Everyone has problems. Some are large and important since they are of far-reaching consequence; others are relatively trivial. Such are also the problems of your missionary. It is not really a matter of anxious concern that we have such problems, nor should we feel that something strange has befallen us. Above all, we should not feel that when we are beset by difficulties that we are left in the lurch, for when we look all about us and all seems to fail we have but to look up at the rising and setting sun, the faithful appearance of the moon, which each in its own way bespeaks the faithfulness of the almighty God! Paul writes to the Philippians, “The Lord is at hand.” He is very nigh unto those who call upon him. Ere we call he will answer!
There is ever the problem for the missionary of finding a field of labor and of determining whether it is a truly fruitful field. Truthfully this matter is generally easily solved in the way of patient and dedicated labor. One can only determine whether the field is fruitful by preaching the Word and the full counsel of God, and by teaching the truth in Christ. Thus, it is stated in the parable of the sower “who went forth to sow.” And, if only the seed of the Word is faithfully sown, then it will become manifest rather soon whether the seed fell in part by the wayside and was plucked up by Satan’s birds or not. It will also surely become evident by and by whether the seed fell into stony ground, where there is no depth of earth, in that the Word being received straightway, it is rejected when persecution cometh for the Word’s sake. And, again, the nature of the hearers will come to manifestation, when the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word and it does not become fruitful in godliness and patience. And since the nature of the hearers becomes evident by means of the sowing of the good seed, it too will be seen whether the seed has fallen into good ground and bears fruit in patience, some hundredfold, some sixty-fold and some thirty-fold.
It is rather unrealistic and an oversimplification of the matter to assume that when a missionary begins in a certain “field” that he goes there to reap the harvest, a kind of ecclesiastical “landslide,” a luscious plum to pick. It is sometimes depicted by those who ought to know better as if one would find a church made to order like a prefabricated house. The fallacious thought is often that one finds a “group”; all the missionary needs to do is sell his Protestant Reformed theology and life and world view, and be on his way to the next client. That is rather far from the actual facts. Those, in whose midst we have labored, know this as well as your missionary, my dear youthful reader!
The fact of the matter is that as little as a minister can indoctrinate his catechism class sufficiently to make confession of faith in a few short months, so little can your missionary indoctrinate those who have not been under either sound Reformed preaching, or even Arminian and liberal preaching, in a few short months. The kingdom of heaven is like “leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole is leavened.” Gradually men and women come to a certain settled conviction that God calls them to seek official fellowship with our churches. It takes time for them to thus be sufficiently rooted because God gives such time and thus works according to the nature of man.
As long as the situation has not sufficiently stabilized in a certain group one cannot advise them to organize into a church-institute with elders and deacons. One cannot run ahead of the Lord with impunity. Often the situation is such that those who seemed to be men of character and faith are not; they soon or eventually leave the “group.” A certain central nucleus of faith members comes to evidence, and others arc gradually added by the Lord. Now those who are added by the Lord later are not as far advanced in knowledge and understanding as those who were under the preaching and teaching throughout the entire ministry of the missionary. And the problem is to come to the realization that we cannot ever simply hold meetings and preaching services, but that we must press forward to permanent organization. And this requires much faith, especially if the group is relatively small.
It is here at this point that it is rather easy to say when not personally involved in the situation, “If the situation is such that there is no immediately visible and humanly foreseeable group, numerically strong—well simply pull out.” It is also rather unethical and not consonant with the mandate of Christ. When the people reject the Word and do not care to hear the Word, then one does not even just “simply” leave, but then there is an awesome act of “shaking the dust from one’s feet” against them for a testimony. That is then an act of “judgment” and not merely a “pulling of stakes.” For then an ambassador of Christ has been rejected, and Christ Himself has been sent away. With less than this we may not preach the Word as Christ’s ambassador, and with less than this we may not leave a “field.”
I saw an interesting little sign recently, it said, “Everyone has twenty-twenty hindsight.” After the seed has been sown, yes, then we know the situation. However, let it be remembered that a “field” is never simply all good but the seed is ever so sown that it will be both unfruitful and fruitful. The outcome is of the Lord. When your missionary was installed in office now some nine years ago, it was emphasized in the official preaching of the Word that when the Word is truly preached it is not preached in vain. We are always conquerors both in those being saved and in those who perish.
Now a missionary, at least this missionary, has his “ups” and “downs.” It is often difficult to keep a good equilibrium and to adjudge properly of a given situation. He often learns in a given particular situation by trial and error, or by testing a certain situation. Thus did Jesus Himself when many left Him and heard Him no more, and when he said to His disciples, “Will ye not also go.” It was then that Peter as spokesman for the rest said, “Lord to whom shall we go; thou hast the Words of life, and we have believed and confessed that thou art the Christ of God.” This latter is what, in effect, happened recently in Houston. When the Mission Committee went on record that we should cease our labors “at once,” it was an outcry of the small group, in this large city with many and manifold churches, to whom shall we go. We have learned to believe that you are preaching to us the Words of life. Where shall we go in this large city. They hastened to write to the Committee, “Do rescind your decision, and let Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers return.” In fact, they telephoned to the Committee directly from Texas while the Committee was in session in the Consistory room of First Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A committee of one minister and one elder plan to visit Houston for three Sundays in the near future. After a visit of investigation to the “east” Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers hope to return.
The Mission Committee rescinded its decision that we cease our labors at Houston. Will there be a church there? We have reasons to hope that this will be realized. Let us remember this cause and these brethren and sisters too before the throne of grace.
Remember also the Mission Committee, and do not forget to pray for your missionary.