Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.
“Yes! Send us a missionary!”
Those words constituted the headline of a June 1996 “BRF News Alert” which gave the results of a survey conducted to determine interest in “a second missionary from the Protestant Reformed Churches of the USA, in the light of the successful labors of that denomination in Northern Ireland.” The Committee of the British Reformed Fellowship reported a decidedly positive reception of the idea among the readers of their journal.
In a recent letter to the BRF there was this related advice: “As I see it their vigorous defense of the Reformed faith in this apostate age makes the PRC the best churches to be in communion with.”
Can you imagine anything more gratifying – to the Mission Committee, to Hudsonville (the calling church), and to the missionary? In a day of televangelism, megachurches, and giant crusades for Christ, the labors of a little denomination through an eighteen member Council and a ten-member Mission Committee, and by a single missionary among a handful of believers, when measured by the standard of men, amounts to nothing. But the Lord has crowned that effort with the organization of a truly Reformed congregation in Northern Ireland, and has led others in the UK to covet the same preaching and teaching for themselves 2 attracted not by number, not by prestigious connections in the ecclesiastical world, not by hope of financial gain, but only by a love of the truth.
A work of the Lord that is! Profs. Engelsma and Hanko no doubt delivered stirring lectures at the biannual family conferences sponsored by the British Reformed Fellowship in various places in the UK, as has also Rev. Ron Hanko at the half-day conferences held periodically throughout the year. But it isn’t eloquence that decides reception of the proclamation of the truth. Nor, for that matter, is it intellectual or spiritual superiority which accounts for the preservation of the truth in the PRC in “this apostate age.” A work of God it is, from beginning to end, and one for which we can only be humbly thankful.
Thankful we are especially, as Mission Committee, for the opportunities which we have been given to proclaim the truth among those who find it is no longer sounded forth from the pulpits in churches around them. And we’re not thinking only of places in the British Isles. The apostasy lamented in the above letter to the BRF characterizes the churches of our own land as well. We labor, says home missionary Rev. Miersma, “with a remnant, and seeking to call out a remnant, in a post-Christian society.” That’s the nature of our missionaries’ labors, here and abroad.
And it’s reflected in numbers. Numerical growth of the SanLuis Valley Mission, where Rev. Miersma is currently concentrating his labors, is slow in coming. And his work in the eastern part of our country which arose out of contacts developed by South Holland involves again a small group of believers. Just a few families. Enough, however, to have warranted our making arrangements for several of our ministers, besides Rev. Miersma, to spend a few days in Pittsburgh, preaching and teaching for a group of families which, in the words of one of our ministers who was there, “loves the truth”; “loves the Protestant Reformed truth”; “has grown in the truth”; shows “commitment to the cause of a PR work in the area . . . also by their financial giving”; and is “very willing to hear our advice on any matter.” At the end of a six-month trial period, therefore, the Mission Committee decided to extend the supply of preaching (by Rev. Miersma and, again, other of our ministers) for another six months – one Sunday per month.
Meanwhile, there is other work which beckons, as far as our home missionary is concerned. There are contacts with individuals or little groups in North Carolina in the East, and in southwestern Colorado, eastern Washington, Alberta CN, and Texas in the West. All of which has led our home missionary and the Domestic Mission Committee to conclude that there’s more work at home than one man can do.
That’s even more evident, perhaps, when one considers what “at home” means with respect to the labors of Rev. Miersma. It’s a pretty big area. Terms, here, may be a bit confusing. There are two missionaries which report regularly to the “Domestic” Mission Committee. Under the division of labors as it stands in our churches today, Rev. Hanko’s “field” is within the domain of domestic missions. He is not, however, a “home” missionary in the same sense that Rev. Miersma is. Rev. Hanko was called to be our missionary to Northern Ireland, with the understanding that he be located in the Larne/Ballymena area, but with the added responsibility of “pursu(ing) other contacts in the British Isles” (Acts 1990, Art. 46). That’s the scope of his work – the British Isles. If correspondence, therefore, would arise from someone in, say, Malta, we would not direct that to Rev. Hanko’s attention.
Rev. Miersma was called to labor in the SanLuis Valley. But not only there. The idea here is that, “with the missionary not limited to one small area but available to work elsewhere for longer or shorter periods of time, the Mission Committee can best cultivate and develop many contacts in different areas of home missions” (Synod 1990, Art. 15). The scope of Rev. Miersma’s responsibility, then, is as broad as “domestic” missions.
That’s not just the U.S. . . . or the U.S. and Canada. It includes other “foreign” countries as well. The truth is that the distinction between “foreign” and “domestic” missions, in our churches, has never been a matter of simple geography. It was based more on the nature of the work required. Work among those who in their generations belonged to the covenant would be different from work among those in heathen cultures. The former was designated as (‘domestic missions” and the latter as “foreign.” Applying that distinction to a work in Northern Ireland was easy, of course – it would be “domestic missions.” In other instances, however, the lines were blurred. Synod 1993 therefore adopted an overture from the Foreign Mission Committee that would assign various regions of the world to the FMC and other regions to the DMC. In an attempt to maintain the essence of the existing distinction between the two domains (i.e., whether or not the peoples of the various countries belonged in their generations to the covenant), Synod 1993 assigned to the DMC the U.S. and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Europe, including Russia. It’s in keeping with that division of labors that the DMC recently turned over to .Rev. Miersma some correspondence received from a leader of a church in . . . Malta.
That’s an exception, of course. Almost all of our home missionary’s work outside the SanLuis Valley involves contacts in the U.S. and Canada. But the point is that, given the fact that Rev. Miersma is not tied to a particular “field” (see his article in this issue), he is responsible for exploring opportunities as they arise elsewhere – and that “elsewhere” includes a whole lot of territory.
Of possible “open doors” with which we are faced at this time, Rev: Miersma is convinced that the Pittsburgh area holds the most potential. So much do a couple of the families in that small group want the truth as it is proclaimed by the PRC that, if necessary, they have expressed a willingness to move in order to get it for themselves and for their children. But they believe they have a responsibility yet with respect to others in their area. One of them writes, “We don’t know the Lord’s will in our lives as of yet, but I try to keep in mind that it is His will that is best. He has certainly given us a strong desire for a church here in the Pittsburgh area.”
So . . . what to do – that is the question, also for us. For the DMC the question is made even more difficult because of the fact that both of our missionaries, in their energetic pursuing of other leads, have concluded that there is a need for more manpower. The work in the SanLuis Valley, while not bearing fruit in significant numerical growth, requires more work on our part. And Rev. Miersma can hardly do justice to the work in the Valley and at the same time provide the kind of effort in a new field which the developing contacts in Pittsburgh seem to require. Rev. Hanko is missionary pastor of the newly-organized Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, and is trying at the same time to develop contacts in other places in the British Isles. And both he and the BRF have concluded that one man cannot do justice to both aspects of that labor.
That is, one man-cannot do justice to both tasks when a second location develops beyond the investigative stage. Once it becomes apparent that another area demands more serious attention, we cannot content ourselves with sending letters or tapes, and making periodic visits. That’s not serious mission work. The DMC is convinced that both opportunities (working with the BRF in the UK, and preaching the gospel in the Pittsburgh area) deserve serious attention from us.
Are we able to give it that? It’s gratifying to us that, at a time when the Lord is opening doors to us in marvelous ways, we also as a denomination have sufficient resources to be able to respond. With respect to manpower, we have but two vacant churches, plus a call for a missionary to Ghana, and we will, D.V., have four men eligible for a call soon after Synod 1997. And with respect to finances, it’s clear that, though there are indeed families who struggle to make ends meet, as a denomination we could not declare before the face of God in 1997 that we lack the financial resources to do more in missions than what we are already doing.
The DMC plans therefore to propose to Synod 1997 that we do something in response to both opportunities.
The work in the UK is at this time scattered – that is, there is no concentration of contacts in any one area which could serve as a base of operations (a virtual necessity for any minister with a family). We plan therefore to make a determined effort to develop the contacts we already have in the UK, with a view to establishing such a base, which, if it materialized, could be sufficient reason to call a second missionary to the UK in 1998.
With respect to the contacts in Pittsburgh, we believe that this work already warrants the calling of a second home missionary. There is in place a group of families with which work can begin. Pittsburgh itself is a large metropolitan area in which to work. And the city is geographically situated such that it can serve as a base for broader work in the east – that is, to follow up on contacts which we already have in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
Sometimes work on denominational committees can be almost a burden – especially for men who have other obligations which press constantly on their time. That’s true of the DMC too. But these are exciting times. We are being given much to do, and the means with which to do it.
The work we’ve done, and our vision for the future, would in a large denomination warrant probably little more than a footnote. The families in the CPRC NI can be counted on the fingers of two hands. And it’s only little groups that are scattered throughout the UK. The SLV Mission grew in one year by one family. And the group in Pittsburgh can fit in a large living room. And yet, as we reflect on it all, we see out there a genuine love for the Lord and for His truth, which can only be Spirit wrought. May the Lord grant that we never need the admonition of Zechariah 4:l0 – “For who hath despised the day of small things?” The work is, after all, His. We toil not in vain when, in our faithful use of His resources, He gives the increase.