever before, especially because of such modern conveniences as air conditioning. If .the Lord will, He can and will bring us also younger families to make up a viable church at this place. We must go on in faith. As the Dutch expression has it, “Aan des Heeren Zegen is alles gelegen,” that is, “Everything depends on the blessing of the Lord.”
Our big ambition right now is to be able to hold services here throughout the year. Then we would like to see a full-time missionary working here, and, besides that, our own church property. The people here are looking for a suitable location. May our God bless our churches also through these efforts.