Mission turns 40
Mission turns 40!
It’s hard to imagine, but fact nevertheless: the churches in Western Canada have been doing mission work in Brazil for 40 years already! Summer 1970 Rev C vanSpronsen headed down to Brazil to search for a place in which to proclaim the good news of redemption from sin’s bondage and Satan’s slavery. By the leading of the Lord, he began his work in San Jose, a community on the most eastern point of Brazil’s coastline, not all that far south of the city of Recife. That day of small beginnings has received such blessing from the Lord that today Surrey’s two missionaries simply can’t handle all the requests for help that come their way. And no, the requests for help are not financial; the requests are for instruction in the faith of the Bible. From towns and villages and cities big and small, near and far, come cries for knowledge, for teaching, for guidance – and it’s a cry now coming to ears in Canada.
You, I suppose, have also heard the cry, or at least heard of the cry. Last June Church News printed an announcement from the Board of Mission Aid Brazil that a conference was planned in Willoughby for mid-August. The advertising mentioned too that a special church service was planned in Surrey on August 15 to commemorate the 40 years of mission work. That service was to be led by a certain Pastor Thyago, a minister in the fledging Reformed Churches of Brazil – a federation, I should add, that has come into existence as a fruit of our mission work over the 40 years (plus, not to forget, the work done by missionaries sent out by Hamilton and Holland). Though I had to be elsewhere that Sunday (Vernon, to be exact), I can record what I heard from multiple sides: that service was a very moving and rich experience. But before I get to that service, let me warm you up with a couple of pre-service songs.
Mission and Schooling
Mission Aid Brazil had flown Dr AJ deVisser, prof at the Theological Seminary in Hamilton, to the Fraser Valley to serenade delegates from Surrey’s mission work in Brazil, Hamilton’s mission work in Brazil, the Cloverdale/Langley work in China and Smithville’s work in Timor (Indonesia) on the subject of “Christian Schools and Mission Work”. He took us by the hand through considerable mission history, and showed how missionaries over the years were commonly accompanied by a teacher (frequently the wife) as they carried out their work on the mission field. Those mission fields where Christian schools were established tended to grow much faster and endure much longer than those fields where no Bible-based education was made available. (Sound familiar? Think of our own church history in Canada!) However, in recent decades political developments around the world have seen the end of the era of colonization and so the establishment of native governments. These governments in turn have largely taken such control of the education system that foreign controlled schools are no longer welcome; curriculum and teachers are now to be home-grown. As a result of this development the mission schools have suffered, for foreign instructors and directors had to leave, while those who came to faith through the work of missionaries were not yet equipped to take up the challenge of teaching a curriculum based on a Christ-centred worldview. This modern reality, Dr deVisser argued, does not mean that we need to sever the link between mission and education, but it does mean that we may need to be more imaginative in how we lay that link. Dr deVisser’s speech was so well received that by evening’s end the delegates (and considerable audience) were happy to sing along with Dr deVisser’s lyric.
But it was the second speaker who really put a melody to Dr deVisser’s song. Moises Lins is a full-blooded Brazilian from Maragogi who speaks about two words of English (‘thank’ and ‘you’, I believe). He related how he was raised a true Roman Catholic, so that when the Reformation came to his town through the work of Rev vanSpronsen, Rev Meijer, and others some 3 decades ago –can you imagine; nearly 500 years after it swept through Europe!– he made it his business to persecute those who joined the Reformation.
But the Lord was greater than the persecutor, so that Moises came to faith in Jesus Christ at age 22. His friends-of-youth did not join him in delighting in Christ’s redemptive work, and that reality continues to press on Moises the penetrating question: “Why me?!” This, he knows, is the gracious election of sovereign God, and he does not cease to marvel that God’s mercy is actually for him.
Moises told us that the family has largely disintegrated in Brazilian society. The absence of fathers, of marriage, of faithfulness has led to broken families and therefore a broken education system. Children graduate from state run schools, yet cannot read…. For teachers are as broken as the family, and so do little more than put in their hours to get their pay check…. But Moises, now principal of the Bible Reformed School in Maragogi, insists on high standards from his staff and students alike. The Word that saved him puts God in the centre of life – and therefore of learning and teaching, of attitude and effort too. Students coming out of Moises’ school are known in the community to be different than the students of other schools of town, simply because they actually learn things, and even learn good attitudes also. The Bible Reformed School of Maragogi has earned award after award, to the point that local government officials insist that the state fund the salaries of a number of teachers, though those officials themselves are unbelievers! Children from non-Christian homes end up at this school because of the excellent educational program offered to the children. These children are unashamedly taught the Christian faith in every subject because the triumphant Christ is unreservedly seen as Lord in all of life. So Moises could even speak of the school as “the workshop of the Holy Spirit” – and defend his case by stating that the majority of people coming to the church come via the school. Altogether, then, ‘his’ school in Maragogi is an enormous blessing for the community-as-a-whole. There is desperate need for more such schools in Maragogi and surrounding towns. For many years ‘his’ school has received funding from Canada through Mission Aid Brazil, for which Moises was exceedingly thankful, but he pleaded with the delegates present at this conference to give more support. With reference to James 1:22ff, he urged us not to “merely listen to the word” but also to “do what it says” – and that includes using the opportunities the Lord now gives (be it Brazil’s political situation, be it our material wealth) to help the brethren in Brazil be a light in their community through the school. Yet it’s not money itself he wants (though his school could certainly use it), and it’s not even foreign teachers (there’s a government policy that hinders this), but what he would dearly love to see is that we help the Brazilians train Reformed teachers, so that they in turn can help teach others in their towns from the perspective of Christ’s sovereignty over all of life. His plea seems to me so obvious; just as much as our teachers need a solid reformed training if the classroom is to be all God wants it to be, so also in Brazil teachers need a fully Bible-based pedagogical training to carry out their teaching task as best as possible. It need scarcely be said that after we hear his impassioned plea we sang with renewed zip… – and dreamed of ways to answer Moises’ plea.
As if all of this was not enough, our next speaker was none less than Pastor Thyago Lins. Thyago is Moises’ son, baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. But when Moises and his wife joined the Reformation and came to appreciate the gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ, they left no stone unturned in their effort to train this son (and the other children born to them) to know the unchanging God of the covenant. Through education in a regenerated home and further education at school that drew out the Christian worldview, to say nothing of the ongoing preaching of the gospel in church, young Thyago grew to know and love his God and Saviour. The Lord worked in him a desire to become a preacher of the gospel – but where would he receive a Biblically faithful theological training? Whatever was available in the land did not measure up to the demands of becoming a Christ-centred preacher…. So the missionaries of the day took it upon themselves, beginning in 2002, to train Thyago (and four others) to become ministers of the word. Under the blessing of the Lord, these five young Brazilians all completed their training, and four became ministers in churches spawned over the years by the labours of faithful missionaries. Thyago himself is currently minister of the Word of God in his home town of Maragogi.
This man, now, addressed the conference (again through the aid of an able translator) with a powerful exposition of 1 Thessalonians 1. He was upfront in telling us, “I am not a teacher; I am a preacher” – and it was so. With passion and skill he impressed on his hearers what steps must be met to prepare for a revival in our land. That there come repentance in the wider community is, he insisted, the Lord’s mighty work, done at His time and in His manner. That reality, though, Pastor Thyago added, does not do away with human responsibility. Critical to preparing for a revival is that the church is ever praying for it, and at the same time preaching the gospel of Christ’s triumph and lordship mightily and faithfully. Yet this preaching and praying must be adorned with upright motivation within the heart of the preacher. If the preacher is driven to do his work in order to receive the praise of men, or seeks through his work to become wealthy, he may not expect God’s blessing on his labour. Pastor Thyago knew that in his audience were a number of preachers (also older than he), yet he did not hesitate to challenge us as to what our motivation in preaching the gospel actually was. It made for a humbling and enriching moment: the product of our mission work overseas came back to open the Scriptures for us to our edification and admonition – how marvellous God’s ways! And he did it well, very well; though scarcely 30 years old, Pastor Thyago opened the Scripture with skill, laid out the gospel with clarity and pressed upon us the resulting obligations with authority. I personally found his address a highlight of the conference. It augurs very well for the mission work in Brazil that the Lord has raised up a local preacher of such talent.
Pastor Thyago’s address led logically to the next topic that held the attention of the delegates. A forum was organized so that delegates from the mission work in Brazil, China and Timor (Indonesia) could describe what was happening in their respective fields in relation to theological training. In all three fields there are loud pleas for assistance in training preachers for existing (!) congregations. It is as if the Holy Spirit has worked mightily in these lands to awaken a deep appetite for the gospel of the Great Reformation, but there are few persons able to relate the gospel fully and consistently. The question arises, then, whether the Canadian Reformed Churches could put together a training that could address these needs. Already the China work has assembled a team of six ministers mandated to put together a distance training for aspiring preachers in China. Obviously, there are enormous challenges ahead in terms of finding time for preparing the courses, teaching and marking – to say nothing of translating the material, or even coming to grips with cultural differences. Even so, such work could perhaps be used in other mission fields too…. What with our material wealth, the financial side of such an opportunity is surely quite doable. The question is whether we can develop the vision and the communal will to make it happen. Are we willing to share of the abundance we have received, including setting aside time and/or men for this work and digging into our pockets to make it happen?? That is a question that will require our attention in time to come. And the answer must be the cheerful giving that invariably accompanies the joyful singing of God’s praises.
The celebrations surrounding the 40 years of mission work in Brazil reached its climax in the church service held in Surrey on Sunday evening, August 15. To a packed church (yes, in Surrey!) Pastor Thyago proclaimed the word of God as the Lord spoke it in Matthew 13, about the parable of the mustard seed. A mustard seed, Pastor Thyago told his audience, does not commonly grow into a tree but into a shrub. But by the mighty working of sovereign God, the Word of the gospel grows to become –surprise!– a mighty tree (as already foretold in Ezekiel 17:24) so that birds of the air –nations and peoples from far and wide– find rest in its branches. This, Pastor Thyago told his hearers, is the good news of Pentecost that we’re seeing even today; peoples from Canada and Brazil and China and Indonesia (and the list goes on) come to faith in Jesus Christ and find rest for their restless souls in the great tree known as the church of Jesus Christ. Yet that doesn’t happen without God’s people acting responsibly, and so this Brazilian minister thanked the Canadian churches heartily for sending the reformed gospel to Brazil through the work of missionaries. He assured his hearers that the churches of Brazil are earnestly engaged in their communities, striving to pass on the wealth of the gospel to the peoples around them. More, Pastor Thyago pressed upon his Canadian hearers that it is for us to do the same in our own communities, causing the light to shine brightly for the advantage and salvation of many around us. For in the great tree that God caused to grow from that so tiny beginning is room for innumerable restless souls to find peace in the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ. What wonderful encouragement for our task in Canada!
From the several I spoke to, the service was supremely edifying, gratitude for the gospel was renewed and enthusiasm swelled for mission work far and near. For such a response I thank the Lord sincerely.
The challenge now is to maintain momentum in this enthusiasm, not just in word but in deed. The Lord our God has given us so very much in the wealth of the gospel, and there’s so much hunger in so many places around the world. How, O how, can we best give of our abundance to help others find the same rest we’re allowed to enjoy in the gospel?? A great question to keep chewing on during our coffee klatches….
10 September 2010