Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
Greetings in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us that we might love Him and give ourselves to Him! In my January letter, I spoke of a new tool we are using in our Hungary work– which, in reality, is the old tool of the gospel. But before I speak more of this, let us look more closely at Paul’s mission work, which ought to be our pattern for mission work today. We agreed in my last letter (I hope) that mission work to the nations which does not aim at planting churches is not Great Commission work at all. We also agreed (I hope) that, to do this, we must train nationals to do the church planting, for Americans cannot do this. The question then arises, “How can we train nationals to be theologically and practically qualified to plant churches, that is, able to evangelize the lost, teach and train those who come to Christ, then bring them into a sound Presbyterian church?” One answer is to bring them to the USA, train them here, then let them go home if they have not, in the process, changed their minds about returning to their people. Seminaries in this country love this. The tuition helps financially, and the presence of foreign students adds zest to the student body. Donors are also greatly impressed when the school has so many students from other nations. Yes, God can overrule this policy. But Paul did not use it. He could have sent nationals to Jerusalem or taken them back to Antioch for training, but did not. Of course, on his first journey, Paul could not set up a training center for nationals since, in God’s providence, he was on the run wherever he went. On his second journey, however, he spent most of his time in Corinth, teaching and training nationals at his Corinthian Institute of Theology and Missions. And on his third journey, doing the same at his Ephesus Institute of Theology and Missions.
Let me update you on our Institute of Theology and Missions in Hungary where we are training nationals for church planting in Hungary, Romania and western Ukraine. We opened our school in 1992, two years after the Communist iron curtain lifted. We designed it to be a strong four-year program to train young Hungarians for the ministry. Over the years we gave 95 students at least one year of training, but kept only those who did well and showed aptitude for the work. We ended up graduating 30 of these, of whom 22 received financial support from the Mission. Over the years, 16 of these convinced us of their calling, and these are the ones we now support. In 2003, we shifted from a residential study program to distance education (DE) when it became clear that this was the only way to find good students. Then in 2005 we decided to open the first two years of the program to men we felt could be good ruling elders. So we now have two programs where most of the study is done at home, but twice a year our students, when they can work it out with their employers, come to our center in Miskolc, Hungary for several weeks of special study and exams. The internet is our primary means of communicating with our students, but our teach-ers also visit them in their homes from time to time throughout the year.
Today we have 16 men on the field, five ordained pastors and 11 who are licensed and serve as pastors (except for giving the sacraments). We also have three students who have finished the two-year program which is the upper standard for ruling elders. In the next three years we hope the entire RPCCEE church in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine can be fully organized with most of our 22 congregations having ruling elders and all our licensed men can be ordained and two presbyteries can be organized – one in Romania and one for Hungary/ Ukraine. As for students we have eight in the two-year program and two in the last year of the four-year program – a total of ten. The Mission is also in a different situation now. We are working hard for the entire work to be self-supporting in three years (the average congregation now gives half of the support needed by their pastor). So at this time, even if we had the men – which we don’t – we might not send them into new areas where they would have to start (as our men earlier had to start) with one or two people and depend on the Mission to support them 5-7 more years to come.
So, overall, it is very clear to us where we need to go and how to get there. And we think we can be there by the end of 2014, the Lord helping. And we can easily imagine that, when this happens, the new church and its two new presbyteries will have their own mission churches and start sending men from their own congregations – all under the oversight of these two new presbyteries. And we now have this new tool, the old gospel, to help our congregations come to full self-support, then have self-government, which cannot happen until self-support happens. It’s a bit like leaving Iraq. You can leave too soon. Or you can leave too late. So the beauty of the present three-year deadline is that it gives both the church there and the Mission here a realistic time when the nationals can support and govern themselves.
Turning to this new tool, I find myself wishing we had started it earlier. (But I don’t think we could have done this since it requires some good contacts to work.) In any case, this should be an incredible help in reaching sinners and people who might be believers, but still are worshiping in apostate churches. We don’t want to be debating people about their salvation or where they are worshiping. For that would invariably turn them off and, after years of trying to build a good relationship, result in losing them. On the other hand, if we invite them to read the Scriptures and they accept, then let us help them with their reading (in their homes), we are finding that half our contacts are willing to study Romans which, in all of Scripture, is the one place where the gospel is presented in such a full and orderly way. And not only a gospel for sinners, but a gospel for believers who will not leave bad churches since they never learned the lordship of Christ in those churches. So we have this Romans course for them, the first five chapters of which deal with salvation. The theme is righteousness, and the key idea of each chapter is: the righteous wrath of God, the unrighteousness of man and his eternal condemnation, an “alien” righteousness earned for us by Christ and freely offered to us, the only way this “alien” righteousness may be received, and the first-fruits of this “alien” righteousness (a new standing in the family of God). We stress that believing is merely saying “amen” to God’s Word (no flight of ecstasy needed) at these five points, praying that it was God who helped them say “amen.” Then if God brings them this far and they want to continue (as we would expect of the elect), we move on to Romans 6-8 where the doctrine of sanctification is given. After that, we skip Romans 9-11 and go to Romans 12:1, 2 where the person is invited by “the mercies of God” in His Word (not us) to take this step of “offering himself to God as a living sacrifice.” After that, and only after that, will we talk about keeping the Lord’s Day holy by worshiping with God’s people on His Day or about leaving an apostate church for a godly place to worship and witness.
Here is where I urge all of you, dear helpers, to be in strong prayer for our 16 men as they engage in this spiritual battle for the souls of men. God has given us His gospel, the “dunamis” (dynamite) of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. It is dynamite because it is in this gospel that His righteousness is revealed from faith to faith. But we also need the work of God’s Spirit in these people, and our men need grace to work with these who are the best of their non-member contacts.
Please also pray about the following needs: First, for new support to replace support lost as some of our donors go to be with the Lord. Clara and I never had so many donors leave us as in 2011, and this year it is happening even faster. We went to church last Lord’s Day to learn that two more donors took their flight to glory – gain for them but not for us. Second, we needed $85,000 to finish renovations in Miskolc, but one brother just gave us 500 shares of Abbot Lab stock, bringing this to $58,230. Of this amount, we need $21,800 by May 31 (including summer budget), $13,600 by July 15 and $22,830 by September 30. Please help as you can, and don’t forget the widow’s mite. May the Lord bless you and strengthen you to stand with us in this just and holy war.
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob and Clara Rapp