South Carolina, New Jersey, and Airplane Evangelism

Speakers at GPTS Conference

Speakers at GPTS Conference


My apologies for not writing this sooner, but two weeks ago (March 11–13), this year’s helpful conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary was all about the deep yet practical and beautiful doctrine of God’s providence. Dr. James McGoldrick spoke on Calvin’s doctrine of vocation; Dr. Ben Shaw on the relationship of providence to the problem of evil; Dr. James Anderson on the origin of sin; Dr. Derek Thomas on “middle knowledge”; and Rev. Benjamin Miller on “a preacher’s journey through the mists of providence.” Dr. Joseph Pipa addressed the subjects of providence’s relation to fatalism and on the problem of blaming the devil in relation to providence. I spoke on the definition and beauty of providence and on the practical benefits of providence.

The 400 to 450 attendees eagerly drank in deep truths about God’s providence—it was a great group to speak to. Fellowship was great too with friends old and new. And book-buying was unusually robust. Steve Renkema and Chris Engelsma were there with me from Reformation Heritage Books and sold $16,000 worth of books. May God add His blessing to both topics and books.

On Thursday, March 13th, I scrambled getting from South Carolina to New Jersey because my plane was canceled; the airline rebooked me for the 14th, which means that I would have missed some important visits in New Jersey with friends of our seminary. A friend took me to the airport, and in God’s kind providence, I managed to get a very late night flight—then I rushed back to the conference site to give my last address. I mentioned in the address that when I heard my plane was canceled, my first thought was, “You have got to be kidding me!” And my second thought was, “And you are the guy who has to speak about God’s providence today?” I then added, “Who knows? Perhaps my plane had to be canceled so that I could board another in order to meet someone I have to evangelize.”

When I got to the airport, I found out that if I flew standby I might be able to arrive in New Jersey three hours earlier than the late flight to Newark by getting on a flight to the John F. Kennedy airport, and then taking a shuttle bus over to the Newark airport, where my brother was waiting for me. In God’s kind providence, I got the last seat on the plane—a seat next to a young man from the Netherlands. When he heard that I was a minister in the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, he was very interested in talking. He said that he believed in the Bible but only went to church occasionally. With a smile he said, “I think you can have a very good relationship with God without having to go to church.”

I told him that I was glad he believed in the Bible, and then asked him, “So does that mean if I were to show you in the Bible where it says that we should not forsake attending church regularly, you would begin to go to church regularly because you believe in the Bible?”

When he heard about Hebrews 10:25, he backtracked quickly! “Truth be told,” he said, “I guess that I believe only parts of the Bible.”

Upon further questioning, he admitted that he believed in those parts of the Bible that he wanted to believe in and discarded the rest, and thought that that was what everyone should do! “So if I hear you correctly,” I said, “then everyone really can sort of be a god to themselves, picking and choosing what is truth from the Scriptures according to their own likes and dislikes?”

“Well, I never thought of it that way,” he said, “but I suppose that is what I believe.”

I spent the next half hour trying to convince him of the foolishness and futility of that belief, and that if there really is a God, He is worthy to be served wholeheartedly—not half-heartedly. After a while, he seemed to be quite convicted, and said that he would like to learn more about what I believe. He said he would gladly pay for some of my books that I promised to send him. Without my prodding, he promised that he would read them all and volunteered that he would write me back after reading them, letting me know his thoughts and questions. Pray that he will!

I managed to find the right shuttle bus for Newark at the JFK airport. There was only one open seat, so I soon found myself talking to a single, 27-year-old black woman who worked for a day care center. She loves children and caring for them. She claimed to be a Christian but only went to church three times a year, and was not reading her Bible faithfully. I ended up explaining the gospel to her, and she seemed to find it interesting and helpful. Though she offered no resistance to the gospel, it seemed to me that she was quite content with her present life, except that she wanted to be married. For the rest of the trip, we talked about what kind of man she should look for if she truly was to receive a God-fearing husband.

So my plane was canceled, but God gave me not one, but two people to evangelize!

I was glad to finally connect with my brother Jim in Newark. We had a wonderful time with our gracious hosts and spent the next two days visiting ten couples in northern New Jersey who are friends of the seminary before we were to fly home late Saturday afternoon. But on Saturday morning, I received an email message that my plane was canceled again and that I was re-booked for Sunday morning! Again, I was scrambling, but happily, my administrative assistant was able to get me a direct flight from Newark to home a few hours earlier than my original flight (there was only one seat left on that plane too!). Jim and I managed to shave a little time off all our visits and get to the airport in time for the earlier flight. By having a direct flight, I was able to get home four hours earlier than anticipated—a great help for preparing for the Sabbath! How good and kind Providence is!


  1. Elias Medeiros

    Dear brother Joel,

    I have been greatly encouraged as I read your report, especially the conversation in the plane with the Dutch young man. God bless you and your family. Keep sharing the good news to all as you always do.

    Fokjelina and I missed you and your dear wife.

    Your pilgrim brother,

    Elias Medeiros

  2. John Van Voorhis

    WOW! One more great testimony to add to our conference on Providence! It was really a wonderful conference. I listened again to your two very excellent messages, and the Lord used them to give me much contentment from the vexations I had been experiencing related to selling my home. Praise the Lord! John V

  3. Thank you for speaking at our conference. The two “lectures” you gave will bless many for years to come. Great news for RHB. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the book on Winslow’s preaching was available, I believe, the week after the conference. 🙂

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