Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
I have never had more important news to share with you than at any time in my 51 years of mission work. But before going to the news, I want to pick up where I last left off, giving you some key biblical principles on mission work “to the nations.” As I said in December, Acts Chapters 13-20 is the place in Scripture where God amplifies the five brief statements Christ gave us in His Great Commission. With this in mind, let’s say first of all, starting with Acts 13:1-4, that real GC work was never meant for novices. If Jesus told the twelve their task was to “teach the nations to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” it follows that no one should think he can fulfill the GC unless he is well prepared when he goes. For this reason, the first sending church in the NT commissioned two of its five pastors, Paul and Barnabas – well qualified men. Of course, they took Mark the novice with them. But he was not a missionary. He was a missionary assistant. This fact has enormous implications to all who serve on mission committees of churches at home. Send and support those who are truly qualified! I can’t begin to say what a confused state so many mission programs are in here at home. It is sad how churches that are Reformed in doctrine and Presbyterian in church order do not send their best – because so many are “excited” about going and, yes, it “helps” if they are the son (or daughter) of an esteemed elder!
The next fact of doing mission the GC way is: Every true missionary or mission team going into the world must have, as the terminus of its vision, the planting of churches which are solidly Reformed in doctrine and growing into a Presbyterian system of church government. Of course, the only good way to do this is to train nationals, right there on the field, to do missionary work among their own people. But for the moment, my point is that the vision must ultimately be the planting of churches. Otherwise, it’s not really GC mission work. It’s something else! Note, then, how, even on their first missionary journey (Acts 14:23), Paul and Barnabas organized churches – all of this in spite of serious disruptions in their work. This is also implied (strongly) when Jesus gave the GC and said, “Therefore go and make disciples… baptizing them in the name of (the triune God).” Establishing churches is what it’s all about! If so, how much so-called foreign mission work today really qualifies as GC mission work?
On to the news! In 1990 I went to Hungary with nothing but the Lord’s sending. But that was enough along with 30 years of prior experience on three other fields. In 1992 we started a school to train young Hungarian men to be church planting pastors. In 1996 we had our first graduates; and in 1998, due to opposition preventing our men from working in the Hungarian Reformed Church (the historic protestant church), we organized the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central & Eastern Europe and, that same year, started to organize some tiny congregations. The system we used at that time was built around our student as a combined evangelist/teacher/pastor/counselor to the flock. And it has worked well until now. But in the last few years our congregations have grown to where some of our men’s pastoral burdens are immense. At the same time Clara and I are 80 and 79 years respectively; and the world, Europe more than the USA, is in great turmoil. So, seeing this coming in the last few years, I felt the time had come for us to put Ephesians 4:11-16 into practice for all our congregations – notwithstanding the fact we still do not have any ruling elders (or deacons) in place. This great passage of the Word of God is for us! It teaches us that God gives gifts and gifted men to His church so they might “equip God’s people for works of service” and be “built up in the faith” so that congregations might “grow up into Christ who is the head” and “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament” might “grow and build itself up in love, as each part does its work.” In a few words, every member of our church must now be involved, health and age permitting, in works of ministry inside and outside the church, the latter meaning that all our members must now be equipped to evangelize the lost.
You can hardly imagine what this shift can mean to our men – especially when they are already working so hard. Their first thought is: “If I am overwhelmed now, what if I add this “every member an evangelist” training to my schedule? But we are solving this in several ways. First we are easing our men out of some of their other duties. For example, by slowing down their work in publications and distance education. Second, by shifting their work of general evangelism to a different kind of evangelism, one that, once they learn it, they can show their members how to do it. I refer to something we now call our BG/BD (Basic Gospel/Basic Discipleship) program. I have been praying about this for several years, observing from the reports of the men that they are working hard, yet wondering why, in spite of this, we have had only good results, not great results.
One of the things I have observed about our men is that, when they meet a new person, they try to develop a relationship with that person, which is very good. However, in doing this, since it involves taking an interest in the other person’s health and worldly concerns, it has the unintended effect of not getting soon to the big issue – in fact, sometimes creating a relationship that never gets to the big issue. So two years ago, I gave our men the Evangelism Explosion method, and that helped them some – but not as much as I hoped. So I kept studying our men’s work with people and realized they were missing an important tool. They were not taking people to the source, the Word of God. Yes, they were using Scripture in their conversations. But they were not getting new people into the Word in such a way that they would be confronted by the Word itself. The Lord then helped me, I believe, to think of the first five chapters of Romans as a tool, not only for our men, but for their members. Romans 1-5 has five great chapters, one on the righteousness of God, one on the unrighteousness of man, one on the “alien” righteousness God offers us in Christ, one on how this “alien” righteousness is received, and one on the result of this righteousness when received by faith. I have no more space to talk about this now except to say that, after people agree to take this little course (only five lessons), if they can say “amen” to this “alien” righteousness (say they think it is true), they are ready for Romans 6-8 and sanctification, then Romans 12:1,2 and taking “the plunge” of dedication. It is then that we can talk to people about the right use of the Lord’s Day, that is, worshiping God in “Spirit and in truth” in a good church.
Another big consumer of our men’s time in 2011 was building projects. We had seven last year, allowing us to complete most of the building needs of our men. But this took so much time last year that, except for Imre, they now have more time for this new program. And we are still working with Imre to trim his load. In any case, our men will take until Easter to put this program into practice. All of them (except three) can give 20 -25 hours/week to it. The other three (Imre and Gyuszi in Hungary, and Ferenc in Romania) will give 15 hours/week to it (in normal weeks). After that, they will not only know how to use this BG/BD course with unbelievers; they can train their members to do the same. The beauty of this course is that men well trained in theology can do this with only an outline. And members who are not trained in theology but know the Word can do this almost as easily, assuming they understand these five major points, especially this pivotal point on “alien” righteousness.
Let me close by telling you about this last project we must finish. It has to do with one of the three build-ings at our school and conference center in Miskolc, Hungary. When we bought this site and its buildings 16 years ago, this one was already in poor shape. We could use it until now, but now we must totally repair and renovate it. This will run $85,000, and we would like to start April 1 and finish in time for the fall Reformation conference. So please be in prayer about the spiritual need of our men to find fruit in this new BG/BD program and about the financial demand of this one project plus the ongoing financial needs of the work. We believe this work can be fully self-supporting by the end of 2014, but for now we very much need your help. God bless you!
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob and Clara Rapp