February, 2014

Dear Praying, Helping Friends:

This morning, before trying to write you about the work in Hungary, I had my devotions, using my One-Year Bible.  Being a bit behind in the program, I read the parts from the OT, NT, Psalms and Proverbs for January 13.  And, as often happens, these seemingly unrelated parts came together in a stunning way.  The section from Matthew 9:18-38 spoke of the desperation of some who came to Christ for healing.  Psalm 11 spoke of “the LORD in His holy temple” as the refuge for His people in the difficulties of this life.  Genesis 28:1–29:35 spoke of Jacob’s fleeing to Mesopotamia to escape Esau’s plan to kill him.  And Proverbs 3:11–12 said, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline nor resent His rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in.”  These diverse parts of Scripture all had a common theme.  We live in an evil world where we need the LORD more than we can know and, so, God gives tribulation to those He loves so that, in this life, they will turn to Him not only to be saved from His wrath due to their sins, but understand that He is good and His gospel mercy endures forever.  And, so, learn to trust and follow Him in this dangerous world and keep on following Him until they reach the end of their pilgrimage – the glory of God in heaven, Mount Zion, the Celestial City of God.

This very much relates to the work in Hungary.  The last 23 years have been a great struggle, a struggle from 1990 onward, first to start our school in 1992, then find teachers and students, then separate the chaff from the wheat, then in 1996 start sending some of them out to share the good news of Christ to others in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine.  Then help these new congregations with all kinds of ministry:  personal evangelism, pastoral counseling, evangelistic services, Hungarian literature, camps and conferences, home schooling, etc.   Organizationally, this has involved creating a Hungarian Session (an embryonic Presbytery for our unorganized congregations).  And, during these years, to work so the congregations would grow more and more in self-support and, so, be ready for self-governance some day.  And this is where we now are – waiting on the Lord, without Whom we cannot build His church, to see these two things (self-support and self-governance) come together and end up with one healthy, mature church in these three countries – one church with two presbyteries and 16 licensed or ordained pastors whose congregations are either fully organized or mission churches waiting to be organized.  For this to all fall into place, we estimated a year ago that our 24 unorganized congregations should reach 85% in giving toward the total needed by their 16 pastors in their work.

Right now our congregations are giving about 60% of this amount.  And this is the year we believe we need to turn everything over to the national church.  This could be a problem except that we hope this year to have a good harvest of new members helped by the Romans course started two years ago.  This should bring the church to about 70% self-support.  In addition, we have a special fund for Hungary which we hope to turn over to the church later this year.  If this fund continues to grow as we pray it will, it should be enough to meet the shortfall in congregational giving for the next 3 years so that, when it is used up 3 years from now, our church will have reached the 100% self-support level.

And what about the church itself?  Even if it has enough money, is it ready to govern itself in the next few years?  After all, the average age of the seven men on the Session is 38 years.  And this group of young men will not have any outside body to counsel them.  This could be scary.  But this is Christ’s church, and He will guide them – as they are careful to look to Him and walk in the fear of the Lord.  So let us pray for them that they would be guided by the fear of the Lord and not their own wisdom.  See Isaiah 39:1-7 where King Hezekiah’s pride was an offense to God and, so, had a worse effect on his kingdom (Judah) than the entire Assyrian army could inflict on it.

It is also encouraging that God continues to use His Word to reach the lost, especially the Romans course.  For some years, our primary method of personal evangelism was “friendship evangelism.” I used this phrase with our men to encourage them to focus more on personal evangelism and less on other methods.  But as time went on, we found that this approach did not allow our men to begin where the gospel begins, that is, with God’s righteousness and the total depravity of all mankind.  As a result, the people they wanted to reach learned how to accept their friendship and politely filter out the rest.  God then showed me that, to get past this problem, we needed something that would allow God’s own Word to be the starting point.  And this is how we came upon the Romans course, given not as a lecture, but as a short course where interested people would first do the reading, then be mentored by us to understand the key idea of each chapter.  This had two immediate results.  1) It turned the focus of people away from the human messenger to the message itself and required them, if they accepted the course, to read God’s Word.  2) It also saved our men a lot of time when they could tell people about the course and let them decide whether they wanted it or not!  So I now dislike the phrase “friendship evangelism” and do not use it.  It does not begin with the fallen nature of the human race and God’s wrath upon sin.

I should also say that this method of evangelism has tended to energize our men’s ministries.  Their preaching and teaching tend to be more into the Word and, at the same time, better applied to the people they work with.  So they work with the elderly in homes for the elderly, with the mentally ill in psychiatric hospitals, with many young people, and with people who have all kinds of problems arising from man’s sinful nature.  Our men can also see and explain to others how the righteousness of God dovetails with His infinite kindness in the gospel – and how salvation is not just an escape from hell, but living under the beautiful lordship of Christ during the days of our pilgrimage on earth.

By the way, our church, Westminster Presbyterian (PCA) in Lancaster, PA is finishing a series on the Holy Spirit with aspects that are new even to me – new in the sense of deeper application to my own life.  For the last 3 months, this Sunday School class in our church has been listening to DVDs by Sinclair Ferguson on the Holy Spirit.  I got some of this at seminary, but not like this – looking at the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the OT (starting with Genesis 1:1,2), then in the life and ministry of Christ, then in the life of the believer.  It is especially wonderful to see how the work of the Holy Spirit in all these areas is rooted and grounded in His own person and special place within the Trinity.  I must get this material to our men in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine, for I did not give it to them earlier (not like this), having arrived at this level of understanding and application only at this time in life.

Sinclair Ferguson wrote a book called The Holy Spirit in 1996.  It was good.  But after that he had time to reorganize this material and put it together in better form.  It is now available in DVD format in 12 separate lessons.  It is very interesting, breathtaking in fact.  And available from Ligonier Ministries under the title Who is the Holy Spirit? Get it if you can for yourselves and your church.

In summary, going back to page one and the current stage of the work, we need you to continue to pray fervently for Clara and me and our 16 men and for this transfer of everything from here to our church there.  We also need you not only to keep giving, but give with greater zeal if you can until I can say we no longer need your giving.  And if you love this work but have not given for a time, why not give us something now so that, when this year is over, you will have had a part in the financial side of this ministry during this final leg of the journey!

Yours in His faithfulness,

Bob and Clara Rapp


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