Stellenbosch, South Africa (January 13-15)

Conference Attendees

Monday through Wednesday was the second and final Grace Ministers’ Conference for this year. It was held at the Stellenbosch Lodge in beautiful Stellenbosch, a South African city famous for its vineyards. We were told that in the old days, slaves would work in the vineyards for no pay other than receiving bottles of wine, which helped turn nearly all of them into alcoholics. Happily, today things are somewhat better. With a backdrop of rugged mountains, the lush green vineyards of Stellenbosch glow with stunning beauty.

Dr. McIntosh and I gave the same four addresses each as at the first Grace Ministers’ Conference and again had two Q/A sessions. I learned a great deal in these weeks from my brother about the creation/evolution issue and I felt more freedom in preaching this time around. I had several good talks with dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. On Tuesday, I especially enjoyed my time with Karl Peterson, who I knew for a few years as a missionary from Mozambique, but is now teaching for BISA (Bible Institute for South Africa)—a school quite similar to Mukhanyo Theological College. Pastor Peterson had the highest praise for Mukhanyo and for Dr. Brian DeVries and Dr. Miskin’s efforts there. I also had three lengthy conversations with prospective students, two of which seems very hopeful to me.

Aime and Micheline Sefu

Aime and Micheline Sefu

One couple, Aime and Micheline Sefu, told me they had two children, the youngest being named Eneilla Emmanuella, which is derived from a French sentence that means “the eternal Lord is alive”! I asked them if there was a special reason they gave this child such a unique name. They told me that this girl was born in special circumstances.

Two weeks after Micheline became pregnant with her, Aime lost his job. Despite crying long and hard to the Lord, no matter what he tried he could find no employment. During the pregnancy, God covered Micheline by applying Isaiah 66:9 powerfully to her soul, “Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? Saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God.” Eneilla was born on the way to the hospital in her aunt’s car and was wonderfully spared. It all happened so fast that the Aime was not aware of it until his wife reached the hospital. At that point, his sister called him and told him that he needed to wash his car because his baby had been born in it!

The following day, Aime, who had been out of work for three months, was applying for a job but failed to pass the challenging test (a score of 1500 was needed) he was given for the position. No second interview was ever allowed, but when he pleaded for another chance, the office manager eventually relented, and he then went into the bathroom to call his wife to pray for him as he took the test. (She was already at home, as she stayed in the hospital only four hours after delivery!) Afterward, the office manager asked him how he managed to get a nearly perfect score of 2500! He was hired on the spot for a very good job. Because of this combination of wonderful events, the Sefu’s were so impressed with God’s intervening grace that they named their little baby, “the eternal Lord is alive”!

To Cape Town, South Africa (January 10)

South Africa Map 2I was going to try to sleep on the two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, but in God’s providence, a talkative atheist, who wanted to talk about God and religion, sat next to me. The two hours “flew by” in a moment.

My atheist companion was from California, but was presently working in Nairobi, Kenya, as a diplomat in the U.S. embassy department. Our conversation about his work was fascinating and eventually led into him asking about my work, which became the bridge to talking about God and Christianity. He was friendly enough but remained adamant throughout our conversation that God did not exist. He was very intellectual and yet woefully ignorant of what Christianity was all about. He gave me opportunity to explain exactly what the gospel is, but had a hard time understanding the concept of “free grace.” He kept thinking that Christianity teaches that we merit heaven. That conception was no doubt due, in part, to his having married a Roman Catholic, whom he since divorced.

At one point in the conversation, I graciously tried to point out to him how small his worldview was, because if everyone was their own “god,” as he claimed, then his worldview was no bigger than the human individual. Instead of getting angry, he agreed with me, but said he would rather have it that way than believe in a God who didn’t exist!

I don’t think I made any headway with him, but pray with me that the Holy Spirit will bring back certain things to his mind that may give him pause. The only time in those two hours when he seemed a bit stumped was when I said, “Well, what if Christianity is right, and you are wrong, and there is an afterlife. What then?” He was silent for a few moments, then said, “Well, then, my gamble didn’t pay off and your afterlife will be a whole lot better than mine!”

When we exited the plane, we were taken by buses to the terminal. It was only a five-minute ride. I asked the lady next to me how she was doing, to which she replied, “OK.” I said, “You say OK, but your tone of voice sounds like you’re not OK.”

She then changed the subject by asking me how I was doing. After I said I was fine, I told her that I was a pastor and didn’t want to pry, but that she seemed troubled, and I would be grateful for an opportunity to pray for her if she opened up.

Through tears she told me that her partner who was planning to be with her on this vacation in Cape Town had been murdered by a stranger two weeks ago. He was walking out of a bar in Johannesburg, and a stranger just walked up to him and shot him through the heart, took his wallet, and ran away. By the time she finished her sad story, the bus had stopped at the terminal, so I quickly wished her God’s grace and told her I would pray for her. I looked for her around the baggage claim area, thinking that perhaps I could find a more private seat somewhere to pray with her, but I couldn’t find her in the throng of people. Please pray with me for this hurting soul. And thank God for your living relatives as well as for the amazing gospel of Jesus Christ which alone can meet the needs of this unbelieving, broken, needy world.

By mid-afternoon, I had settled in at the home of Francois and Eileen VanderWesthuizen. It wasn’t long before we shared conversion stories. Some years ago, after Francois’s brother was radically converted one day, he called Francois the next day to share what happened to him. Francois could see that his brother was powerfully changed but didn’t know what to make of it. His dad thought his brother had joined a cult and asked Francois to save his brother from it! It wasn’t long, though, before Francois and Eileen returned to church. Astonishingly, the Lord began to deal with both of them under the first sermon after they returned. Already that week they met with the pastor of the Reformed Baptist church they attended (where I was invited to preach), and soon were brought to know the Lord savingly. What a delightful host and hostess I have been blessed with!

Traveling to South Africa: Two Very Different Worldviews

My overnight flight (Jan. 3–4) to South Africa went smoothly. I was able to edit the final typeset version of our forthcoming Reformation Heritage King James Bible Study notes on Ecclesiastes, Daniel, and most of the Minor Prophets.

I also had a long talk with a very intelligent 75-year-old Jewish woman on the 15.5 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg. We talked for a while about her job and her family and about interesting things to see in Israel. She has made over fifty trips to Israel, and seemed quite pleased that I was taking notes of a number of her suggestions.

Before long we got to religion. She is a Reformed Jew, is big on women’s rights, and doesn’t believe in the after-life. Her “church” has 1400 members and is led by three Jewish rabbis. They are not looking for a messiah to come, but view the caring community of Jews as “the messianic fulfilment.” Her rabbis preach almost exclusively about horizontal issues, such as women’s rights, how to help the poor, etc., and seldom touch on our vertical relationship with God. They use the Torah as a background reference tool, but don’t really preach from it.

I got close enough to her that I dared to ask her about Jesus Christ. She said that has never read the New Testament, thinks that Jesus was just another rabbi, and sees no need to be born again.

I then explained how we as Christians view the gospel, and why we think it is so important that Jesus is also God. I talked to her about our sin, and about our need for the active and passive obedience of Christ as our substitute and savior. She listened carefully, was not offended in the least, but didn’t buy into it. I asked her, “So then you feel that when you die, life is over, and that this life is the be-all and the end-all?”

“That’s right,” she said.

“Pardon me for saying this,” I responded, getting bolder now, “but from the perspective of being a Christian, that seems like such a narrow and small purpose for life. For us as Christians, we believe that this life is like a one-page preface to a massive book—it is only just the beginning. We strive to live all of life in the light of eternity, and anticipate being with Christ forever. ”

“Well,” she said, “I’m not saying for sure that there is no eternity, and no pie-in-the-sky for after this life, but I’m not betting on it. If I can just pass on my moral values to my two children, and they pass it on to their grandchildren, that, to me, is about the best I can hope for in this life.”

That was about as far as I could get with this friend. I silently thanked God for His Son and for the biblical and Christian worldview, for its much larger vision of what life is all about.

Manaus, Brazil, November 4–12, 2013 (by Mary)

Brazil Conference--some attendees

My wife, Mary, graciously agreed to write a summary of our recent trip to Brazil.

Since our Grand Rapids to Atlanta flight was delayed two hours, Delta rerouted us from Grand Rapids to Detroit to Sao Paulo to Manaus, which added several hours to our trip. This didn’t allow us enough time to go through customs, baggage pickup, re-check-in, and security, however, so we missed our connection in Sao Paulo. Because there are only two flights a day, we had to spend the next day in the airport, and one of the other conference speakers had to switch time slots with my husband, Joel. We rented a room 1.5 times the size of a bunk bed, and took two naps at Fast Sleep, a hotel that took an hour to check us in. After midnight (and 32 hours en route), we finally arrived at the home of Dr. Lindomar and Miriam Fernandes, and their daughters, Isabel, Priscilla, and Lydia. Dr. Fernandes is a well-known anesthesiologist in Manaus and also serves as an elder in the church we served. We had a delightful time with this family.

Cidade Nova Presbyterian Church and its pastor, Jaime Marcelino, hosted the fourteenth Reformed Faith Conference for Pastors and Leaders. This year’s theme was “Our Complete Need for the True Gospel.” Each speaker addressed a different subject in relation to The True Gospel. Joel spoke on The True Gospel and Holiness (4 addresses), Dr. Elias Medeiros on the True Gospel and the Nations (3), Dr. Heber Compos Jr. on The True Gospel and Worship (2), Dr. Leandro Lima on The True Gospel and Peace (2), Dr. Solano Portela on The True Gospel and God’s Grace (1), and Rev. Jaime Marcelino on The True Gospel and Joy (1). Dr. Compos did an excellent job of translating Joel’s messages into Portuguese. The conference met three mornings and four evenings, with the afternoons off. Because the Gospel never gets old, these messages were inspiring and refreshing. We pray that all who listened may take these messages to heart and pass on their truths to other sinners.

Pastor Jaime is very much loved in the congregation that he has served for twenty-four years. Under his leadership, members helped at the conference, many taking vacation time from their jobs to do so. The 350–400 attendees are hosted in church members’ homes. The volunteers excel at hospitality, affection, cooking, and conversation. Each lunch was served to the speakers at a different member’s home. These featured regional foods and drinks, such as fish from the Amazon River, rice, cassava (or yucca, which can be prepared many different ways—like mashed potatoes, tapioca, or flour), Guarana (similar to ginger-ale, but tastes better!), desserts made with sweetened condensed milk, bananas, mangoes, and other tropical fruits. Eating ethnic foods is an enjoyable part of travel, though we sometimes worry about how it will affect us. Lunch in Brazil is a social event with lots of meaningful conversation over a period of two to three hours. We enjoyed these times, but as they were accompanied with temperatures in the upper eighties and nineties (a cool week for locals!) and very high humidity, we welcomed a siesta each afternoon. Happily, all the places we spent time at had air conditioning (except when the power went out, which happened three times).

On Sunday morning, Dr. Medeiros preached on evidences of the new birth. He then translated Joel’s message on the majority report of the ten spies and the minority report of Joshua and Caleb. Joel’s sermon in the evening was on Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It was a joy to meet people at this church, though at times we needed a translator to communicate with them. We were reminded once again of the privilege God gives us to connect conference ministry with PRTS, by conversing with potential students. They hear my husband preach, connect with the message, then want to be trained to preach. Several men in Brazil have gone through PRTS and are now preaching in their churches as well as teaching in their seminaries. God is so good.

We were enriched by the folks we met. Pastor Jaime has stood strong for the Reformed faith in his church and denomination. He organizes nine mini-conferences for ministers in other localities. He is in tune with every aspect of running a church. He has a special gift for music; during the addresses he often changed the songs to match the message. After the evening service he made some announcements, then asked if there were any visitors. He asked them to stand, to give their names, then say how they came to the church. Then in a conversation-like way, Jaime quizzed the congregation on the sermons. He lovingly admonished them for not responding quickly enough. Afterward, many children came up to him for hugs. Such love is a very good sign. Jaime’s loving heart is also seen in his love for his wife. They kiss each other’s hand after each prayer. When he talks about her, Jaime sighs and puts his hand on his heart. I would dare say he is almost as loving as my husband.

Dr. Elias and Fokjelena Medeiros, Elisama Marcelino, Pastor Jaime and Francisca Marcelino, with Us

Dr. Elias and Fokjelena Medeiros, Elisama Marcelino, Pastor Jaime and Francisca Marcelino, with Us

Dr. Elias and Fokjelena Medeiros also enriched our lives. Elias grew up in Northeast Brazil. His mother saw her pregnant mother and small sibling drown. She knew no one else from her family. A Baptist doctor gave her a room in a hospital to live in and gave her work. She learned nursing on the job and was saved under that doctor’s evangelism. His father met her while visiting his sister. After marrying, he worked his way up from poverty by taking on several jobs and going to school. He became an example of integrity, godliness, and diligence to his family.

Elias’s mother was very strong while her husband was away. One time Elias and his brother said, “Mama, we don’t want to go to the prayer meeting tonight.” Mama said, “Oh that’s OK, I will just take your ears there, and you can stay home.” He demonstrated this by dragging himself by the ears. He said, “You can’t talk to my mama for five minutes without her talking about Jesus Christ!” Well, Elias is the same. He is sixty-one and has the energy of a wired teen. We have never met someone with such an evangelistic heart. His wife is also on fire for the Lord, though a bit more subdued. Elias preached outdoors for the first time when he was ten years old, then regularly from the time he was sixteen.

In seminary, Elias had Fokjelena’s dad (a missionary from the Netherlands) for a professor. When Elias approached his professor about dating his daughter, the professor said, “If you and your family had not come to Brazil, I am convinced that God’s providence would have brought me to The Netherlands to meet Fokjelena!” He got the father’s approval to wed. Married at ages nineteen and twenty-four, the two served as missionaries in the Amazon jungle until they had two babies and Fokjelena’s health failed

Those years in the jungle were trying. The couple would drive into the jungle and talk to people, offering them rides, helping them, and gathering people together to listen to the Gospel. Every evening they met in a different place. Toward evening they would ask if they could hang their hammock under someone’s roof for the night. By Sunday they would be back at their base village. The meetings were always in the evening. Many people walked miles through the dark jungle to attend. One night they decided to drive the four hours back right after the service. They came upon a large dead snake and realized the folks who attended the service had probably just shot it. A little later they saw another huge snake going across the road. The head was hidden in the bush on one side, and the tail on the other. They rode over it like it was a speed bump, Elias said. He wanted to back up to crush it, but his wife had visions of the head and tail lifting up and squishing them. So they continued on their way.

The Medeiroses approach life with gusto for the Gospel. Dr. Medeiros has taught missions at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, for the past twenty-three years. Their approach to evangelism is very simple: be friendly to everyone, converse with them, and at the first opportunity talk about Jesus or the Bible or God or creation or providence or whatever God puts into your mind about the Gospel. The human key to any evangelism endeavor is to have energy and love for God and people that drives you to be on duty every waking minute. Both Elias and Fokjelena have a natural, nonthreatening way of conversing with anyone in the church, in stores, in parking lots, and in airplanes. It was as fascinating to watch the people they were speaking with as to watch them. On the boat (see below), I think they spoke with everyone on the tour. Elias also has an incredible sense of humor, which is accompanied by a loud voice and laugh. They are attuned to people’s personalities, yet are very direct, almost blunt, with them. That works because of their love and strength of convictions. Elias believes too much time is spent in mission classes on cross-culturalization rather than the Gospel. He says, “Know the Scriptures (he spends two hours a day in the Word), and use the gifts God has given you. Then go out and speak to people across the street and around the world! I just love Jesus Christ! My life and my joy is all in Him!”At this point, he grabs Fokjelena’s hand and says, “Come on, Mama. Let’s go!”

Though my husband regularly evangelizes strangers more than I do, we both felt challenged and encouraged by the Medeiros to evangelize others more frequently and boldly than we have been doing. We have seen their example, and we need to follow it. We have told you about it, too, so you also have the blessed obligation to make your own calling and election sure by showing forth the light of Christ Jesus to others, using your gifts and your opportunities.

Manaus (pronounced Mah-nous) is a city in the Amazon jungle with a population of two million, located 180 miles south of the equator and a thousand miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, where the Black and Amazon Rivers meet. The average daytime temperature is 85 to 95 degrees, and the humidity reaches 99 percent every day. Annual rainfall is 90 inches, most of which comes during thunderstorms. We were in Manaus at the beginning of the rainy season, so we experienced a thunderstorm every afternoon. The rivers which were at their lowest point, would be 15 meters higher by June. Due to the depth and width of the Amazon, large ships can navigate to Manaus, though men who are specially trained operate the ships.

Victoria Water Lilly in the Amazon

Victoria Water Lilly in the Amazon

We took a boat ride on Saturday and saw miles of shipyards along the shores of the Black River. We expected to see canoes on the river and palm trees, but the Amazon is one to six miles wide during the dry season and up to thirty miles wide at the end of the rainy season. We cruised to the “Meeting of the Waters” where the Black and the Amazon rivers meet. Because of the difference in the temperature, velocity, and the amount of silt in the water, the waters run side by side and don’t mix for about six miles. On our way back we stopped at a floating restaurant for lunch and hiked into the jungle for an hour. We saw wild monkeys in the trees and Victoria lily pads, which can be six feet wide. We drank coconut milk straight from a coconut. A thunderstorm chased us on the way back but then went around us. God’s variety in the foliage, the weather, and the people was very impressive.

We are glad to be home now, but the Brazilians have made a deep impression on us. Most importantly, the Gospel and its promotion have become more pressing in our hearts. My husband is now saying to me, “Come on, Mama. Let’s go!”

Back Home after Trip to England and Russia

Mary and I with Dr. and Mrs. John Magee

Mary and I with Dr. and Mrs. John Magee

Emmanuel Reformed Church, Conference Host

Emmanuel Reformed Church, Host of Conference in Salisbury

I am back home safely now. I was privileged to be the inaugural speaker (together with my wife Mary) for the Pregnancy Advice Center in Salisbury, England, which is being headed up by Dr. John Magee and a team of workers. Then I spoke six times in Salisbury for my good friend, Rev. Malcolm Watts, and did a PRTS presentation at his request. We flew to St. Petersburg, Russia on Monday. I spoke six times there on Tuesday and Wednesday for the Reformed Pastors’ Conference. Both conferences were encouraging.

Evangelism and Prayer Conference

Russia Conference

Today I am concluding speaking six times at a conference on evangelism and prayer in St. Petersburg, Russia, largely for ministers and their wives. The other major speakers are Dr. Tony Lane and Rev. Dewey Roberts. Please pray for God’s blessing on the conference, and a safe trip home.

Evangelical Reformed Church, London, U.K.

Elder Easton and Karen Howes, with Two Dedicated Young Men, Chinidu and Addy

Elder Easton and Karen Howes, with Two Dedicated Young Men, Chinidu and Addy

Evangelical Reformed Church, Hackney

Evangelical Reformed Church, Hackney

Over the weekend I did a conference on “True Living” for the Evangelical Reformed Church, in Hackney, London. I gave four messages to 200 people (nearly all blacks, most of whom hail from the Caribbean) on “True Living”—personally (in the believer’s relationship with God), domestically (in marriage and child rearing), perseveringly (enduring to the end in a life of conversion), and eternally (in heaven, as a world of love). After the Sunday evening service, I did a Q and A session with the young people. Their questions are outstanding—very spiritual and yet practical in nature. No one seemed to mind the excessive heat in the church through the weekend too much. God was graciously in the midst of us.

This is my fifth time serving this warm, spiritually thriving church. God has blessed my past visits here more tangibly than any other church I am aware of. I love ministering to these dear people. The church is teeming with new, young converts—especially young men, several of whom are now wrestling with a call to the ministry. At least one dear brother who would love to study at PRTS hopes to visit our seminary soon. Reformed, experiential Christianity is alive and well in this blessed church.

Q & A Session

Q & A Session

It was great to have the Cazander family from British Columbia worship with us as well in God’s kind providence. It is a bittersweet time for them, as their daughter, Trichelle (about whom I wrote a few days ago), is awaiting surgery on Friday. It was a blessing to be able to pray and visit with them.

On Monday morning I was driven to the London City Airport by a Muslim taxi driver. (It seems that nearly all taxi drivers in London are Muslim.) He tried to minimize the differences between Christianity and Islam. “The only difference is that we don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” he said, “and that’s all!” When I remarked that that was a rather major difference, he neither affirmed nor denied it. He told me that 98% of the community where my hotel was is Muslim. Because the population there is so dominated by Islam, it is the only community in London where the Muslims are allowed to sound their minarets five times a day for prayer. Every Friday at 1:00 p.m., this community in London virtually shuts down as all the Muslims are required to be in their mosques to worship at that time. “We really should go to the mosque every day,” he said, “but most of us go only once a week on Fridays because that is the only time attendance is mandatory.” Presently, the Muslims are in a month of fasting. From 3:15 a.m. to 9:15 p.m., no Muslim is to have any food or drink—not even a sip of water for thirty days! “Only nine more days,” my driver said, “and then I can start eating again!”

I landed safely in Amsterdam where I have an important meeting to attend on behalf of the seminary tomorrow. Tomorrow (Tuesday) Mary and Lydia hope to rejoin me in Amsterdam (they are having a wonderful time in Greece), and on Wednesday we hope to fly home together. Home, sweet home!

Legacy of the Reformation Tour, Part 2 (July 16)

Sandstone Castle at Bad Bentheim

Sandstone Castle at Bad Bentheim

Dr. Jason Van Vliet and I cohosted a tour group of forty people through the Netherlands and Germany. Here is the second part of my summary of our trip.

Tuesday morning, July 16, we headed for Emden, Germany. Emden was the major city in this area in the sixteenth century. At that time it included 15,000 refugees in addition to its growing population. The first Dutch translation of the Heidelberg Catechism was printed in Emden already in 1563—the year it was first printed in German. The first official synod of the Reformed churches took place at Emden in 1571. This synod laid the foundation for the Great Synod of Dordt in 1618–1619, which, in addition to composing the famous Canons of Dordt, also determined that the Heidelberg Catechism should be preached each week in Reformed churches.

Rare Books at the John a Lasco Library

Rare Books at the John a Lasco Library

Our main stop in Emden was the John à Lasco library, which dates back to 1559, when it had more than a thousand volumes—about two hundred more than the historic University of Leiden! Though the library is in a smaller building today since the older building was largely destroyed in World War II, the library is still stunningly beautiful. It houses a good collection of Reformation materials, and an old collection of Latin books as well as a collection of primary and secondary sources related to German Pietism. Through the graces of the curator, five of us were allowed to see these last two collections, both of which contained thousands of antiquarian volumes. For me, it was like being a boy in a candy shop, who didn’t have enough time to look at all the candy.

The John à Lasco library does considerable work with other libraries around the world. It is open to scholars who want to do research there. I chatted for a while with Stephen Southerly, the only scholar studying there at present. Hailing from Iowa, he is working on a PhD that delves into how Calvin balanced individual and social responsibility in the Christian faith. Who would have thought that I would meet this brother from Iowa at the à Lasco library in Germany! Providence is amazing.

Beautiful old portraits hang throughout the library. Most importantly, there is the portrait of à Lasco, a Polish Reformer, who finally embraced the Protestant cause in 1543. Afterward, he became very influential in Reformed church polity, particularly in establishing the office of deacon. He died in Poland, trying to build up the Reformation cause there. The library is named after him to honor his work in Eastern Europe, not because it houses many of his books. À Lasco did managed to purchase the library of Erasmus of Rotterdam before he died, and some of Erasmus’s own works which à Lasco acquired are still in the library today

Other portraits of well-known and lesser known Reformers hang throughout the library as well. One that fascinated me was an oil painting of Abraham Schultet, one of the divines that Heidelberg sent to the Synod of Dort with the instructions to try to bring the Remonstrants (the Arminians) and the Contra-Remonstrants (the Reformed) together, if possible. However, the delegates were also instructed that if that were not possible, they should support the Contra-Remonstrants, which they subsequently did. While Synod was in session, Abraham Schultet preached a stirring, solidly Reformed sermon on the assurance of faith. Then, too, there was an impressive painting of Menso Alting, the minister who first brought the Reformation to Emden.

From Emden we traveled in a southerly direction paralleling the Dutch-German border to the town of Bad Bentheim. (“Bad” means bath for its mineral spas.) We visited Bad Bentheim’s stately and beautiful sandstone castle, whose history dates back to the eleventh century, and still has the feel of a medieval fortification. Since 1421 the castle has been home to the Counts and Princes of Bentheim and Steinfurt whose family descends from a branch of the Counts in Holland.

Legacy of the Reformation Tour, Part 1 (July 11–15)

Our Daughter Lydia in front of the Rijksmuseum Paleis Het Loo

Our Daughter Lydia in front of the Rijksmuseum Paleis Het Loo

Presently Dr. Jason Van Vliet and I are cohosting a tour group of forty people through the Netherlands and Germany. Here is a brief summary of the first half of our trip.

Pulpit of the Grote Kerk of Dordrecht

Pulpit of the Grote Kerk of Dordrecht

Our flights to Amsterdam on Thursday evening, July 11, went well. My traveling companion was a retired Emergency Room Physician who had worked at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo for twenty-five years. He was an excellent conversationalist; I ended up speaking with him for three hours. He is a staunch Episcopalian who has been seriously involved with mountain climbing for thirty years. At age 69 he was on his way to Switzerland to take on some of the most challenging mountains in the Alps. When he told me that he agreed with almost everything Obama said and did—just after he had read the Wall Street Journal—and then asked me what I thought about him, we ended up talking about abortion and Obamacare but then got into theology. We didn’t agree on much, but he asked me at the end of the conversation if he could purchase the best book I had ever written. “I’m a voracious reader,” he said, ” so I would like to read your very best book.”

Sixteen of our tour group were on the overnight overseas flight together. We connected with fourteen more tour group members, plus our Witte tour guide, Peter Roolvink, in the Amsterdam airport, and were on our way by 9:15 on Friday morning. Our first stop was Zaanse Schans, a museum village comprised of restored buildings that have been brought from various parts of the Zaan Rover region. We especially enjoyed going inside a few historic windmills; most fascinating was watching how peanut oil was made with the aid of a windmill. We also witnessed the making of Dutch wooden shoes by a variety of machines operated by just one workman.

Village of Volendam

Village of Volendam

From there we went to the quaint and beautiful fishing village, Volendam, where we had lunch and spent a few hours enjoying its beauty. Once an important port on the old Zuiderzee, this little city is now known for its picturesque streets, quaint shops, and the traditional costumes worn by some of the townspeople. By the end of the day we checked in at Hotel Dordrecht, where we met seven more tour members, including my cohost, Dr. Jason VanVliet, professor at the Canadian Reformed Theological School in Hamilton, Ontario. After a delicious dinner, we all introduced ourselves to each other, and Dr. van Vliet address us with some gripping remarks about Lord’s Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

On Saturday morning, we took a guided walking tour in Dordrecht, splitting into two groups of twenty people each. Our guide, Tom, described himself as an agnostic humanist, who believes in man rather than God. Though that proved to be disappointing, he was very knowledgable about the attractive, historic city of Dordrecht, which was already an important city by 1220 A.D. By 1299, Dordrecht had become a major city, strategic in terms of its surrounding rivers and transportation which was central to trade and commence thought the Netherlands. Everything that came by boat through Dordrecht’s surrounding rivers had to be checked and taxed. In 1431, a major flood destroyed much of Dordrecht, which had now become an island. By the 1550s most citizens in Dordrecht had embraced the Reformed faith, and in 1572 Roman Catholics were officially forbidden from worshiping openly in the city.

Grote Kerk of Dordrecht

Grote Kerk of Dordrecht

We saw the Groothoofdspoort, the main gate of the once-fortified city of Dordrecht, as well as some of the elegant streets and houses of the old town, and of course,the immense Grote Kerk. We heard about the church’s history, including the famous National Synod of Dordrecht which met in 1618 to 1619, and the pivotal role it played in the development of Reformed doctrine. At this famous synod the Heidelberg Catechism was officially adopted as a doctrinal standard of the Reformed Church.

Leaving Dordrecht, we traveled north and east to the Rijksmuseum Paleis Het Loo. A royal residence for nearly three hundred years, Het Loo was given to the nation by Queen Juliana in 1969. It is especially well known for its beautifully maintained gardens. Of particular interest was the “House of Religion and Orange” exhibit, which is part of a series of exhibitions offered in commemoration of the Heidelberg Catechism’s 450th anniversary. What I found most fascinating there was an old volume of the Heidelberg Catechism set to music.

Dutch Organist, Harm Hoeve

Dutch Organist, Harm Hoeve

We then continued on to the Grote Kerk in Hasselt, where we were treated to a concert with the renowned Dutch organist, Harm Hoeve. We also got to hear the church’s carillon, and climbed the 200+ steps to the top of the tower.

Sunday morning we returned to the Grote Kerk in Hasselt for a Dutch church service led by the church’s new minister, Rev. Westenbout. He preached on 1 Corinthians 13:1–3, stressing that no matter what we speak, think, or do, if we don’t have love, it all amounts to nothing. That afternoon, I preached in the Christelijke Gerformed Kerk in Genemuiden (where Rev. Arnold Huisjgen serves as pastor) to 250 people on “The Only Way to Live and Die” from Philippians 1:21. Rev. Bartel Elshout served as my able and faithful translator. We were grateful that Mary’s cousin Janie and her daughter Linda drove two hours to attend church with us in Genemuiden, and afterwards spent several hours in fellowship with us.

Monday dawned clear and cool. We drove through Rouveen and Staphorst, beautiful, tidy, farm villages, in which some residents still wear the traditional costumes. The homes have the living quarters in the front, parents first, then married children, then an attached barn for the animals. The villages shut down on the Lord’s Day; the residents are only allowed to ride their bikes to church. Our driver told us to look for a heart plaque on the front door, indicating the parents are making it known they have a daughter eligible for marriage, and that a suitor could drop off a letter expressing his interest, and even have the freedom to come in and meet the girl. Our driver also pointed out that today the heart plaques are basically used as keyhole covers by some.

Site of the First Protestant Church in the Province of Groningen

Site of the First Protestant Church in the Province of Groningen

Vesting Bourtange, a beautiful sixteenth-century Dutch fortress, was our next stop. The fortress was built on one of the only roads near the German border, in the middle of a swamp. It won every one of its two battles! The fortress is also home to the first Protestant church in Groningen, which William of Orange ordered to be built. Onsite also was a pro-Protestant, anti-Catholic exhibition on the Heidelberg Catechism.

We then headed for Groningen, the capital of the Netherlands’s northernmost province, also called Groningen. Mary and Lydia went shopping for a few hours, while I happily caught up on this letter and did some editing on a book on the Holy Spirit.

Prayers Coveted for European and British Ministry

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberger Katechismus 1563On Thursday, I will be traveling to the Netherlands and Germany as Dr. Jason VanVliet and I are leading a tour there, in conjunction with Witte Travel, of about 40 people in commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. My wife Mary and daughter Lydia will be joining the tour on Saturday. At the end of the tour, there will be a conference in Heidelberg on the catechism. The first Sunday, July 14, I will be preaching in Genemuiden, the Netherlands, with Rev. Elshout translating the sermon into Dutch, and the second Sunday, July 21, I will be preaching on Lord’s Day 1 and Dr. VanVliet on Lord’s Day 52 in the actual Heidelberg Castle where Frederick first read the catechism aloud to many Reformed ministers and theologians from around Europe and it was unanimously accepted.

On July 22, I will be flying from Germany to Cardiff, Wales, to do a conference there (July 23–26), followed by a conference in London, England (July 27–28), after which I will be flying back to the Netherlands to spend a few days of meetings there. Meanwhile, Mary and Lydia will be visiting various sites in Europe and will rejoin me in the Netherlands. We hope to fly home together on July 31. Your prayers are coveted.