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Thriving Indonesian Radio Ministry Gets New Home

Jakarta, Indonesia—For 20 years the Back to God Hour broadcast the good news of Jesus from deep in the center of an old, crowded, deteriorating neighborhood. People took risks every time they walked into the building to work or visit the Christian bookstore.

On March 17 all that changed, as North American supporters and Back to God Hour (BTGH) staff joined Rev. Untung Ongkowidjaja, the Indonesian ministry director, to celebrate and dedicate a new ministry center.

“We had a wonderful evening, with about 75 to 80 Indonesian Christians present for the ceremony,” BTGH Executive Director Rev. Cal Bremer reported. “It is the prayer of North American and Indonesian Christians that God will use this building and all that it houses to announce the rule of the Lord Jesus to all of Indonesia.”

Indonesia is home to 260 million people, of whom 90 percent are Muslim and 65 percent are between the ages of 16 and 30. Persecution of Christians is very real, and hundreds of churches have been destroyed.

Radio broadcast is the most widely used form of communication. “Most Indonesians listen to the radio all day at work, in stores, at home, and in the car,” Untung said.

The Back to God Hour produces four different radio programs that air over 85 local AM and FM stations and several shortwave stations. The response has been overwhelming. Wasiat, the Indonesian version of the BTGH’s devotional TODAY, is distributed to more than 21,000 homes; 24,000 devotional booklets for teens and for children have also been printed and distributed.

Untung also described a new electronic media service that sends out Bible verses every morning to subscribers’ cell phones. “If (people) want to know more about the verses, they can connect by local phone.” BTGH staff provide counseling by phone and via their website

Case Doelman, a BTGH donor who attended the dedication, said he is impressed with what the Indonesian ministry has done to reach young people and children. “The strategic plan focuses on the future of this changing society,” he said.

The old ministry center had been damaged by flooding unrelated to the recent tsunami. A member of the Indonesian Christian Church (ICC) who was developing a new office complex in West Jakarta offered the new space at a reduced price, and a Christian banker offered a special interest rate.

Untung sees God’s hand in all of this. “Our Lord will watch over your coming and going. I believe in his promises to us, and his love makes us able to do his work. Although we face some obstacles for our ministry, he always provides a way for us.”

—Nancy Vander Meer is a freelance writer for the Back to God Hour.

An Ounce of Prevention Helps Churches Thrive

Husband and wife team Ben and Bev Becksvoort care deeply about the health of your church—or any church, for that matter. The Becksvoorts recently led a series of six workshops on anxiety, change, leadership, relationships, generosity, and spiritual care for CRC pastors and other church leaders.

“Healthy congregations are a passion of ours,” said Ben, Great Lakes regional leader for Christian Reformed Home Missions. Bev is a therapist for Safe Haven Ministries in Grand Rapids, Mich. “A church and its leaders need to be experiencing a measure of good health if they are to focus on and pursue their mission,” said Ben. “These workshops are one tool in creating healthier congregations.”

The half-day sessions, held at Calvin Theological Seminary, were offered through the cooperation of Home Missions, Pastor-Church Relations, and the seminary. A “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence” grant from the Lilly Foundation subsidized the cost for the participants.

In addition to serving approximately 30 participants at the seminary, the workshops were broadcast online to eight church leaders who accessed the training via the Internet. Frank Engelage, a member of Providence CRC in Beamsville, Ontario, was impressed with the technology.

“I was able to view the presentation live,” Engelage said, “but if my schedule precluded my live attendance, I was able to view the presentation later at my leisure in my own home.”

Rev. Stan Sturing, a first-time pastor of Community CRC in Saginaw, Michigan, drove two hours each way to attend the workshops.

“This course came at a time when I needed it the most,” Sturing said. “It has given me the tools for staying grounded and connected in my ministry.”

—Don McCrory is senior writer for Christian Reformed Home Missions.

A Predestined Visa Approval

Each year Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) admits international students to the seminary. And each year several of those students are prevented from studying at CTS because their visa applications are denied.

In 2003 and again in 2004, Rev. Sagarga Nuvalga of Nigeria informed CTS that the U.S. Consulate had denied him a visa. Other applicants from Nigeria also had been turned down. According to several sources, many Nigerians pose as ministers to gain entrance into the U.S., so any visa applicant who says he is a minister is suspect.

Rev. Nuvalga reported in February that his third try to obtain a visa had been successful. Seminary faculty and staff were surprised and delighted, especially when they heard his story:

“In my visa interview, the consular officer asked me, ‘Where are you going?’”

“I told him, ‘Grand Rapids, Michigan.’”

“What school will you attend?”

“Calvin Theological Seminary.”

“So, you are a Calvinist?”


“Do you believe in predestination?”


“So if your visa is denied, you would believe that is God’s will?”


“The officer smiled and said, ‘Your visa application is approved.’”

Rev. Nuvalga is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria. Prior to coming to Calvin he served as a teacher and academic dean at Veenstra Seminary in Donga. He is one of 85 international students who traveled from 17 countries this year to study at Calvin Seminary. He, like several others, has come without his family and is praying that his wife and two children will be able to join him later this year.

CTS international students receive advanced theological training so that they can return to their churches and seminaries to serve in positions of leadership. The seminary is one of many venues through which the CRC is making a significant mission contribution to the growth of God’s kingdom around the world.

—Richard Sytsma

Planter Envisions Seven New Florida Churches

BRADENTON, Fla.—Last summer’s hurricanes and the resultant rapid growth on the gulf coast of Florida have sparked a unique church-planting vision in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The vision includes developing seven or more new congregations along the I-75 corridor from north of Bradenton, Manatee County’s biggest city, to south Sarasota in just a few years.

“These congregations would function as one church worshipping at seven different sites, with one site being the nerve center,” says Don Ridder, who accepted the call of Bradenton Christian Reformed Church last year to plant a church in that city.

Ridder sees God’s hand moving powerfully in this region to bring about a vision bigger than one new congregation. “The hurricanes that had such a dramatic physical impact on Manatee and Sarasota counties also had an emotional impact and stimulated interest in Christ,” Ridder said. “There are insufficient new churches, but several are growing rapidly.”

Sarasota and Bradenton ranked among the top markets for housing growth in the U.S., according to CNN statistics for 2004. “People moving in are either unchurched or they have left their churches behind,” Ridder said.

He also points to Bradenton CRC’s commitment to the new church vision, including sending significant financial support and 50 of its own members, and the support from Classis Atlantic Southeast and Christian Reformed Home Missions.

Ridder said he has heard from four other church planters who would like to work with him. “Some are already ordained and could start as church planters. Others would begin as interns for the first year or two and then branch out, each to pastor one of the new congregations.”

“The Spirit is at work,” he said. “The Bradenton church has made a major commitment, the core group is ready, and the vision is cast. It will be awesome to look back in five years and see how all of us, working together, are used to bless the work in Manatee and Sarasota counties.”

For more information about this project, contact the Bradenton CRC New Church Development Project, 4208 - 26th Street West, Bradenton, FL 34205.

Seminary Sunday in Pella

Six Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) students ventured into the hills of Iowa recently to serve as ambassadors of the seminary’s “Making Connections” initiative.

Don Byker, director of field education at CTS, accompanied Ryan Braam, Steven deBoer, Ryan Faber, Ken Krause, Brian Ochsner, and Joel Vande Werken on the whirlwind weekend of preaching and conversation in the Pella area.

The group met with four people interested in ministry to talk about the seminary and about ministry as a vocation. They shared stories of how the Lord called them in the context of their own lives, and ways in which others have confirmed that calling. Several seminarians remarked how encouraging it was to hear each other’s “calling” stories, and to witness the Holy Spirit prodding and guiding those who are considering fulltime ministry and training.

On Sunday, the seminarians preached and led worship in 12 churches from Cedar to Sully. In the evening, four Pella Christian Reformed churches came together for a combined service led by CTS President Neal Plantinga.

While in the Pella area, the seminarians urged churches to create within their worshiping communities a “culture of calling” where those with gifts for ministry are identified and encouraged.

—Steven deBoer, M. Div. student and prospective candidate for ministry

Taking Teens on a Scripture Road Trip

What are the Philippines doing in the Bible?” joked Matt, a high-school junior at a youth group in Bellflower, Calif.

“Do all these books of the Bible basically say the same thing?” asked Chad.

“How do you tell what’s the chapter and what’s the verse?” asked Brandon.

Gone are the days when a youth group leader could call out a Scripture passage and expect everyone in the group to find it. Rather, most of today’s leaders face the unique challenges and joys of mentoring students who are getting their first glance at God’s Word, along with those who were bottle-fed the Bible since birth.

That’s where Route 66: A Road Trip Through The Bible comes into the picture. This new 8-session course for high schoolers stimulates seekers, new believers, and fourth-generation covenant kids.

Route 66 was written by youth educators Mary Sytsma and Jane Vogel and pilot-tested with two of their groups at Wheaton (Ill.) CRC. “What’s really exciting about this project is its emphasis on theological themes running through Scripture,” said Vogel. “Many kids don’t get how the Old Testament relates to the New, or how the themes of covenant or kingdom or Christ run through from start to finish.”

Vogel said the course also teaches youths about the historical sequence of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation presented by Scripture. “It’s great to see the pieces come together for the kids,” she said. “Many of them know lots of stories but haven’t seen the big picture—or at least haven’t articulated it well. We give them the lenses and the vocabulary.”

Route 66 employs “gadgets, gizmos, and grace,” Sytsma said. Students explore the covenant with a board game; learn Christology by scripting an “Israel’s Most Wanted” show; and identify literary genres through a variation of “Steal the Bacon.”

This road trip does slow down to contemplate the devotional purpose of Scripture. After each session, students take home a card with suggested follow-up readings. An exchange student in the Wheaton group took her card home, read the assigned texts from Romans with her host mom, and that same night prayed to receive Christ.

As one student put it, “God’s Word gets to ya.”

—Bonny Mulder-Behnia is a freelance writer for CRC Publications/Faith Alive.

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