In this article we submit to our people a report of our labors in Florida. Our people know, of course, that the Mission Committee of our Protestant Reformed Churches sent the undersigned to labor for six Sundays in the Bradenton area of Florida. And I am sure that they wish to be informed of our work there.
My wife and I left for Florida the Tuesday morning of Feb. 20. We arrived in the Bradenton area on Thursday afternoon of Feb. 22. Our Mission Committee decided to send one of our ministers to Florida at its meeting of Jan. 17. When the Revs. C. Hanko and M. Schipper could not go, the consistory of the undersigned decided to release me for the purpose of laboring in sunny Florida. And so we left our Michigan home for the land of sunshine and oranges the Tuesday morning of Feb. 20.
Although the Mission Committee decided to ask local consistories to release their minister for mission work in Florida, and although my consistory decided to release me for this work, nevertheless my going to Florida remained very much in doubt for some time. The difficulty centered in the obtaining of a meeting place for our services and also in the renting of a lodging place for the undersigned. Both proved to be very scarce items. Our people in Florida were advised, should nothing else be available, to rent a room in the Holiday Inn or in a bank in that area. Our congregation of Lynden, for example, conducted its services in a bank for a number of years. However, to obtain lodging quarters for us proved to be a greater problem. When we decided to go to Florida, after struggling with this problem, we did not know where we would conduct our services or where we would be able to stay. All we knew was that we would lodge two nights in a motel enroute to Florida and that we would be in a Holiday Inn the first two nights in Bradenton. The Mission Committee had decided to send one of our ministers to the Bradenton area and we proceeded from the confidence that the Lord would provide.
And the Lord did provide! The Saturday evening before our scheduled departure we received a telephone call from Bradenton that a room had been rented in the Bradenton-Sarasota Holiday Inn. And on Monday morning, the day before our departure from Michigan, one of the members of our Southwest church, who had planned to spend the month of March in this area, called me to inform me that they could not make the trip to Florida and that my wife and I could take their place in the motel which they had reserved for themselves. We believed that the Lord had opened the way!
The uncertainty of a meeting place for our services made it impossible to advertise our coming in the Bradenton paper. A room had been reserved in the Holiday Inn through the Sunday of April 1. However, we would not be able to meet in this room the Sundays of March 11 and 18. Efforts would have to be made to obtain a room elsewhere. We applied for a room in a Quality Motel in the city of Bradenton, but this request was denied us. Then we contacted the superintendent of public schools in Bradenton, but again we were disappointed. We also applied for a meeting place in a Girl’s Club in the heart of Bradenton, but again we were disappointed. Finally, Mr. D. Langeland of our Kalamazoo church, who, incidentally, was a great help to us, and himself a funeral director, contacted a funeral director in this area, and he gladdened our hearts by informing us that we could use his funeral home for the purpose of conducting our services. What an ideal place this proved to be! Of course, there was one thing about this funeral home that might make it impossible for us to worship there. Should there be a body in this home upon the Lord’s Day, then the visiting hours for the family might make it impossible for us to hold our services there. And there were two bodies in that funeral home the last Sunday we were in Florida, April 1! But this funeral director was so accommodating that he advertised in the Saturday paper that the visiting hours would be restricted to Sunday afternoon so that we could conduct our service there in the evening.
I must say a word at this time about the coming of Mr. and Mrs. John (see you in church) Faber to Bradenton while we were laboring there. They had planned this trip before having any idea that our churches would conduct mission work in Florida. They spent two weeks in the Bradenton area, the Sundays of March 18 and 25. How glad we were that they could come! How well we can understand the joy of Rev. Lubbers when friends from our churches in the States come to visit with them! And this is particularly true because this brother is also a member of the Mission Committee. Certainly, divinely providential! He was in the position to study this field for himself. And how we enjoyed their company and fellowship! They contributed so much to our Florida stay and our labors there.
We were also saddened during our labors in this land of sunshine. The Moermans of our Kalamazoo church spent the Sunday of March 4 in our services. The following day, while they were riding their bikes in the Venice area, Mrs. Moerman was involved in a fatal accident. She remained in a coma until Saturday evening. That evening our Lord took her unto Himself. We were certainly reminded of the uncertainty of life!
As far as our labors are concerned, we may remark, in the first place, that we contacted two radio stations in the St. Petersburg area. Our radio committee had asked the undersigned to ascertain whether it would be possible to carry our Reformed Witness Hour over a radio station in that area. As we said, we contacted two such stations and sent the information to our radio committee. One of these stations, in St. Petersburg, also carries the Back To God Hour of the Christian Reformed church. Besides this, we distributed considerable Prot. Ref. literature in Florida. Mr. Henry Vander Wal, the energetic and very able business manager of our Standard Bearer, supplied me with this literature. We disposed or distributed all of it.
What about our services in Florida? We preached there six Sundays and also conducted a Prayer Day service. Our largest audience was thirty-one people, and this was on a Sunday when we had three couples of our Hudsonville church in attendance. Our smallest audience was fourteen people; and this happened twice, the first evening service and once when the Lord sent a very heavy rain upon the Bradenton area. We must bear in mind that we could advertise only the last three Sundays, due to the fact that, prior to these last three Sundays, our meeting place was so uncertain. Our audiences were constituted exclusively of vacationers or transients. We never had a native Floridian in attendance. These “vacationers” belonged either to our churches or to the Christian Reformed Church. We also made some contacts of people who did not attend our services. These contacts were very stimulating. We were amazed to meet these people, discuss the truth with them, and discover how thoroughly Reformed they were. This was particularly true of people whom we visited in Fort Meyers Beach and in Winter Haven. But these people are isolated. The people in Fort Meyers Beach are from Pennsylvania. When I asked them whether they knew of others in their own community who loved the truth as they did, the answer was that they knew of none. Somehow they came into contact with our churches and our literature, and they seemed to love the truth of the Word of God with all their heart and soul. As this party at Fort Meyers Beach said to the undersigned: “I thank God for the Protestant Reformed Churches.” For awhile I thought that I might spend the last Sunday of our Florida visit in Winter Haven, to preach the Word there to a congregation of some sixty souls, including from fifteen to twenty children. The consistory there, however, later informed me that they had made arrangements for the Sunday of April 1; besides, the emeritated minister who conducted the services there, and who planned to leave Winter Haven after March 25, did not seem to relish the idea of our conducting the services there.
Preaching thirteen times while in Florida, we delivered four sermons based on our Heidelberg Catechism. We preached on the first question of Lord’s Day 7: “Are all men, as they perished in Adam, saved in Christ?” And we emphasized that only they are saved who are ingrafted into Christ by a true and living faith. Twice we preached on Lord’s Day 21, calling attention to the election of the church and also to the gathering of the church by the Son of God by His Spirit and Word. And we also preached a sermon on Lord’s Day 15, emphasizing the unique character of the Sufferer of Calvary. Our preaching was certainly well received. We may surely report that they enjoyed the preaching of the Word of God as proclaimed in our Protestant Reformed churches. And the undersigned may surely declare that he enjoyed this aspect of his labors in Florida. It was also a thrilling experience to discuss the truth of the Word of God with whoever would give us an audience.
It has been said, and honestly, that we should have waited with our mission endeavor in Florida until later in the year, that we went to the Bradenton area too late in the season. To this we reply that the Lord certainly gave us an open door. He provided us with a meeting place for our services. And He also provided the undersigned and his wife with a lodging place. It is true that we could not advertise our services for the first three Sundays, but it is also true that the last three Sundays were advertised in the Bradenton paper.
Was our going to Florida worthwhile? What did we set as our goal? Why did we work there? I ask this question, we understand, from the viewpoint of our Mission Committee? To organize a church in Florida? Hardly! We will not attempt to answer the question whether a church of our churches will eventually be organized there. But this I can say: the purpose of our mission there was to sow the seed, to establish contacts with people who would listen to us, to preach the truth as we know it to be according to the Scriptures, so that these people may report of our preaching when they return to their respective homes and churches. We had people in our audiences, from the state of New York, who attended all our services. They received our preaching very enthusiastically. And we urged them to carry our proclamation of the Word of God home with them. We assured them that our churches were ready to come to their assistance, that we would heed every plea to come over to them and help them.
Was our going to Florida worthwhile? I surely believe that it was. Our churches had the opportunity to proclaim the wonderful truths of the Scriptures which are so precious to us. Our audiences were not large. But we did have an open door. We did have, the opportunity to speak that which we know to be completely in harmony with the infallible Scriptures. We may leave the fruit of these labors in the hands of our God. All that the church of God must do is preach the Word. That is exclusively the calling of the church of the living God. The Son of God gathers His church. This we may safely leave in His hands. As I told my audiences in Bradenton: “What a shame it is to hire orchestras and bands and soloists, when all that is necessary is the lively preaching of the Word of God!” May we as churches be faithful in the Proclamation of the infallible Scriptures, and take hold of every opportunity at our disposal to sow the seed, leaving the fruit to Him Who alone gathers His Church.