Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
Last month the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale , PA (William Boekestein) went over to Hungary and Romania to minister the Word to our men and their families. Earlier I was so blessed with a commentary Pastor Bill had written on Jonah that I felt our men needed to hear these messages. He went over and our men were blessed indeed. But he was also blessed. When he came home he posted an article about his trip on his blog site and said: “Here is a blog post about my recent trip to Hungary and Romania . I have come to believe very strongly in the ministry there and would like to introduce it to as many people as possible. Please forward this to those who might be interested in learning about a dynamic, unique, reformed ministry in Central and Eastern Europe .”
“Come over and (be) help(ed)!”
During the last week of June I had the privilege of traveling to Hungary and Romania and fellowshipping with an exciting group of young pastors and their families. The pastors are shepherding the 22 new con-gregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe (RPCCEE) in Hungary , Romania and western Ukraine . This denomination is unique in that it had its roots in a state Reformed church that was less than Reformed even when it began as a Protestant church in the 16th century.
Although almost all the pastors were members of this church (Hungarian Reformed Church) when they were seminary students (at a mission school pioneered by Dr. Robert Rapp), they were banned from ministering in that church upon graduation and eventually excommunicated when they did not renounce their biblical faith. This left them no choice but to begin a new church founded on the final authority of the Scriptures and the guidance of Reformed and Presbyterian confessions (The Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster standards.)
I was asked to give a series of talks on the book of Jonah at an annual co-workers camp in Romania and preach and lead Bible studies for four congregations in Hungary . It soon became evident, however, that God sent me over also to be a student. Here are a few of the things I learned about the Christian life and ministry from my new Hungarian co-workers.
1/ Pastors should be hard workers. The pastors with whom I fellowshipped took very little time for personal recreation (they wouldn’t be able to compete in a game of golf with most American pastors!) Their vacations typically consist of gathering with other Christian families for a week of edification. They are diligent workers, collectively publishing a practical theological journal, republishing Reformed books in their Hungarian language and maintaining a wide variety of ministries both inside and outside their local congregations.
2/ Success in the ministry is about faithfulness, not numerical growth. I was often asked about the size of my own congregation. “Well, it’s quite a small congregation” I answered at first. “We have only about 60 people.” After learning that this is about twice the size of their largest congregation, I began to give a more positive answer. I confessed that one of the struggles in my ministry is a desire for personal recog-nition and popularity (I suspect this is one of the common occupational hazards pastors face.) I was humbled by how little these pastors could expect in the way of public recognition – a helpful reminder that our greatest goal is not the smiles of men but the smile of God.
3/ The ministry is a sacrifice. Since Hungary is a member of the European Union, the cost of living is comparable to what we would find in the Midwest of the United States . Despite this similarity, the pastors’ salaries come to around ten percent of my salary. One pastor explained that if he took his family out to dinner at a restaurant about five times in a month, his entire salary would be used up. How easy it is in wealthy countries to forget Jesus’ admonition to “count the cost” of discipleship (and ministry pay – Luke 14:28). I was startled to learn that the entire church exists on an annual budget of $200,000! (Half of this now comes from the church itself, the rest of it from its mission here in the United States .)
4/ Maintaining convictions comes with a cost. One of the discouragements that this young group has faced is that very few of the pastors in the state Reformed church have stood with them, much less come out to help them. In fact, very few have been willing to call for real reform within the church even when they agree it needs to take place. Most of the older pastors in the state church are concerned about losing their prestigious and comfortable positions (they are paid much more than those in the RPCCEE). It would be very easy for these men to exchange their convictions for a far easier ministry.
5/ Spiritual disciplines are crucial for a vibrant Christian life. One of the pastors paraphrased Spurgeon as saying, “I am concerned that if a man does not keep regular times of prayer, he is probably not praying at all.” We tend to think of schedules as restrictive. Actually they free us from the “tyranny of the urgent” (to quote Mark Dever from The Deliberate Church, a book I greatly enjoyed reading while on my trip). The pastors with whom I spent my time gave a great example of the kind of prayer and Bible reading regimens that I so often lack.
I could go on and on talking about lessons learned in hospitality, frugality and Christian camaraderie. So the next time someone asks you to “Come over and help us” (Acts 16:9) they might be saying, “Come over and (be) help(ed)!” // For more from Pastor Boekestein, visit his blog at www.lifereformation.org
Let me give you a few prayer requests. 1) We are in the midst of our summer camp season in Hungary , Romania and Ukraine . The Lord has been greatly blessing all the camps so far with many coming to be instructed in the Word of God, some of them learning about Christ for the first time. Pray God would continue to pour out His Spirit and open hearts as He opened the heart of Lydia to believe. 2) Mihaly Siko is getting off to a wonderful start with his new church plant in Debrecen , Hungary ’s second largest city. 3) Sandor Tamas is also seeing good progress in his new church plant in Csikszereda , Romania . Pray for God’s continued blessing on Mihaly and Sandor’s work, and pray for Sandor’s site where we hope to begin construction in ten days. 4) Pray for all 16 men and their 22 congregations. And 5) for our home schooling efforts in four countries ( Hungary , Romania , Ukraine and Slovakia ).
And now our financial needs. Summer is normally a slow time financially. Pray it would not be so this summer. First, we have an ongoing need to provide half of what our men need to evangelize and build their congregations until they are strong enough to be fully self-supporting. (This takes $8,500 a month.) We also have two special projects at this time. Lehel Lazslo’s 17-year car in Erdoszentgyorgy , Romania is on its last legs. We need $7,000 to replace it with a two-year old Romanian Dacia. Our other project is the construction of a parsonage and meeting hall in Csikszereda , Romania . We had $15,000 on hand and used it to buy materials for the foundation (first phase of the work). We still need $60,000 to finish the project, but only $25,000 of it at this time to keep going into mid-September. You probably cannot go and do what our men are doing, but you can go in your prayers for the work and in your sacrificial giving. Let us remember the words of our blessed Savior, “While it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. For the night is coming when no man can work.” (John 9:4)
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob and Clara Rapp