“Celebrating 125 years of God’s grace” was the theme for a gathering of 300 missionaries, former missionaries, and friends in Grand Rapids, Mich., on September 25. They were there to celebrate missions “through five generations” as part of the 125th anniversary of Christian Reformed World Missions.
Conversation in small groups and at tables included lots of remembering and reconnecting. The room warmed to stories by former missionary and director Eugene Rubingh, who told of his conviction as a young man, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice when many haven’t heard it once?”
Former missionary and director William Van Tol told of missionaries becoming aunts and uncles to hundreds of missionary kids. For many, the celebration was a family reunion.
The strength of the missionaries’ dedication to the work was evident in John DeKorne’s reports to synod in 1942, one week after the battle of Midway during World War II. “Nothing, not even global war, will hinder God’s Word,” he reported.
In 1888, when the CRC was only about 30 years old and consisted primarily of Dutch immigrants, the urge to send missionaries was already strong. By 1896, the church had sent the VanderWagen and Fryling families to New Mexico to establish a mission with the Navajo tribe. In the 1920s the DeKornes, Huizengas, and Dykstras were on their way to China as the first missionaries officially sent overseas by the CRC. Children and grandchildren of some of these missionary families attended the celebration.
Now independent, Zuni Christian School has served the village continuously since 1897. Retired professor and writer James Schaap related themes from the writings of Casey Kuipers, a long-time early leader in Zuni, as he told the story of how missions developed in the CRC but also of the depth of the Zuni religion and life. He aroused knowing chuckles from the crowd when he mentioned a 1950s Banner feature called “Our Indian Cousins.” Schaap called the work in Zuni “the story of God’s grace.”
In addition to looking back, the celebrants also looked forward. Director of international ministries Joel Hogan told of changes that are happening in mission work as partnerships with other churches and organizations are established and local missionaries are empowered. Churches in non-Western countries are now sending missionaries to the United States, and short-term mission opportunities are common. CRWM now has 200 full-time or part-time missionaries working alongside partners in 50 countries, some in specifically CRC missions, and with other working partners. Now “the whole church in the whole world is bringing the whole gospel to the whole world,” he suggested.
Winabelle Gritter, a missionary for more than 50 years, noted, “Not everyone can go, but all can pray and support others.”
Full interviews with past and present missionaries, more information, and the connection to the anniversary book Generations Faithful to His Call are all available at http://www2.crcna.org/pages/crwm_125_years.cfm