Rev. Smit is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa, and secretary of the Foreign Mission Committee.
In years past, it has been common for the secretary of the FMC to give, for the SB, an annual review of our denominational mission work in our foreign fields by summarizing a year’s worth of foreign mission work from his own perspective. This time we will instead give you a window on the work through the eyes of our missionaries themselves, by means of their newsletters, monthly reports, and their annual reports for synod.
We are taking this approach because it is certainly our experience that the missionaries are “the eyes” of the calling church and the mission committee. These “eyes” observe constantly the day-to-day struggles and joys of the work of the mission field. The burden that weighs most heavily upon their hearts and minds is the care of their respective mission labors. In recognition of that fact, we will review briefly a year’s worth of foreign mission activity through the eyes of our foreign missionaries: Rev. Wayne Bekkering and Rev. Rodney Miersma in Ghana, and Rev. Audred Spriensma in the Philippines.
Rev. Spriensma summarized his work with the Bereans in Manila this way:
In the Manila area, most of my time is taken up with pastoring the Berean Church of God (Reformed). We have two worship services every Sunday, preaching from the Heidelberg Catechism in the first worship service. We have gone through the Catechism completely once together and are starting through a second time. The Psalter is being used exclusively for our singing. In between the two worship services, we have a short lunch and then a catechism class. We have covered Old Testament History, Essentials, and now have started New Testament History. All the church members sit in on the discussion, and work at the memory work each week. Attendance at the two worship services remains steady with mostly the same members and occasional visitors. Once a month, on a Saturday morning, the men of the group meet for four hours to study Reformed church government in order to train future officebearers.
Rev. Spriensma reported work with two separate groups, which he teaches on alternating Mondays. He wrote,
I continue to meet twice a month with pastors south of Manila who desire continued instruction in our Protestant Reformed distinctives. One is an Independent Reformed pastor, the other is a dean in the Christian Reformed Bible College. Through a conference that we held at that Reformed Bible College, there is interest by 5-7 students for classes in Reformed Dogmatics and Bible Interpretation. We hope to start this class on February 16, 2004. Please pray that this class will better prepare men for the ministry here and pave the way for the formation of truly Reformed congregations. This coming Thursday I will again meet also with some students and pastors from Antipolo, which is quite close to us. They are very interested in our Reformed material. They were ostracized by the Reformed Baptists for being rigid Calvinists.
Every other month, Rev. Spriensma travels to Bacolod to attend to the needs of a very small group and develop the work there.
I have been making trips to Bacolod every other month for the purpose of holding conferences concerning the Reformed truth and leading worship services. These trips are very much appreciated…. There is a very great desire for the preaching and shepherding of a missionary in their midst, with the goal of an instituted church. Rey Decierdo has been a very hard worker to this end, and very appreciative of our Reformed materials. Presently, Rey Decierdo leads worship services in his back yard…. Rey Decierdo leads the group in worship with singing from the Psalter, prayers, and reading sermons that he downloads from the Internet…. He plans to begin in March also teaching a Heidelberg Catechism class. The conferences are held in venues selected by Rey Decierdo and approved by your missionary. This means that they are sometimes held right in Bacolod in restaurants or the hotel, or sometimes south of Bacolod in Inayuan. This church is located approximately 154 km (92 miles) south of Bacolod…. Church libraries with our materials have been set up in Bacolod and in Inayuan.
The missionaries in Ghana wrote recently that their labors on the field in Ghana included the following:
The preaching is conducted twice on Sunday. That is an experience in itself. The whole sermon is interpreted into the TWI language while one is preaching…. On Tuesday evening, one of the two sermons is broadcast on the radio.
Weekday activities include Bible study on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and catechism on Friday evening and Saturday morning. The preaching, the catechisms, and the Bible studies are shared by the two missionaries. Every other Thursday evening and on Saturday evenings, there is also a Bible study for the young adults led by Justin [Koole]. On Monday evening, Phyllis [Bekkering] leads the ladies in Bible Study. In addition, the fellowship has a small library which is open several times a week, during which time one can come and read for awhile.
In response to this regular diet of preaching and weekly instruction, the mission groups appear to be growing spiritually. Rev. Spriensma reported in October 2003, “It has been another busy and rather productive month. The saints appear to be growing in their understanding and love for the Reformed faith….”
Rev. Bekkering has reported the same response in November 2003, “The preaching of the gospel is being carried out faithfully from Sabbath to Sabbath. The fellowship receives the preaching well.” Again, he wrote a month later,
We continue to have visitors in our worship services, which is encouraging. The visitors have usually come through the invitation of someone in the fellowship. In one case recently, one of our members had persistently invited someone for two years. Just recently, the person came to visit in the worship. The preaching is well received for those that hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Goal of the Work
All of the work in the preaching, catechism instruction, Bible studies, lectures, and conferences is put forth with a goal in mind.
Rev. Spriensma stated the goal of his work in November 2003. He wrote:
In the last several months, the Lord has continued to bless our labors here in the Philippines. In addition to the continued growth in understanding and appreciating the Reformed faith by the members of the Berean Church of God (Reformed), there have been numerous contacts. The importance of these contacts lies in the fact that we hope, the Lord willing, not only to assist one church here to be truly Reformed, but to help several churches to mature in the doctrines and government so that in the future these churches may work together as a denomination.
Similarly, the missionaries in Ghana work to a goal of the establishment of a Reformed congregation with trained officebearers. With that in mind, they wrote in their annual report to synod that
The needs for the future of this fellowship are great. A “seminary” to instruct men for the office of minister, elder, and deacon is needed. There are many churches here in Ghana, but most of their “ministers” have no long-term formal training. The first priority is a “seminary.” Rev.
Bekkering and Rev. Miersma have begun to lay the groundwork for such a training program.
This direction is in harmony with one of the grounds upon which Synod 2002 decided to add a second missionary on the field in Ghana.
The second missionary is needed for training the men of the mission field to be officebearers, including pastors, in order to work towards the goal of establishing independent, indigenous churches on the mission field (Art. 42, B, 4, c, Acts of Synod 2002).
Hence, it is evident that our missionaries labor patiently towards the goal of establishing Reformed congregations that are both independent and indigenous, and also one with us in the truth of the Reformed faith.
Problems and Challenges
Does the work to that goal always go smoothly? Is the preaching always well received? Is the mission work always rosy? The hard reality of missions also on our foreign fields is that there are problems, concerns, struggles, and disappointments.
There are the day-to-day challenges. Our missionaries must deal with cockroaches, lizards, rats, and mice, frequent power outages, no telephone hookup, computer failures, and cultures in which they must learn the people’s concept of time and timeliness. There is the reality of changing to a different level and way of living in a different culture.
As far as the mission work is concerned, there is the reality that not everyone receives the preaching. This is true in Ghana according to the missionaries: “We have others who come infrequently and show little zeal for the life and walk of the Kingdom.”
This fruit of the preaching was also reported in March 2004 by the missionaries in Ghana. They wrote:
The preaching and teaching is being carried out to the best of our ability and is appreciated by those who love the Lord. The attendance is down from six months ago, but that is due no doubt to the fact that some are beginning to realize that we are not here to establish an earthly kingdom with earthly goods…. Unto that end, the Word cuts as a two-edged sword.
The missionaries in Ghana face problems. Concerning that they wrote in their annual report to synod:
The marriage issue within our fellowship continues to be a problem. …those who have not made their marriages right before God and before the government have little motivation to stop living in sin. Satan has a stronghold here in Ghana with respect to the legalized adultery that passes for marriage. We preach the need to have proper marriages, we teach the young people and the young adults about godly marriages, but many do not want to spend the time, money, and effort to make their marriages right…. We must persevere in our calling to uphold the truth of God’s Word concerning marriage. That we will do until we see Satan’s stronghold break and fall.
The fact that many couples do not have their marriages completed gives us very few men who are officebearer material. Currently, there is less than a handful of men who would be qualified to serve as officebearers….
The language and culture barrier continues to be a problem. The necessity to learn the language is evident. We are slowly becoming more knowledgeable of the culture, but we have a long way to go and much to learn. We have seen how the pagan culture and superstitions affect much of the lives of our people. Even the churches in Ghana have made efforts to do away with these pagan ideas…. These ideas will die only through the power of the Word and the work of the Spirit.
The covenant family relationship is not very strong here. The culture and tribal traditions have much to do with that. The fathers usually do not take the headship role as they ought. The women usually do most of the disciplining and training. It is evident in the children that proper discipline is not done at home….
Rev. Spriensma wrote in his annual report to synod concerning a difficulty among the Berean Church of God (Reformed), which has been resolved.
Because of a perceived challenge to the past Board of Trustees, there was a snap election held last August. These snap elections are a carryover from Philippine politics, a sort of confidence vote. At that meeting, the Board went from seven members to five, with the board making me their honorary chairman. In January, at the assembly meeting of all the heads of households, these five men were again appointed, but to staggered terms to allow for new members to come in each year, but also keeping consistency. While the group had been deeply divided, there has been some healing taking place. The Board of Trustees is working on setting up a web page and printing literature for handing out to family and friends and interested parties.
Joy in the Work
The missionaries have shown that they have joy in their work and that in the labors there are occasions for thanksgiving to God.
Rev. Bekkering wrote about that in September 2003.
Finally, brethren, as I consider the question [of] what gives me joy in my work, I give a twofold answer. First, it is a joy for me to see our God preserving this feeble fellowship in and through the storms that we have gone through. Second, it is a joy to see the fruits of faithful church discipline coming to manifestation. I see that in the change of character of the group as the Lord prunes dead branches, and we see new growth.
He wrote similar comments a month later in October 2003.
First, is the joy of having helpers coming. [Second], is receiving the grace and strength for us to do the work required. Third, is the work of Doug and the Young Adults in the planning and preparation of the Reformation Day Lectures. We were all very busy with all the activity, but we enjoyed the messages and the visitors. We had 90 visitors on Friday evening, not counting children, and 70 on Saturday morning, not counting the children.
Rev. Spriensma mentioned occasions for rejoicing. He is especially grateful for the eagerness of the groups and contacts to learn the doctrines of the Reformed faith. Concerning the Bereans, he wrote in his annual report to synod that
The Berean Church of God (Reformed) continues to worship and grow in the Reformed faith. There is a genuine appreciation for the truths that we bring. The membership of the group remains constant.
Regarding the work in Bacolod, we get a sense of his enthusiasm and joy as he looks ahead to future plans.
I am working with Rey Decierdo to set up another conference for later March or early April, to take place in either Bacolod or Inayuan. The response from these conferences has been very good. Our literature has been greatly appreciated.
We with our missionaries give thanks to the Lord for the evidence of His blessing upon our mission labors in many ways.
Please continue to uphold in prayer before the Lord our missionaries, their wives, and their families. It is especially important that our missionaries know that they have not been forgotten and that we faithfully intercede for them before the Lord’s throne of grace. This is especially necessary as they face the day-to-day struggles, and the real opposition to their faithful labors.
They do appreciate our support very much. One of the missionaries recently wrote in a newsletter,
Thanks also for remembering our family in your prayers…. Thank you for taking an interest in and keeping us and the field in your prayers.
May the Lord grant our missionaries His grace for continued faithfulness in their labors. Our prayer concerning them is
…that utterance may be given unto [them], that [they] may open [their] mouths boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.