RTS is blessed to have many of these students in one or more of our five missions degree programs. It is indeed exciting to see how the Lord is spreading the Gospel through diverse personalities and unique ministries.
As technology advances and transportation becomes easier at the dawn of the 21st century, more and more Two-Thirds World Christians are coming to the United States for missions training.
The following vignettes try to capture for you a sampling of the dynamic mission work of our students throughout the world . Some have already graduated, and some are still at RTS working toward their future ministries. Truly God is at work everywhere, using the talents and abilities of His servants in very different ways.
Young-Ho Jang - St. Petersburg
Thirty-seven-year-old Young-Ho Jang just received a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from RTS/Jackson in May. Born in Korea to Christian parents, he has already planted Hosanna Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, and plans to return soon to teach at MIR (Jesus Mission for Russia) Bible Institute, which he helped start. He also has a vision for a sister missionary training center for institute graduates.
"We are very excited that God is moving in Russia," says Young- Ho. "The church has about 200 members now, with attendance as high as 400. Three new faculty members have joined the institute, and we have seen our fifth graduate. Two-thirds of our students are new Christians. We hope to train them to be missionaries also, first in Russia, then abroad."
If Young- Ho's father had followed Oriental tradition, Young- Ho would never have become a missionary. He had earned a degree in mechanical engineering in Korea, but then realized the Lord was calling him into full-time ministry. If he became a minister, he would have to break with tradition, not being able to care for his aged parents. Yet, they were committed Christians, and his father said, "Go where God wants you to go."
After graduating from seminary in Korea, he came to the United States to study missiology, but before he could begin work, the church with which he had become involved in Buffalo, New York, begged him to go to St. Petersburg to plant a church. He and his wife, Kang Hwan, stayed there for three and a half years before coming to RTS/Jackson
The Jangs with their three children will face many obstacles when they return to St. Petersburg. The 1000-year-old Orthodox church is very opposed to Protestant missionaries, seeing them as cults. Although the door has been wide open to evangelism in Russia, it is rapidly closing. In 1997 the government passed a law of religious restriction requiring every church to register yearly or be shut down.
"The situation in Russia is urgent," relates Young- Ho. "So many seeds that have been planted for years are now coming ripe and need to be harvested. But the window of opportunity is closing fast."
Young- Ho encourages Christians to consider short-term summer service as English teachers, since Russians are eager to learn the language. A recent class of forty yielded five new Christians who now attend church. If you are interested, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amos Magezi grew up in poverty in the East African country of Uganda. Looking back on his life, he sees the providential hand of God helping him get an education, which has culminated in his earning a Master of Divinity degree in missions last May. He has returned to Uganda with wife Jean and three children to begin the much-needed training of pastors and evangelical/discipleship leaders.
Although Amos went to church with his parents as a child, the family was not committed to Christ. He was six when his father died, leaving eight children for his mother to support. She was not educated and could not get a job, so after elementary school, she told Amos to forget about more schooling. He grew up a severely depressed child with little hope for the future.
However, the elders in his church recognized gifts in him and gave him a job sweeping the church. Later they hired him to teach children the catechism and subsequently sent him to college to train for church ministry - even though he was not a committed Christian.
"It was during college that I was convicted of my sin and realized that, if I didn't commit my life to Christ, I would be a signpost leading others to Christ when I wasn't traveling there myself," Amos confesses.
Amos was so poor he never dreamed he could even get married because he could never come up with the bridal dowry he must pay the woman's family. However, friends and relatives contributed, and Amos paid the five cows it took to make lovely Jean his wife. After college be became a pastor in 1990, and soon realized he needed much more theological education. But every school wanted a high school diploma, something he didn't have. With Jean's encouragement he studied and received it in 1992. In 1993 he took a step of faith, left his family, and traveled to Malawi to enter African Bible College. After his graduation, he immediately entered RTS/Jackson, not even returning home.
His study of Scripture and Reformed doctrine at African Bible College showed him clearly that Ugandan pastors desperately need more training in leadership and biblical interpretation.
"Pastors in the U.S. can go to seminary before they enter the ministry," says Amos, "but in Uganda, our pastors merely get a certificate from a Bible school, which is not seminary-level teaching. I want to pass on all the information I have acquired because few of them will be able to study out of the country."
Amos also hopes to be able to work with the newly formed Reformed Theological College in Kampala. His vision includes working with teams of nationals and missionaries; RTS/Jackson graduate Dale Hollenbeck (RTS '99) is already a team member and other RTS students are interested.
In a population of twenty-one million, thirty-three per cent are Protestants - far fewer are committed Christians. Amos attributes the low number to ineffective teaching of God's Word caused by deficient pastoral training.
Says Amos, "I want to help pastors understand exactly what they believe and how to teach it, so their congregations can understand what they should believe and can grow in faith."
David Bergmark - Sweden
A Master of Divinity student, David and his wife, Stacy, have already returned to Sweden to begin work with a missions team planning a multi-faceted program to reach all of that country.
Somewhat unique, the team consists mainly of nationals, an invaluable aid in interpreting the culture and gaining the trust of Swedes. Brought up in a pagan family, David went to church rarely and thought Christianity was like a sports club or hobby. An American missionary, Gary Johnson, shared the Gospel with him and gave David the opportunity to play high school baseball in the United States for a semester-on the condition that he went to church every week. He came to Jackson, Mississippi, and attended First Presbyterian Church, where several families influenced his life for the Lord.
Upon returning to Sweden he became increasingly restless and dissatisfied with the Swedish church. The Lord was tugging at his heart, and Gary suggested he return to the States and enter Belhaven College in Jackson. While there David began studying God's Word more, realized his sin, and gave his life to Christ.
David is excited about ministering in his native country, where great secularization has occurred. Church attendance has dropped dramatically. There is great need for renewal and reformation in a country where humanism and postmodern thinking have seriously undermined the faithful proclamation of the Gospel.
Church planting is central to the team's efforts. The long-term vision also includes Christian schools, a seminary, a campus outreach, and continuation of the
sports ministry that brought the Gospel to David.
The ministry will encounter several obstacles, perhaps even from the established church itself. Many Swedish leaders feel the country does not need a Presbyterian church, something that has never existed in Sweden and must overcome the label of a cult. The team is emphasizing relationships with existing ministries to grow in respect and trust.
The vision doesn't stop with Sweden but extends to the uttermost parts of the earth. "Sweden has always been very missions-minded," says David, "and has sent out many missionaries during the last two centuries. We hope to add fuel to the missions fire and see Swedish short-tem missions teams in Peru and South Africa soon.
"Perhaps our generation won't have as big an impact on Sweden as we would like," David continues, "but if we raise up godly families, we hope He will bring along another generation who will have an even larger impact."
That may be difficult and dangerous; it surely will take much prayer and wisdom. The Swedish state de-emphasizes the role of parental authority. For example, last year a couple spent time in prison and had to pay $2000 each for admitting to spanking their child. These missionaries can surely use your prayers as they raise their families in this increasingly secularized culture. Perhaps they could use your presence as well. Because the long-term vision is vast, David and the team are praying for other like-minded families to join them. You can reach David at email@example.com.
David Sills - Ecuador
"The Holy Spirit is blowing His awakening wind through the high Andes Mountains of Ecuador." That's how David Sills eloquently describes what the Lord is doing in the Highland Quichua tribe in South America. A Ph.D. student in the Intercultural Studies program at RTS/Jackson, he is seeking to identify traditional leadership selection and training techniques among them for use in pastoral training. He and his wife, Mary, will work with a team to set up a unique training program for spiritual leaders of this tribe who, until recently, did not have a written alphabet.
David was brought up in a Christian home in Jackson, Mississippi, but at sixteen he became rebellious and quit going to church. He was twenty-four when God began to move in his life, primarily through reading God's Word. He was in real estate at the time and worked with Sylvia Ria, wife of Mickey Ria (RTS '84).
"Out of the blue one day she asked me if I knew for sure I was going to heaven when I died," David remembers. "I said, 'Sure, I've done all the right things, gone to church, and was baptized.' She said, 'OK,' not sounding too pleased, but she didn't say anything more. That question began to bother me greatly. I could not get it out of my head."
And then the day came when he stared death in the face. An armed gunman entered the office, firing a gun randomly and demanding money. He walked straight over to David, aimed the gun at his face from four feet away, and pulled the trigger. Hot air blew David's hair back as the bullet narrowly missed him and pierced the wall behind him. As he tasted the gunpowder on his face, he realized he had not been ready to die; he knew he wasn't right with God.
A short time later his wife and his first child nearly died when the umbilical cord became wrapped around the child's neck at birth. The church they had been attending really reached out to them, and they began attending seriously. He finally gave his life to Christ, and he became immersed in Scripture. Some months later, Mary was saved.
In 1987 he went to Ecuador on a short-term mission trip in which everything went wrong. He vowed never to come back. Yet, two years later he and Mary returned, this time to the Andes Mountains. It seemed the Lord said, "This is where I want you to be."
The Quichuas are so low on the socio-economic scale in Ecuador that they barely exist. Enslaved first by the Incas, then by the Spaniards, even by 1970 they were seemingly owned by whoever possessed the land. Their culture has been completely aural, with traditions and history handed down orally, but that is now beginning to change.
Although they are primitive, reports estimate that some sixty-two per cent - or 3.3. million -- of the Quichuas are evangelical Protestants, largely as a result of missionary work that began in 1901 and resulted in a revival starting in the 1960s. Unfortunately, there are only 2000 Quichua churches, or one for every 1700 people. And those existing churches can hold only thirty to forty people.
Obviously more pastors are needed to plant churches, and current pastors need much better training, since there are no seminaries for the Quichua.
"Missionaries now hold one-week workshops two to four times a year, but this is not enough," says David. "Usually if a pastor wants to learn Spanish and goes away to school for several years, he doesn't want to return. If he does, the Quichua are very suspicious of his Western clothes, shoes, and his unfamiliar Spanish tongue."
Until the tribe can become bilingual, David's vision is to train pastors by using traditional Quichua techniques for teaching their people to build homes, weave, and develop other cultural projects. With a program called Interteach, he hopes to work at several levels. Basically he would teach missionaries and pastors how to mentor, disciple, and train pastors. The next level would introduce correspondence courses when a person can read and write Spanish. A final level would offer in-depth training for pastors already in the ministry who realize they are deficient.
Hong Deok Kim
Forty-five-year-old Hong Deok Kim is a student at RTS/Jackson who will tell you that the birth of his two-year-old daughter, Joy, turned his ministry around. Doctors strongly urged Hong Deok and his wife, Aerim, to abort Joy when tests showed she had brain damage, spina bifada, and Down's Syndrome. The couple adamantly refused, and the Lord blessed them by turning their anxiety to joy. Their six-pound-miracle turned out to have only Down's Syndrome. Now the entire family rejoices over its newest member and praises God's grace.
However, Hong Deok has discovered that his Korean countrymen do not accept people with disabilities. Orientals believe it to be a shameful curse on the family from God, brought on by sin. Traditionally, the handicapped person is confined to one room, never appearing in the outside world. Desiring to change this attitude, Hong Deok changed his doctoral dissertation from the Puritan missionary movement to looking at disabilities from a Korean-American perspective.
Hong Deok grew up in a Christian family in Korea with six other brothers. His mother was a woman of prayer, praying for two or three hours each day. As a young man he devoted himself to Jesus, but not to full-time ministry. Instead he wanted to teach at a university to be involved in campus ministry. At his university in Korea he formed and led Bible study groups, and after graduation with a degree in biology became a college professor. Eventually he entered the University of Michigan for a Ph.D. in biology. Yet, while there, the Lord began convicting him that he should be in full-time ministry, so he transferred to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1987.
After graduation he went to Los Angeles where he first served as an associate pastor at a large church, then ministered to two other churches. Three years ago he started Good News Church with just one family, and today it has grown to seventy members.
Hong Deok knows first-hand what it's like to be handicapped. Several years ago he was struck with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a vicious virus that causes total immune system collapse. Even after complete bed rest for three years, his health is still fragile. There is no treatment for the disease and no cure, but through prayer Hong Deok feels his condition is gradually improving. And he knows God is teaching him important lessons.
"I am humble before God now and realize that I can minister for Him only in His power, not mine," he reveals. "I have learned how to serve people who are ill and disabled. Also I have learned how to pray and how to obey what God wants me to do."
Hong Deok is excited about future mission work with the handicapped in other countries - a field virtually untapped. Many nations restrict missionaries from entering, but work for the handicapped is never turned down; in fact, countries welcome it. Hong Deok's missions organization is already working in China and Mexico establishing rehabilitation centers, job training centers, and orphanages. He is praying about moving into a South American country.
Pedro Tarquino - Colombia
Pedro Tarquino wants more than anything else to bring rebirth to his native country. A Ph.D. student in Intercultural Studies at RTS/Jackson, he is a primary organizer of The Colombian Project, an effort by Reformed, evangelical Christians to help Colombia's leadership develop a Reformed worldview.
Although Pedro's family of eight siblings was very poor, his parents were committed Christians who instilled a strong work and faith ethic in their children. That, however, is not the norm in Colombia; although ninety per cent of the population profess to be Roman Catholic and five per cent Christian evangelicals, the majority are only nominal Christians. Religion is merely for festivals, not for everyday life.
"Colombians separate the sacred and secular," says Pedro. "Our country claims to be the most Christian nation in the world, but it is actually one of the most corrupt and violent. We hope the Reformed faith can help especially the leadership of Colombia not to separate a relationship with God from relationships with His creation."
Colombia declared independence from Spain in 1819, and during the ensuing 180 years partisan politics, dictatorship, and civil war have been constant. A Conquistador mentality rules - steal, kill, and destroy all a person finds - and has produced a society with a culture of violence. In 1996 Colombia was declared the most violent country in the world with thirty thousand people killed. The violence results from dishonesty, desire to get rich without effort, and love for power.
Pedro and other missionaries are encouraged because some of the country's leaders are becoming evangelical Christians. But they are concerned because there aren't enough trained pastors to teach these leaders a Reformed worldview.
"Our first task is to start an interdenominational seminary that is Reformed in its doctrine," he relates. "The church is growing, but the majority of our pastors are not trained. Many Colombians think education is a waste of time; we need to show them the value of studying God's Word deeply."
Although many people are leaving Colombia for Spain and the United States, Pedro and his wife, Cecilia, are determined to stay and sacrifice for the church.
"Our only hope is the Gospel of Jesus Christ," says Pedro. "We need to help Christians see the responsibility of the church in our country. We must be the salt and light, reaching the leaders who can influence the country. I am encouraged because, as Christ said, a little yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise. We are ready to work for a new day in our country."
Why not add these families to your prayer list, asking that God will give them vigor, faith, and wisdom for the task before them? Pray that God will give them strength to endure hardship. Pray about whether you should go help them or give to their ministry financially. Above all, thank God for them and their single-minded devotion to bringing in God's bountiful harvest.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 3, Fall 2000
© 2000 Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.
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Last updated 11-8-2000.