Maragogi (near Recife), Brazil (June 30–July 5)

With Young Brazilians Hungry for the Word

With Young Brazilians Hungry for the Word

On Monday morning we got up at 2:30 a.m. to catch a 4:30 a.m. flight to Recife, then drove for two hours over bumpy roads and through beautiful scenery to finally arrive by noon at the Praia Dourada Hotel, Maragogi, in the state of Alagoas. Attendees were ministers, seminarians, elders, families, and young people, most of whom appeared to be hungry for biblical, Reformed truth. From Monday evening to Friday morning, the conference was packed with seventeen sessions, of which four were given by Brazilians, six by Dr. Jones, and seven by me. We repeated the messages given at Belem and then added more. Breno’s colleague, Rodrigo Brotto, the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Teresina and professor of systematic theology and philosophy at the Presbyterian Seminary at Teresina (where Breno also serves), joined Breno as another able translator.

Dr. Jones and I felt particularly helped at this conference. We did considerable pastoring between sessions as well, ranging from counseling a new convert, to counseling a woman whose husband left her and another man whose wife had left him, to a variety of questions on various doctrinal issues. Ten young people approached me to discuss questions about the love of God, especially wondering how God could love His people with the same love with which He loved His own unique Son.

Once again, I enjoyed my time Rev. Josafá Vasconcelos, pastor of the Reformation Heritage Presbyterian Church in Salvador. He has been a dear friend for years—I recently dedicated one of my books to him. Decades ago he was known as the “Brazilian Billy Graham,” but is now a solid “sovereign grace” man with a big heart for the Lord and the spiritual welfare of people. A gifted itinerant evangelist and conference speaker who has preached to as many as tens of thousands of people at once, he turned away from “free-will decisionism” a few decades ago largely through the Lord blessing the reading of Puritan theology to his soul. This brother is a precious, godly man who can articulate in broken English how he was converted in such a manner that it is difficult to remain dry-eyed. It was not easy for him to become an experimental Calvinist, but by the grace of God he has become a man of immense faith, notwithstanding the great price he has paid in his ministry. The crowds are now much smaller, but he is being invited to speak all over the vast country of Brazil. He told me that when the Lord finally persuaded him of the truth of sovereign grace, “it was both terrible and wonderful—terrible because of all the people I have deceived for years, and wonderful because I may finally bring a gospel message in which salvation depends upon God rather than upon man.” At this conference, he did a magnificent job at leading the conference in Psalm-singing—something that is quite new in Brazil. How I wish you could hear these people sing the Psalms with all their heart! And we think that we sing them heartily!

Numerous serious and informal conversations transpired throughout these busy conference days. Three young men met with me to talk about attending our seminary. All three have considerable potential and qualifications and seem seriously called to ministry, but once again, the problem is that we don’t have sufficient scholarship money to offer to all of them. As in most foreign cultures, Brazilians want the author to sign every book they buy. This opened the door for more conversations. We can only pray that these symposiums supply Reformed and Presbyterian believers with renewed hope for their church life and deeper insight into God’s Word, and that those who may yet be unsaved will be awakened and learn to flee to Christ alone for salvation.

On my long return flight, my name was called before take-off, and I was suddenly bumped up to a great exit row seat with leg room where I could use my computer to edit Anthony Burgess’s little book on Assurance of Faith, completing it by 2:30 a.m.Meanwhile, that opened the door for me to evangelize the Roman Catholic sitting next to me who had never heard of Martin Luther. When I explained that I was a Protestant minister, he said he had long wanted to know what the word “Protestant” meant but didn’t know who to ask. So we started at the beginning and talked about what Luther did, and how he saw the difference between salvation by works and salvation by grace, etc. He listened well but asked lots of such elementary questions that I realized I had to become even simpler. What privileges we have!

Once again, we were privileged to see how the Lord is working to bring needy sinners in another part of the world to faith in Jesus Christ. What an encouragement to come to know people who hold firmly with mind and soul to the teachings of Scripture, summarized in the Reformed Confessions! Earnest Reformed believers in Brazil are struggling to remain faithful as they wrestle with the erosion of preaching, man-centered worship, dysfunctional churches and leaders, and a cultural religion bound by superstition. But the differences, in comparison to our circumstances, are humbling. Our Brazilian brothers and sisters have few resources at their disposal, such small numbers amid the millions who struggle with poverty and crime, and such a pervasive need for good literature, competent leadership training, and an understanding of what Reformed experiential religion truly is.

With a Brazilian Brother who Translated Some of My Books into Portuguese

With a Brazilian Brother who Translated Some of My Books into Portuguese

Belem, Brazil (June 25–29)

Preaching in Brazil, with Translator Breno Macedo

Preaching in Brazil, with Translator Breno Macedo

Let me first give you a few facts about Brazil. With an estimated population of 180 million, Brazil ranks as the sixth largest country in the world. The majority of Brazilians live along the coastal region, with 81% of the total population dwelling in urban areas. These include the capital, Brasilia (pop. 2 million), São Paulo (11 million), Rio de Janeiro (6 million), Salvador (2.5 million), Fortaleza (2 million), and Recife (1.5 million). Portuguese is the national language, although the population includes a number of ethnic groups such as Italian, German, Japanese, and African minorities. About 80% of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Reformation reached South America around 1557, when a group of Huguenots sought to establish a new Geneva in Rio de Janeiro in 1557, but were martyred in 1558. In the early seventeenth century, Holland sought to colonize northeastern Brazil, an effort that included significant missionary activity. But after several decades, they were driven out by the Portuguese and the seeds of Reformed teaching and life were scattered among the native Indians.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, several American Presbyterian missionaries came to Brazil, including Rockwell Smith, a cousin of B. B. Warfield. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPB) was founded in 1859, and today has some 3,700 congregations and missionary groups, eight seminaries, and Mackenzie University, one of the largest schools in Latin America. Unfortunately, throughout the twentieth century, the IPB has come under the influence of various religious movements such as Pentecostalism, Dispensationalism, liberation theology, and theological liberalism. Infected with the toxins of lodge membership and doctrinal pluralism, the denomination has developed a strong hierarchy whose politics exerts a corrosive influence throughout the church.

The 24th Annual Puritan Symposium for the Puritan Project in Brazil took place this year in Belem (June 26–29) and Recife (July 1–4). The attendees in Belem numbered close to 500; in Maragogi, about 400.

Brazil, with Mark Jones and His SonThe trip to Brazil was a long but good one. In Detroit, I met up with Dr. Mark Jones, coauthor of our book, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, now to be co-traveler and co-speaker in Brazil. (He took Dr. David Murray’s place, as my dear brother has been suffering physically from blood clots in his lungs—please pray for his complete and speedy restoration of health.) A gracious donor allowed Dr. Jones to bring his six-year-old son Joshua with him. For all three of us, the ten-hour overnight flight from Detroit to Sao Paulo went well, as did the three hour flight back up north to Belem.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Dr. Manoel Canuto, Breno Macedo (a former student of PRTS), a brother named Julius (a pastor working on behalf of the Canadian Reformed churches in networking on various ministries in Brazil), the local senior pastor, Americo, and one of his elders named Kleos (who is also the principal of the local Christian school).

Dr. Manoel Canuto, a native pediatric surgeon, is a godly brother whose heart, in his words, “burns within me when I read the Puritans.” After reading some of the Puritans translated into Portuguese in the early 1990s, Dr. Canuto’s eyes were opened to understand and experience the doctrines of grace. He came to love the Puritan theology represented by his Brazilian Presbyterian Church’s official doctrinal statement, the Westminster Standards. Those standards long ago became quite neglected in the life of the Brazilian church. Understandably, he became burdened to pass on the Puritan heritage, particularly to the office-bearers and seminarians in his own denomination.

Dr. Canuto shared his vision of the recovery of Puritan theology with Olin Coleman, a former career missionary in northeast Brazil; out of their mutual concern, the Puritan Project was born. Since Olin passed away several years ago, his now 48-year-old son Michael (who has 1200 employees under his supervision as vice-president of a major communications company) has taken over his father’s role as the Puritan Project’s North American General Director. I got to spend treasured time with Michael later on in the second conference, and found him to have a huge heart for the cause of Reformed, Puritan, confessional truth—in fact, my visit with him was one of the highlights of this trip.

Most of the efforts of the Puritan Project are devoted to three areas in particular. First, a bimonthly theological journal, Jornal Os Puritanos (Journal of the Puritans), is edited and published by Dr. Canuto. Second, Puritan and Reformed works are translated into Portuguese. There are now several hundred sound Reformed books in Portuguese, though many major works remain untranslated. Third, annual symposiums are held throughout Brazil, featuring speakers from England and North America as well as Brazilians. These conferences have drawn an increasing number of participants during the past several years. This year they were held in Belem and Maragogi under the theme: “Pure Doctrine, Pure Life: Learning and Growing with the Puritans.”

Belem is warm and muggy, but happily, air conditioning is everywhere. And much more importantly, the people are spiritually hungry. Their hunger is nearly tangible; their questions, sincere; their worship, earnest. Over the course of three days, Dr. Mark Jones gave several addresses on Christ, from His incarnation to His beautiful heart in heaven for His people on earth. His talk on Jesus’ own religious and emotional life was superb. The addresses were packed with profound, beautiful thoughts about our glorious Savior which stirred up love for Him in the hearts of many. After an introductory message on the only way to live and die, I spoke on the Puritan view of various doctrines, including divine providence, the indwelling Spirit, and God’s love in heaven. Our translator, Breno Macedo, was superb—translating not only rapidly and accurately, but also with as much emotion and passion as we spoke with—perhaps sometimes even more!

Between the services I spent some time visiting with about fifteen members of the Davis families, who had driven many hours from the Amazon jungle to be present for this week’s Symposium. The Davis families are pioneer ranchers deep in Brazil’s jungle near the Amazon River. They donate to the Puritan Project and are avid promoters of the orthodox Reformed faith in both doctrine and lifestyle. They originated from Alabama some three decades ago, at which time their father went to the Belgian Congo as a missionary for six years with his family, then moved the family to these jungles as a missionary rancher. After he and two sons were murdered by the natives, the children decided to stay on the home ranch in Brazil and carry on their Christian witness in the jungle. They have established a chapel on their ranch and homeschool their children. Some of the husbands deliver their wives’ babies; the children learn to do everything that needs to be done on a large ranch. They have been receiving our literature and listening to our sermons for many years. Many of you will know them as the relatives of Rev. Johnny Serafini’s wife, Barry. I spoke at length to one of Barry’s cousins, a 35-year-old single woman, who lives far from civilization in the heart of the Amazon jungle, well beyond where the rest of her family is residing. There, all alone, among the wild animals and a few people in the area, she manages her entire farm by herself, ministers to river people, and perseveres in praying God to send a minister to come and serve these people! It was a joy to speak with these godly and interesting people once again.

Brazil, with Some Members of the Davis Family

With Some Members of the Davis Family

Other stimulating visits transpired, too. Two young men spoke to me about their sense of calling to the ministry and their desire to train at PRTS. And then, ten young men from a pentecostal church, who seemed eager to learn, peppered me with a variety of doctrinal and experiential questions.

On Sunday, Dr. Jones and I preached for the Presbyterian church that housed the conference. Because many of the visitors stayed, the church which holds about five hundred people was overflowing.

Here is an update from my nephew about his wife’s cancer treatment. Thank you for your prayers!

Greetings Friends,

We are thankful that Trichelle finished all her radiation treatments several weeks ago and is doing very well. Her skin is recovering very nicely and all the blisters have healed over. She no longer has much discomfort from the treatments.

Her energy continues to return, although she still quickly feels more tired when trying to do all the activities she used to do. She continues to receive Herceptin treatments every 3 weeks and also takes daily hormone treatment each morning.

We have been asked often when we will get some results from all of these treatments. The type of cancer that Trichelle was diagnosed with is not traceable through typical count method, and the known tumour and all of the lymph nodes in her arm pit were surgically removed. As a result, after all the treatments, we will need to wait and see if any new tumours develop which would be the obvious sign that the cancer is still there.

The Bible describes faith as the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Heb. 11:1). We have been called to trust our LORD in this journey and rest that He is in control. The Bible also assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

As a family we have been so thankful for the support given by some many.  Thanks for the stack of cards we have collected, the emails, the prayers, and the variety of other gestures of support shown to us. Each one has been appreciated.

With the school year coming to a close, as family we are excited about a planned camping trip coming up at the end of June.  The boys have been busy getting ready for this trip and checking out pictures of the grizzly bears, moose, and caribou we might see. Emilee has been busy changing her babies’ diapers in preparation for the trip. Daddy has a few birds in mind that he might see, and Mommy is busy doing one of her favourite activities—organizing!

We wish you all health and strength.

Thanks again,

Dave, Trichelle, Breyden, Quinten, and Emilee Beeke

http://www.joelbeeke.org/2014/06/1596/

Sow the Seed beside Many Waters

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of Korea, Meeting in Los Angeles

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of Korea, Meeting in Los Angeles

The last few months, the Lord has blessed me with a variety of opportunities to sow the seed of His Word. Here is my pastoral letter covering events from February 24 through May 24. As you read it, please pray for God to produce a rich harvest from these efforts, for one servant plants, and another waters, but only God can give the growth.

Take Time to Be Holy

Cramming Life With Too Many Good Things from NCFIC on Vimeo.

Opportunity Cost

Here is a valedictorian’s address heard at a recent graduation that was a blessing to my own soul.

Dear friends, family, and my fellow graduates,

We’ve learned a lot over the past several years, haven’t we? Between our friends and professors and everyone else who has crossed our paths, we’ve received so much teaching. Some of it has been long forgotten, some will resurface at crucial points in the future, and some will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

It was two years ago that I was taught something that has stuck with me and has already made a huge difference in my life and I’d like to share it with you this morning. It was a dreary morning in economics class, about the time in the semester when the newness has worn off but the end is still out of sight. I pulled out my laptop and began taking notes about the tradeoffs people make in business and how we respond to incentives. And then I heard the definition of opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is the amount of one thing you are willing to give up in order to obtain something else. For example, the cost of our Cornerstone tuition is not just the amount on the checks we send in, but it is also the amount of money we are not making at a full-time job while we’re in school. On the other hand, the opportunity cost of not going to school could be working a $10 an hour job for the rest of our lives instead of getting an education and making more in the future.

But there’s far more than dollars to the idea of opportunity cost. Each of our lives is a series of decisions in which we choose certain opportunities at the expense of others. We might need to choose whether we’re going to sleep in at the expense of our devotions, sit on social media when we have a chance to interact with real people, make and hoard plenty of money instead of sharing it with missions, or keep to ourselves when we have a chance to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God willing, we have a lifetime of opportunities spread out before us, chances to show the world Who Christ is and what mercy can do in a life and why the gospel is crucial. You might have said the sinner’s prayer when you were 7 but are you taking the opportunities God Himself has put in your path? The opportunity cost of living for our own happiness alone is priceless because it could include the salvation of souls! Matthew 16:26 says, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

As you walk out of this building into the “real world,” what are you willing to give up for your own soul or for the soul next to you? Would you give up your life? Your career? Would you trade in comfortable living if that was the cost of a soul? Your phone? An hour of free time? What is the opportunity cost of a soul? I don’t know; I can’t give you a dollar value or a set amount of time or a certain level of uncomfortableness and say, “If you give this, a soul will be saved.” You won’t know until you reach heaven’s gate if God used opportunities you took to be used in His soul-saving work. Maybe the opportunity cost of a soul will be your life on the mission field, maybe it will be giving up a promotion in order to be home with your family, maybe it will be making time for a person who no one else makes time for, maybe it will be a smile and a word of encouragement.

But whatever the God-glorifying opportunity is, I hope that with God’s help, you take it. Thank you.

Living Monovision for Christ

Harold Popovich, member of the Grand Rapids Heritage Netherlands Reformed Church, died at the age of 86 on April 27, 2014. Harold and his surviving wife, Dr. Fran Popovich, spent 40 years of their 57 years of marriage on the mission field in Brazil serving Wycliffe Bible Translators in the translation of the Bible into the Maxakali language.

Harold Popovich grew up in Chicago in a Reformed church under the ministry of Dr. Hagar, a son of the Rev. Hagar who served the Netherlands Reformed Church (NRC). He came under severe conviction of sin when he was 13 years old and was brought into gospel liberty when he was 14. After he died, his wife found this note (just a few days ago) written by him among his papers:

At age 13 I suddenly became aware that I was not born again. Somehow I knew that God contributes all and that we contribute nothing. Furthermore, what we brag about, God considers filthy rags. This hit me hard. How could something so enjoyable be so bad? There must be a mistake. In my anger I entered a year of vicious battle with God. On the last day of the year, I finally surrendered and God filled me with His overwhelming presence. I was crucified with Christ and He lived in me.

Harold was teaching in a Chicago high school when he met Fran, who was in nurses’ training. One of the things that drew him to her, he later told her, was that she grew up in the NRC! They discovered that they were both called to serve the Lord on the mission field. They were married in June, 1956 and began training in linguistics under Wycliffe. Harold wrote later: “God called me to foreign missionary work. In the following years, He kept me from being tied up in other things until we went to Brazil and the Maxakali Indians.”

In forty years on the mission field, the Popovich’s raised four children, did nearly everything from scratch in every area of life (since they lived in primitive conditions), and with a linguist-colleague they analyzed Maxakali speech sounds (they determined that the language had five oral vowels, five nasal vowels, and fifteen consonants), and jointly translated the entire New Testament as well as parts of Genesis. (After they retired, they continued to help develop translation helps and finished the Maxakali-Portuguese and the Maxakali-English dictionaries.)

Fran testified to me of her husband, “For 57 years God allowed me to be married to a humble, kind man, with a generous servant heart, who loved the Lord and hated sin. From the time I first met him, he always had what I call ‘monovision’—that is, he wanted to live entirely for Christ, and the Indians in Brazil were at the heart of that vision. They absolutely loved my husband. By God’s grace, he always walked with integrity in my presence and in theirs. What a blessing to have had such a husband!”

Harold Popovich was always expecting Christ to return on the clouds. But now he has returned to His Savior who has called him home to the church triumphant, saying through his death, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

At his memorial service, I preached on Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That text just seemed like a fitting summary of this dear brother’s simple, humble, “monovisionistic” life. We sang that beautiful Psalter 31:3,4,7 and that amazing hymn (Harold’s favorite), “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” May God make us jealous of those who have gone before us to be with Christ forever.

What about you, dear friend? Is your life a monovision of “Christ alone”?

Conference in Idaho (April 25–28)

Happy Church Family Geneva OPC

I flew on Friday morning to speak five times and do two Q&A’s for the New Geneva OPC Conference of the Family in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Idaho Falls is Mormon country. I sat next to Mormons on my last flight out and my first flight back and had long talks with both of them. I learned more about Mormonism than I ever knew before. It is remarkable how devoted these two Mormons were (one was an elder) to their set of beliefs that often blatantly contradict the Bible, but that really shouldn’t be surprising as both of them said they do not believe in the infallibility of Scripture. Both of them had an uncanny ability, too, at evading direct questions!

Rev. David and Debbie Bass

Rev. David and Debbie Bass

The local pastor, Rev. David Bass, spoke on Sunday schools and children in the worship services. I spoke on the biblical duties of husband and wives, the biblical duties of parents, how to bring your children to Christ, how to do family worship, and what my God-fearing parents taught me.

I very much enjoyed staying with my hosts, Peter and Bernie Nageta, as well as going to supper with the McNeeley family. I sat between their 9-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl who said some remarkably mature and cute things to me throughout the meal. I was also impressed with Roger and Andrea VanMiddendorp, and their nine children, ranging from 15 to 4. Large families who fear God and conscientiously bring up their children in a godly, scriptural way are so impressive.

Less than a hundred people attended the conference but they bought every single book of the five large boxes that RHB sent out, plus we had to back order many more. The average family bought close to $200 worth of books. These people are hungry. That is also evident from their church services, which often last two hours, notwithstanding that all the children remain in the service!

Update from Trichelle Beeke

Hi Everybody,

Just wanted to send a quick update to tell everyone how I am doing.

Radiation is going very well. It has gone by so fast. I drive myself every day and usually park by the close church that has free parking and then walk five minute to the hospital. It is a really nice time just to get out and walk to and from my appointments. I have some great babysitters who are willing to watch my younger two children for the hour and a half that it takes for me to drive and get my radiation.

The side effects of the radiation have been very few. I don’t feel overly tired and my skin is doing very well—just slightly pink.

So I will be finished with radiation on May 6. Then I will continue with my Herceptin treatments until December. I meet with my oncologist after my radiation is finished to discuss hormone therapy as well.

I (and the rest of my family) really appreciate all the prayers, cards, meals, and babysitting that we have received. The Lord has upheld us amazingly through this all and looking back, we feel as though the time has gone so fast.

Thank you all for thinking and praying for us.

Here is a little quote from our middle child Quinten who is obviously used to all this now. We drove to Abbotsford today with the kids and sister-in-law. We parked at the church to walk to the hospital because we were nice and early. We pulled into the church parking lot and Quinten says, “Which doctor office is this?”

Love,

Trichelle and family

Pray for Tornado Victims

Rob Tittle and Family

Rob Tittle and Family

I ask for your prayers for those suffering after the recent tornadoes. Please pray in particular for the Tittle family in Arkansas after the death of their father Rob and two daughters, and the destruction of their home. The Tittles were regular customers of Reformation Heritage Books, especially buying children’s books for their ministry. One of the surviving daughters posted on Facebook, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” May the Lord sustain their faith in this terrible trial, and provide for all their needs out of His riches in Christ Jesus.