>When I was a child, the highlight of the summer was our hometown’s annual Mission Fest—a week-long outdoor extravaganza featuring missionary speakers and fellowship for adults as well as playground fun and Cracker Jacks for kids.
Even as a married mom, I recall week-long Mission Emphasis events focusing on missionaries supported by our church. In today’s busy society, I don’t hear much about such week-long celebrations raising awareness and support for missions. But at least one church, First United Reformed in Chino, CA, has maintained a Mission Emphasis Week for 36 years. And it doesn’t look as if it’s a dying tradition.
Mr. Larry Vanden Berge, who is Vice President of the church’s council and chairman of its Evangelism Committee, says, “I certainly feel Mission Emphasis Week will go on for many years. In fact, it seems like it’s enjoyed more than ever. Even as our church approaches it 53rd year of existence and the congregation transitions from a predominately Dutch, dairy-based congregation to a rich variety of people who love and appreciate the Reformed faith, we still enjoy biblically-based traditions. Mission Emphasis Week boosts our support for missions, our local evangelism efforts, and our hospitality toward church visitors. In addition to providing generous support for our selected missionaries, our church members are even more inspired to make our church a shining light in our community.”
Based on Psalm 96:3, “Declaring God’s Glory to All People” was the theme when First URC in Chino held its 36th annual Mission Emphasis Week from January 22-30, 2011. It began with a Saturday evening prayer service, featured guest ministers and speakers for two consecutive Sundays, and included a Wednesday “Family Night” chicken dinner as well as a Saturday morning food and Bible distribution project.
“Mission Emphasis Week 2011 certainly exceeded my expectations,” says Mr. Vanden Berg. “Last year we put a lot of thought into the week but the attendance seemed about the same as if we had put little effort into it. This year I had lower expectations because of that. The Family Night event was much more edifying and, of course, the distribution project was again an encouraging event. Our committee commented they were quite pleased with the week and thought the sermons and presentations were all very motivating. We again arranged for a mix of foreign missions (Rev. Vic Bernales) and local evangelism (Rev. Danny Hyde), which seems to be an effective format.”
The week of activities began with an intimate gathering for prayer on Saturday evening, when about 18 people (many of them Evangelism Committee members) gathered around circular tables and prayed in small groups for specific aspects of the upcoming week.
On Sunday, January 23, the Sunday school children were told about foreign mission life and work. Rev. Vic Bernales, a church planter in Davao City, Philippines, spoke to the adult class on “Office Bearers’ Training: A Key to Sustain Reformed Mission Work.”
“Rev. Bernales’ presentation about training office bearers at a small church plant in a foreign land was a highly interesting topic,” says Mr. Vanden Berge.
Prior to the morning worship service, Cadets from the church presented the Christian flag and flags of sixteen countries in which the congregation supports mission work. Rev. Bernales preached on “Make Known His Deeds Among the Peoples” from Isaiah 12:1-6. Special music included brass players and the church choir singing “All Who Believe.”
At the evening service, Rev. Bernales preached from Acts 17:1-9 on “The Message That Turns the World Upside Down.” A soloist sang, “The Name Above All Names.” During a fellowship time following the service, Rev. Bernales gave a presentation on “Prayer and Gospel Preaching” that challenged attendees to seize every opportunity for witness.
“He asked the people in attendance to speak about their experiences in witnessing and their shortcomings as they did so,” says Mr. Vanden Berge. “Several people shared their encounters. It was encouraging for those present to hear others’ accounts and Rev. Bernales’ comments. I think many felt convicted to be braver in sharing their faith.”
Almost 150 people gathered at the church for a “Family Night Chicken Dinner” on Wednesday evening, after which Rev. Bernales gave an overview and answered questions regarding his work in the Philippines. Special music was presented by a mixed vocal group.
“The Wednesday night event had been a potluck for many years, but evolved into a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner for the past several years,” explains Mr. Vanden Berge. “It was a lively and fun crowd with a good turnout of young families. The group seemed to greatly appreciate Rev. Bernales’ presentation. Vic interned in our church for ten weeks in the summer of 2007. Vic, Cathy, and their family are greatly loved by our congregation, so hearing about his ministry in Davao City was of high interest.”
An innovative aspect of the church’s Mission Emphasis Week was its “Food for Life” distribution project on Saturday morning, January 29. Mr. Vanden Berge explains that “Food for Life” began a couple of years ago and is supervised by a Christian board that acquires food items at depressed prices and sets up distribution events with various church in the local valley.
“We had participated in this as a congregation in October,” he explains, “and decided to tie it in this time with Mission Emphasis Week.”
About 175 families came to purchase groceries for $5 per large box. Approximately 60-70 volunteers from the church stocked the boxes. As boxes were loaded into the families’ cars, some church members offered them free Bibles, literature, and information about the church.
“Around 25 English Bibles were distributed and 40 Spanish Bibles were given to the largely Latino recipients,” says Mr. Vanden Berge. “They were very appreciative to receive spiritual as well as physical food.”
The week of activities concluded with a “Commitment Sunday” on January 30. Rev. Daniel Hyde, pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church, spoke to the adult Sunday school class on “Being a Welcoming (Reformed) Church,” a topic on which he has recently published a book.
Rev. Quentin Falkena, First URC’s Youth Pastor, extended to the congregation a call to pledge financial support for the church’s monthly “Faith Promise” mission offerings. Through the “Faith Promise” offerings, the congregation supports Dr. Brian Lee’s work at Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC; Rev. Ruben Sernas with Ontario Hispanic URC; Tom & Donna Cnossen with N. Canada Evangelical Mission; Rev. Bill Green with Latin American Reformed Fellowship in Costa Rica; Dr. Neal Hegeman, Academic VP & Hispanic Director for Miami International Theological Seminary (MINTS); Marvin & Joyce Hyde with Wycliffe Bible Translators; Chris & Joy Konop with Mission Aviation Fellowship in Democratic Republic of Congo; Dr. Sylvia Martinez with Ministries in Action in Dominican Republic; Rev. Steve McGee, Coordinator of English Speaking Caribbean Ministry for MINTS and President of Ministries in Action; Rev. Eric Pennings, Central American Director for MINTS; Rev. Steve & Nalini Poelman, URC missions in India; Roger & Karen Van Otterloo, Wycliffe Bible translators; Rev. Allen Vander Pol, Director of African and Philippines & English ministries for MINTS; and John & Shirley Wind with CRC World Missions in Mexico.
Rev. Hyde preached at the morning service on “Defending God’s Existence in an Age of ‘New Atheism,’” based on Psalm 19 and Romans 1:18-32. The Providence Men’s Group provided special music. Rev. Ronald Scheuers, First URC’s Senior Pastor, preached at the evening service on “Even a Gentile Soldier” from Acts 10. The “Bells of Praise” presented “Jesus Shall Reign.” During the fellowship time following the evening service, Rev. Ruben Sernas, pastor of Ontario Hispanic United Reformed Church, gave an overview of his Spanish ministry.
“Rev. Sernas helped us at the Food for Life distribution the day before,” says Mr. Vanden Berge, “and our congregation is seeking to help him financially and physically with his developing ministry.”
Mr. Vanden Berge relates that those attendees with whom he spoke “seemed very blessed and edified by the week of mission focused events.” He admits “it was a lot of work and sometimes I felt barely able to stay ahead of the wave.” He is quick to add, however, “But I think it is an awesome tradition to set aside this week at the beginning of the year, to focus on the work of our missionaries and to feel the conviction to do a better job of witnessing to our local community. Our congregation gives generously to our monthly Faith Promise for Missions offering, but I think more and more of us are becoming even more stimulated to witness in our community and show hospitality to the growing number of visitors who are checking out our church and joining us in worship.”
“I recommend that all churches, large or small, set aside a week focusing on missions and evangelism,” he says. “I believe it will spur them on to a year of ‘Declaring God’s Glory to All People.’”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the February 23, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.