In place of the regular Friday afternoon chapel, two missionaries, Revs. Wieske and Wildeboer, spoke to us of the ministry on the front lines. While most of the mission presentations I’d heard before focused on the physical mission, the work on the ground, this talk dealt more with the mental and spiritual side of things. Their talk had three main points. They spoke of the call to the mission field and its attendant struggles, the misconceptions people often have about missions, and the joy that such work provides. Each point lasted roughly 15 minutes, with each pastor speaking to the point from his own perspective and experience. I won’t go into too much detail or summarize the talk, but I’ll give my impressions.
One of the most interesting take-home points was during the Misconceptions segment. They related how people often think that the theological work is relatively simple in missions, that you’re giving people the basics and that there isn’t much need for, say, an extensive library. You might even run a little stale out there. Actually, it’s the opposite that’s true. Us Canadian Reformed folk grow up with our liturgical habits ingrained within us. They become so natural that they seem self-evident. But out in the field these people have no such habits, and no cultural frame of reference to which you can appeal, either. They don’t yet understand the rich historical heritage we carry with us, so, as a result, everything’s got to be explained from square one. You’ve got to understand your position so well that you can communicate clearly across some difficult cultural terrain. This takes creativity, a lot of knowledge, and a completely obvious, no-nonsense, I’d-give-everything-that-means-anything-to-me sort of love for Christ. There’s no handbook for this stuff. There’s no “12 Steps to Creating a Prosperous Reformed Federation in a Country Whose Nominal Christian Population is Largely Starving at the Tables of Catholicism and Pentecostalism.” What there is, in all of its blessed counter-intuitiveness, is the foolishness of preaching. And what a delight it was, what an encouraging pleasure, to hear of preaching’s real power.
We heard the story of a man who had left his wife for a woman half her age, with whom he was living in sin. In Brazil, apparently, this is like winning the lottery. Churches don’t bother trying to restore these things, they figure it’s a lost cause. For the most part, they’ll just tell the guy to marry the new girl and be faithful to her and leave it at that. It’s the easy road, and besides, if he leaves the new girl isn’t he being unfaithful to her? Thankfully, Rev. Wieske’s not an ethical gymnast, and he told the man that living with this woman was an affront to God’s law and would cost him his soul. To make a long story short, Rev. Wieske said, the man is back with his wife, their marriage is restored, and the woman with whom he was living is now also a believer. Are there even words fitting to praise God for such a joyful story? What a gift that gospel is, what power! It actually made me a little nervous. After all, if it’s that potent, shouldn’t they be suiting us up?
They shared with us moments of struggle as well, the emotional toll that sharing the Gospel can take on a pastor’s life. And those moments were moving; glasses were removed, throats cleared, eyes were wiped. I could imagine that being a missionary isn’t easy, but to hear the real stories is something else. It was a privilege to hear of their journeys, and heartening as well. Despite physical or emotional weakness, and despite moments of doubt and questions and the siren call of the comforts of Canadian life, the Lord’s servants are His instruments, and the gospel progresses and grows. The whole presentation confirmed the truth that God’s grace alone is sufficient, and that His power is made perfect in our weakness.
It was a great way to begin my four years, and far from making me worried about this path, I’m all the more excited to walk it and see what lies ahead.