Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
“Then Paul and Barnabas, having preached the gospel in Derbe and having discipled many, turned and went back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples, encouraging them to remain true to the faith and telling them, ‘We must go through many hardships on our way to entering the kingdom of God.’ And after appointing elders for them in every church and praying, with fasting, they committed them to the Lord on whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:21-23) In returning to these three cities where they had been expelled and, in one case, stoned and left for dead (Paul), our heroes felt they had some serious, unfinished business. What business? To confirm the souls of the disciples in the Lord and tell them that this new life, begun with joy, would have many hardships as part of the “total package.” Hardships absolutely necessary, not so much because of the world’s hatred of the one true God or even to appreciate their Savior’s sufferings, but to be outfitted for that awesome change Paul would later call “the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18) and, so, be able to live forever with the Lord of Glory and enjoy Him in His fully glorified state – things ”no eye has seen nor ear heard nor been conceived in anyone’s mind, but which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Cor. 2:9)
It is instructive to see what Paul and Barnabas then gave these new disciples. By laying hands on imperfect but spiritually older men, our heroes gave them the best possible gift before leaving. They gave them a home, “a home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way” composed of other believers whose souls were redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and eyes fixed on glory at the end of their pilgrimage. It is this great gift – the church – which we hope to leave with believers in Central & Eastern Europe. The vision of some missionaries today is only to “preach the gospel” and “win sinners to Jesus,” then go home or to another field. Not so Paul and Barnabas. They had two more things in mind. They wanted them established in the faith, then begin to walk with one another as fellow pilgrims in the form of an organized, self-governing, self-sustaining body of believers. When I first went to Europe in 1990, the true church of Christ, at least what was historically Reformed in doctrine and Presbyterian in church order, had been destroyed by its own unbelief, then Communism. Two years later, the Lord helped us open a school to train young Hungarian men to know and preach the gospel. After our first graduation, however, the bishops of the Hungarian Reformed Church ordered our students to leave our Mission, then excommunicated them when they did not listen. This required us to “go back” to our Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to do more. So, with God’s help, we began (1998) a new church called the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central & Eastern Europe. Three weeks ago, we had 22 congregations. Today we have 23. Yes, we just added another, this one a Romanian-speaking congregation in Romania!
Of course, along with the progress, the hardships continue. And why not? After all, this is God’s way not only to bring people to Himself, but prepare them for glory. So very few of the people who have come to Christ in our church have not seen new and serious problems. They still have the problems that go with being in the flesh and in this world. But this “narrow way” which they have embraced is often a scandal to their neighbors and loved ones. We have young people coming to Christ whose parents will not let them attend our church. And wives whose husbands will not let them to attend our services or, if they do, not let them join our church or give any of their income. And, sometimes, men whose wives are strongly opposed to our church to a variety of reasons. There are also cases where entire families ridicule someone who has come to Christ through our ministry. So our new believers often have tears that go with their newfound joy. But these are the things God uses to “bring many sons to glory.” (Heb. 2:10).
Along with these struggles, we have had some church discipline issues. In the last three months, we have needed to excise some from our membership. The spiritual road became hard for them, then they went back to their previous way of life. We went to great lengths to avoid excommunication, but had no other way. We also lost three people, not by excommunication, but to problems where we thought a simple release from membership was the better way to proceed. But, praise God, we have added more than we lost during this time, so the number of our fellow pilgrims is growing. Speaking of church growth, we are still aiming for our church to be self-supporting by the end of 2014. But losing some members and having others who cannot bring their salaries with them when they join us – this underlines the fact that even though this is our goal, if we come to the end of 2014 and the church is not yet ready and if Clara and I still have the health, we do not want to abruptly leave the work. It is important we have this ambitious goal, but only the Lord, working in response to your fervent prayers, can bring it to pass.
In the meantime, as I said, we now have a new congregation. All our congregations until now have been Hungarian speaking and led by one of our Hungarian men – including those in Romania and Ukraine. But in Romania, most of our Hungarian men also speak Romanian. And in this case, the Lord has been softening the hearts of some of the Romanian husbands of our Hungarian church members. This helped us start a Bible study for Romanian people on Fridays. Then this past Christmas season, our people were at a city park singing carols, with our pastor giving the Word of God (after getting permission). One person there learned of our group, sought us out, then talked to us about wanting to be a member of our church and bring some of her friends with her. This gave us what we needed, so three weeks ago we started services on the Lord’s Day in the Romanian language – with 14 adults and 4 children. Of course, if the Lord is pleased, this can, in time, mean increased support for our pastor. We teach tithing as part of the Christian life under normal circumstances.
It is interesting to see how the Lord uses more than one way to reach people. Our church has a web-site which offers many resources, including sermons. (One person in Budapest bought one of our books, then found our web-site, listened to its sermons for a time, and now is attending our services.) We distribute tracts, Bibles and, at the end of the year, beautiful calendars printed for us by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. We have English classes where we use the English Bible. We have evangelistic services outdoors. And entire weeks of evangelism in our churches. We recently had six days of services in Erdoszentgyorgy, Romania averaging 40-45 people/night. At the end of these services, one person said, “We learned more in one week here than in an entire year in the HRC (Hungarian Reformed Church).” And in nearby Rava, services for our Gypsy congregation averaged 10-14 people/night. Home schooling our children also gives us contacts. And at our spring and fall conferences, to which many come, about a third are non-members. This is a wonderful way for them not only to hear the Word, but engage our members in private conversation. God has given us many tools. And now this tremendous Romans course which God continues to use to draw the unconverted to Christ.
Pray for (1) the upcoming Easter conferences in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine (2) our 16 men and their 23 congregations (3) the sending of God’s Spirit to convict people of sin, righteousness and judgment (4) Clara and me – health and strength for this work (5) ongoing help to our men in the form of a salary, housing and utilities, medical assistance, and all they need for the work of ministry, which often means a vehicle (the congregations meet some of their needs, but we give the rest until full self-support can be reached) (6) God’s blessing on a piece that Banner of Truth in Scotland printed about us /p.4/ in its March issue (7) our new bookmarks with pictures of the men and their families – that God would use them to stir more to pray (please use the attached March supplement to learn of their prayer needs) and (8) for our grandson, Eric Rapp, and his ulcerative colitis.
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob & Clara Rapp