Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.
This most recent newsletter to the churches, Rev. Stewart took note of the fact that membership in the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship (CPRF) in Northern Ireland is higher now than it has been at any other time during his ministry there—including, he said, during the time before the CPRC disbanded. Membership stands now at eight families and six individuals—with a good number of regular visitors who are prospective members.
As gratifying as those numbers may be, we are pleased to report that numerical growth is not the only evidence of the blessing of our God on the work in Ballymena. After taking full advantage of an opportunity to become better acquainted with the people of the Fellowship, a delegation to Northern Ireland earlier this year reported back to the calling church and the Mission Committee that “the members freely told us that they enjoy unity and peace with one another. There is a doctrinal unity, and an interest in growing in knowledge. They receive Rev. Stewart’s ministry and preaching readily. The fellowship is extremely busy promoting the gospel and, for their size, have a large amount of exposure in the U.K.”
In large measure, of course, that exposure is due to the seemingly tireless efforts of the missionary. He has a ready pen and has used it frequently and effectively in the Ballymena Guardian, the Belfast Churchman, and the British Church Newspaper. Not only do his letters and articles generate response in the periodicals themselves, but they lead to requests for live interviews on radio, appearances on television, and public speeches. These, along with periodic lectures in Limerick (Republic of Ireland) and in Porthcawl (South Wales), have kept Rev. Stewart well occupied over the past year, and the response has been a source of encouragement to the missionary, to the Fellowship, and to Hudsonville Church and the Mission Committee.
The energy of the missionary, however, is not the sole measure of the vitality of a mission. Were the members of a mission ever to conclude that their role in it was nothing more than to be present to be ministered unto, that mission could never prosper. We have been more than pleased therefore to note Rev. Stewart’s repeated reference, in his bimonthly reports to the calling church and the Mission Committee, to the work of the members of the mission. Prominent among them are the bookstore manager, the webmaster, and the tape manager. That these special activities, which figure large in the outreach of the mission, are handled efficiently and warmly by three members of the Fellowship is a huge benefit to the cause. Of no less importance, however, is the witness of every member of the mission, as each one, every day, lives before and testifies to others of the hope that is in him. That’s what we have reason to believe is happening in our mission in Northern Ireland—as it is also in Spokane and Pittsburgh. We thank the Lord for that.
Thankful we are because both the activity and the fruit of it are gifts. And in this instance the latter is, as it were, tangible. The missionary can speak of … reorganization. The calling church can report to synod that it anticipates that their energy and focus for the next year will be the preparation for that possible eventuality. And the DMC can plan to recommend it to Synod 2006. The Lord is good.
Increase in numbers of those who can be called the “core group” has been modest in our Pittsburgh Mission. There are four families (not counting our missionary’s) and an individual, with half a dozen other individuals attending pre-confession class. But there are 40 to 50 regularly in attendance at worship services, including a good number of children of various ages—requiring no fewer than five separate catechism classes. Not so much the numbers therefore, but the makeup of the mission and what appears to be potential for slow but steady growth are the reasons for the continued optimism of our eastern home missionary and his calling church.
Throughout the years, Rev. Mahtani, by his comprehensive bimonthly reports, keeps Southwest Council and the DMC well informed concerning every aspect of his labor in Pittsburgh. In his annual summary for synod, he can report that there is “a stability of conviction among the members of the mission that makes the work of the missionary not only a little easier but also a lot more enjoyable.” He can report, too, that the men of the mission are becoming more and more active as leaders of the various committees that have been formed to do the work of the mission. This is encouraging. Every member of a mission should be ready to participate, in one way or another, in its activities. And when some of the men begin also to assume effective leadership roles in those activities, we can well understand why Rev. Mahtani speaks now confidently of potential officebearer material.
Activities of the mission include servicing contacts on a mailing list of more than 1,400 names; creating and maintaining a website that within the first few months of its appearance received a thousand hits; creative use of radio, including live interviews and the current investigation into the possibility of a “Monday Minute with Mahtani,” a weekly broadcast giving, each time, a distinctive statement regarding Christian doctrine and life. And personal witnessing—without which, writes our Eastern Home Missionary, “mission work is mission impossible.”
A good work is being done in Pittsburgh. We can say that with confidence. The missionary and the mission are taking good advantage of many and varied opportunities to put before others the truth as it is in Jesus. And what does the future hold? “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” That’s what we must be. That’s all we can be. And being faithful in that, we can do no better than leave the fruit of it to Him. Rev. Mahtani, we think, is right when he says that, though we “might want the work to go at a faster pace, the fruit of mission labors often times is slow and gradual. We have learned, and continue to learn, that we need the patience [and, we might add, the persistence] of a farmer….”
Eastern Home Missions is mainly Pittsburgh—but not entirely so. Rev. Mahtani continues to maintain contact (four visits during the past year) with a little group in Allentown, PA. Just a couple of families—but by regular use of videos of Protestant Reformed worship services, they have come to love PR distinctives and have been willing to promote them in their area. The same can be said of Fayetteville, NC. There, too, just a couple of families—the Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Fayetteville. Because they can find no other church where they can be content doctrinally, they continue to meet together on the Lord’s Days, using videos of the worship services in Grace PRC. They advertise their worship services, as well as the broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour over WFNC in Fayetteville. Thus there continues to be a witness to the Reformed truth in a part of the country that hears little of it.
Last summer a family of seven left the Covenant of Grace Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Spokane and moved to Grand Rapids—in order to join a Protestant Reformed Church near a Protestant Reformed Christian day-school. Even with that ‘loss’ to the Fellowship, however, Rev. Miersma could report a gain in membership since a year ago. There are now six families and seven individuals that constitute the core group of this mission. Not, surely, a large number, but a spiritually vibrant group full of good hope for the future. “While there is much yet to be done,” writes Rev. Miersma, “looking forward to the possibility of a church here is not an unrealistic aspiration.”
The missionary and the mission have been active. A three-part seminar on worship last June. A Reformation Day lecture. Regular catechism classes and special essentials/pre-confession classes for new members and for those in the group working toward confession. For the men, classes on the offices of elders and deacons. A Bible Study for the women, chaired by Mrs. Miersma. Advertising of special services in the Good News paper. Creation of a new website. Gathering of books for a church library in their Mission Office.
And the missionary is encouraged. In his annual report he testifies that “the field is knit together in a spirit of unity in the faith and common purpose in the mission work, which is a rich blessing after the trials of the past. All of this makes for a very lively mission field and a busy missionary, but it is a blessed kind of activity as we see the Lord’s fruit upon the labor.”
A delegation from Loveland consistory last year confirmed that assessment of the missionary after what was a nine-day visit to the field. “We left Spokane,” they said, “very excited at and thankful for what God is doing in Spokane.” They reported that “there is peace and unity in the group like they have never had … the group is able to focus on outreach like they should. Everyone in the group is eager to witness to the truth to contacts and friends. They are working together in evangelism.” And then this: “All the homes we visited are strong Christian homes. We can be assured that Jehovah will bless this in the line of generations.”
“Brethren, pray for us.” Those were the final words of Rev. Stewart’s annual report. From Rev. Mahtani’s: “We thank you so much for your prayers and ask that you continue to pray for us.” So also Rev. Miersma: “We are especially grateful for your prayers for the work. We rest in the Lord in His purpose for the work in the coming year, as the one who gathers and builds His church.”
The apostle Paul did the same—repeatedly (cf., e.g., Rom. 15:30).
At the time of this writing, Wes and Glenda Koops, of our Holland congregation, have just returned from serving three weeks as missionary assistants in Pittsburgh. By all accounts, their work served a very useful purpose. And they were glad for the opportunity.
So … sometimes we can do more—than pray—for the cause of missions. Never ought we to do less.