Costa Rica Ministry Center opens

Update12_17b.cdrSeventeen years after construction began, Costa Rica Ministry Center is finally being fully utilized. The facility houses three ministries: the CECRE (Centro Educativo Cristiano Reformado) Christian High School, the CLIR (Confraternidad Latinoamericana de Iglesias Reformadas) printing operation, and the Pacto de Gracia congregation. The church has held worship services in a finished room on the second level of the building for several years, but the high school and print shop moved in during February of 2018. An open house to celebrate this significant milestone was scheduled for April 6.

The 115 high school students and instructors enjoyed their first day of classes in the new building on February 12. The larger space in a clean and quiet location includes a cafeteria area. While the students in six grades nearly fill the available space, there is room for about 40 more pupils.

It took a full day to move the printing operation from the garage of missionaries Bill and Aletha Green three miles and up a hill to the new building. Workers used a forklift to load presses and other equipment onto two trucks that made the trip three times. The CLIR print shop occupies the Ministry Center’s ground floor and shares an office with the high school. Air-conditioning keeps the shop and storage area free from humidity. More convenient installations will increase printing volume.

Many Christian Renewal readers have participated in work groups at the site since 2001. As many as four or five crews arrived annually from about 2005-2012. Construction then stalled for nearly five years, due to financial recessions and sharp increases in the cost of building materials. But almost two years ago, a contractor offered a quote of $330,000 to finish the project.

“The contractor was great,” Rev Green says. “We got an extra 25 percent built for the quoted amount. Four sheds, cafeteria, poured parking, and a lot of other nice things. God is good!”

Bill and Aletha Green have been working with missions in Costa Rica for over three decades. Aletha continues to be active with the Christian school, after having served many years as principal and on the board. She helped organize senior class trips to Grand Rapids, MI, in 2016 and Chino, CA, in 2017. Her current service includes baking sweet treats for a worldview class the couple conducts in their home.

“Our 33 years of experience in Costa Rica has enabled us to identify cultural impediments, and the worldview class is addressing this,” Rev. Green says. “Some things are universal: individualism, selfishness. Some things are specific to Costa Rica—people have a difficult time working together as a team. Our primary goal is to ensure that following generations will sustain and push the Costa Rican Reformed ministries forward.”

The three ministries seem to be moving forward. The school’s student body is steadily growing. The Pacto de Gracia Reformed Church has enjoyed growth during the past year and a steady stream of visitors. Many parents from within the school community are becoming interested in the church due to its biblical distinctiveness.

God is providing men to assume more leadership in CLIR as well. Lester Martinez serves as administrator and Daniel Lobo is a translator and editor. The two men are elders licensed to exhort.

“They both combine their love for God’s kingdom and the church with their passion for CLIR’s ministry—in publications, conferences, and church support,” Rev. Green says. “Both are willing to serve the CLIR ministry for the long haul. Praise the Lord for these two men, their tremendous gifts, and their commitment to the Lord and His church.”

Ministries and individuals making advances in Kingdom work often feel the presence of spiritual warfare, and those involved with the Costa Rican ministry are no exception. They request prayer for that and other matters.

“We feel the attacks of the evil one, even as so many good things are happening,” Rev. Green says. “Please pray that God will protect and use us.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal


Trinity Psalter Hymnal

Click on this link for how to pre-order multiple copies of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, the joint songbook project of the URCNA and the OPC. You can save shipping by picking it up at the concurrent meetings of the OPC General Assembly and the URCNA Synod scheduled for June of 2018 at Wheaton College.

God’s faithfulness in the fire


study-3A massive fire destroyed much of the Faith United Reformed Church building in West Olive, MI, on May 13. No one was inside at the time, and Pastor Matthew Nuiver was one of the first to notice smoke as he drove up that morning.

“Initially I thought maybe it was a brush fire,” he said, “but as I got closer I saw the smoke appeared to be coming from the steeple.” He immediately called 911.

The fire moved quickly, engulfing the sanctuary and collapsing its roof within 40 minutes of the initial call. Smoke from the fire could be seen almost ten miles away. More than a dozen fire crews responded to the scene, and tanker trucks from surrounding townships provided water to ladder units. A fire wall between wings helped firefighters keep the inferno from spreading through the entire building, although the part still standing sustained some damage, primarily from smoke and water. The sanctuary section of the structure was completely destroyed.

News crews were quick on the scene, and Pastor Nuiver had the opportunity to testify on television networks about God’s faithfulness in the midst of loss.

“Certainly it’s gutting, and we’re disappointed,” he said, “but these are things that God can provide for us again and replace. We’re thankful no one was hurt. And we know that God is always faithful, so we’re trusting him.”

He also emphasized that the church is more than a building, even though it holds many emotional associations from weddings, baptisms, and funerals. “Those connections are all there, and they’re very important. So we don’t want to minimize that, but at the same time, the church is the people. And we’re thankful for the ways we’re going to be able to rally around each other.”

Several members of the congregation, who gathered to watch the fire, comforted each other and also witnessed to reporters. Marc Jaarsma reflected on the baptisms of his four children within the building. “Those memories can’t burn. Those milestones, and those special occasions,” he said. He expressed his confidence that the congregation would get through this. “Obviously our faith and trust in the Good Lord is going to be primary in that task.”

Elder Arlan Rouwhorst, identified as the church custodian, said, “I know the people in this church, and it’s a bump in the road. God has so faithful to this congregation and will continue to be. I know that beyond a doubt.”

The cause of the fire was being investigated, but media reports indicated that it did not appear suspicious.

Offers for worship facilities and assistance flooded in following the fire. Pastor Nuiver said, “It’s just overwhelming how people have offered use of space and other assistance.”

The congregation met for a special prayer service on Saturday evening, May 14. Sunday services on May 15 were held at South Olive CRC in Holland, MI, the congregation from which many Faith members came about 20 years ago. Faith’s services were held at 11:15 AM and 6:30 PM, following South Olive’s 9:30 AM and 5:00 PM services.

“It was seamless as far as sharing the worship space,” Pastor Nuiver explained, “although the media people outside did make it a little bit of a circus.”

Tad Groenendyk, a member of Faith URC and seminarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, had been scheduled to preach on May 15, and the elders asked him to go ahead as scheduled. His morning sermon was “Rejoice in the Lord!” and was based on Philippians 4:4-9. Although there was some discussion regarding the appropriateness of the text, Pastor Nuiver encouraged him to preach on it, saying, “This is the very time we need to hear these words.” The evening sermon was “The Lord Conquers a Heart,” based on Joshua 2.

Pastor Nuiver commented online later that day, “Thankful for the power of the gospel and prayer and the way that He builds His people together to be a place of His dwelling.”

Dealing with the fire’s aftermath and the insurance process seems overwhelming. The section of the building still standing consists of a gymnasium/fellowship hall, kitchen, bathrooms, and several classrooms. The destroyed part contained the sanctuary, some classrooms, bathrooms, nursery, church library, and secretary’s office. It also included Pastor Nuiver’s study with his library of books.

He has received offers to donate replacements, but is still trying to determine what he had and what he needs. The congregation plans to continue sharing worship space with South Olive CRC at least through May, but the Council has yet to decide on a course of action for the longer term.

“There are lots of questions we still have to ask as far as going forward,” Pastor Nuiver said. Some of those include if the existing wing can be restored adequately and if it provides sufficient space for 300 people to worship, classes to meet, and a nursery to be provided.

Pastor Nuiver admits the difficulty of trying to figure out the new normal while dealing with the losses. “This definitely changes the narrative for our church in some ways, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.”

A couple of items pulled from the rubble and shown on television news demonstrate both loss and hope. A charred Bible, its cover burned off and pages singed, originally belonged to Pastor Nuiver’s great-grandfather. An encased shovel, donated by Pauline Dyke and her late husband Harris, was used to break ground for the building nearly 20 years ago.

“He saved it for us. That means we’ve got to do it over,” Pauline told reporters, smiling through her tears. She later added, “We know the Lord is good and He has a purpose for it all.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 14 & 15 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC teen participates on UN panel


constance-tyneConstance Tyne, a 15-year-old member of Grace Reformed Church, the URC plant in Jersey City, NJ, addressed UN representatives at the Commission on the Status of Women on March 22. She and the four other young people on the panel presented speeches on topics related to the theme “Women’s Empowerment and its Link to Sustainable Development.”

For over a year, the Tyne family has been involved with Concepts of Truth International, a nonprofit organization that provides abortion counseling, recovery, and prevention through a live assistance phone line and other programs and materials. The organization’s recovery curriculum was recently endorsed by Focus on the Family and is available in English and Chinese.

Millie Lace, founder and director of the organization, was impressed with recent work Constance performed in helping organize and promote a 5K fundraising run. She asked Constance to head up the panel.

“As chairman, my job was to put together a panel of youth, introduce them to the organization and instruct them on their responsibilities for the Conference on the Status of Women,” Constance says. She explains that each speech focused on solutions to different topics related to the theme.

She chose to speak on “Empowering Women through Education” because of the difference in methods used by Concepts of Truth compared to those employed by the UN.

“Concepts of Truth’s methods of help and healing…differ from the UN’s methods,” she says. “They can provide a comfort that the UN cannot: forgiveness in Christ and healing from Him is a crucial aspect of the recovery process. Clients are also specially helped by women, handpicked to counsel. A unique thing about Concepts of Truth is the staff; all counseling staff are very knowledgeable women who have had previous abortions, and have themselves healed from that process. Now, because of the forgiveness received in Christ, they use their past to help others heal from the same wounds once inflicted on them.”

The students prepared for weeks prior to the event, practicing on their own and with adult mentors. One parent is an actress and drama coach; Constance’s mother, Josephine Tyne, is an attorney and homeschool co-op teacher.

Pastor Sam Perez, of Grace Reformed Church, says, “The Tynes have been with the church since the very beginning as a core family (so almost three years). I would describe them, briefly, as an exemplary homeschooling Christian family.”

As a homeschooled student, Constance has gained debate and public speaking experience through NCFCA (National Christian Forensics and Communications Association).

She says, “Although the panel did not require much refutation to the audience, previous public speaking experience was definitely beneficial, as I felt I was more able to connect and engage with the audience.”

Over 100 people witnessed the presentation in a room set up for 50. “The walls were lined with people! The panel was attended by UN staff, delegates, other NGOs, visitors, families of the panelists, volunteers from Concepts of Truth, and others,” Constance says. “The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. The audience was responsive to our speeches, and—unlike other panels we witnessed—there were no probing questions from a slightly defensive audience. We were positively and warmly received.”

Witnessing the great variety of cultures represented at the event was “an eye opening experience” for Constance. “Seeing people from different countries, coming together to learn, teach and meet others is incredible, but the fact that God made a way for Concepts of Truth to be a part this is truly wonderful. In many countries, unsafe abortions are frequent and regular. Having the opportunity for Concepts of Truth to educate some people, in order that they may share with the country, is something that could only be ordained by someone bigger, someone with a universal plan.”

She was encouraged to see other NGOs (Non-Government Organizations). “I was able to meet a woman from Ireland, who was there with a Christian group at the UN. We know that God is doing things all over the world, working in the lives of His people, but to see and be a part of it firsthand is unforgettable.”

Constance cites the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19: “ ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ I truly believe that the work Concepts of Truth is doing is globally impacting lives for the better and is helping to change hearts, minds and actions. I am proud to say I am a part of this noble and Christ-centered endeavor.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC Pastors taking up new church families

Three pastors, all graduates of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, are bidding farewell to their initial congregations and taking up the ministerial mantle in second charges. Rev. Nick Alons (2006) has moved from the United Reformed Church of Prince Edward Island (PEI) to Lynwood URC in Lansing, IL. Rev. Steve Swets (2007) is moving from Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Abbotsford, BC, to Rehoboth URC in Hamilton, ON. And Rev. Matthew Nuiver (2004) will move from the URC of Wellsburg, IA, to Faith URC in West Olive, MI.

Alons family-cNick and Allison Alons have four children, two boys and two girls, between the ages of one and eight. They received an offer on their home only three days after putting it on the market. The sale was finalized on December 1, and they immediately began heading to Chicagoland. His installation service at Lynwood URC was scheduled for December 13.

“Although PEI is a rural context and Lynwood more of a suburban context, both congregations strike me as being warm and inviting,” he says. “One major difference is that PEI is an island. The closest URC is some 13 hours away in Vermont. In Lynwood, there is a sister church about ten minutes away.”

He adds, “As far as differences between the congregations go, God’s people are God’s people, wherever they are gathered, so there are aspects of the ministry that stay the same no matter where you are serving. God’s people need to be loved and they need to hear the gospel.”

His last sermon at PEI was on 1 Corinthians 2:2, preaching Christ crucified. “In all my sermons and teaching on PEI, this was my aim, and that will be the same at Lynwood as well. I hope to preach the centrality of Christ in all things.”

Swets familySteve and Rachel Swets also have two sons and two daughters, theirs ranging from one to seven. The family plans to move between Christmas and New Years, with installation scheduled for January 15.

Wile Rehoboth’s congregation is quite a bit larger, both are located in an urban area but include rural members. Rev. Swets relates that both are well established with godly leadership.

“Rehoboth is in a unique position because it is located less than a mile away from Redeemer University and this affords an opportunity to reach out and show hospitality to college students,” Rev. Swets says. “Rehoboth also has hired a full-time director of outreach (Erik Hoeksema). I am excited to work alongside this non-ordained brother.”

In addition to those outreach efforts, he hopes to connect with the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, two of whose students attend Rehoboth. He also anticipates building relationships with the many NAPARC congregations in the area.

“Above all, I seek to remain faithful to the Lord’s call to shepherd the flock,” he says. “I am reminded that I stand in the need of grace, but this is exactly what the Lord provides. Also, with a wife and four young children, I seek to be balanced in my callings to God’s glory.”

Nuiver family-c
Photo coutesy of JB Johnson Photography

Rev. Matthew and Lisa Nuiver have four daughters from four to eleven, and a set of twins (boy and girl) who will soon be a year. The family hopes to move during the last part of January, in time for their school-age children to begin the third quarter.

Not only will Timothy Christian School in Wellsburg lose the Nuiver students, but it also will lose Rev. Nuiver as its seventh and eighth grade Bible instructor.

“We are sad to leave, and yet excited for the new opportunities and possibilities that the Lord will bring us to in West Olive,” Rev. Nuiver says.

Although the two congregations have many differences, the Nuivers have spent more time considering their similarities. Both churches are full of people who love the Lord, seeking to be faithful and evangelistic.

“The ‘W’ will always be a part of who we are,” he says. “My hope is that the Lord will use my family and me powerfully in a new context by His grace, mercy, and love. That the saints in West Olive will not only embrace us, but that we can share in the work of the church with joy and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us. My goal is that Jesus Christ is praised!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the January 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.


First URC of Oak Lawn: 100 years and counting


Oak Lawn URC-cThe stately building of First United Reformed Church sits on a tree-lined corner of Oak Lawn, Illinois. The historic building reflects a lengthy history of Christian worship, and the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary on September 13, 2015. About 250 people attended that day’s morning service, 180 enjoyed a fellowship lunch, and 200 participated in the afternoon’s celebratory service. Robust congregational singing augmented each service, accompanied by Mr. Justin Rich on the organ and Miss Esther Van Groningen on the piano.

The congregation’s former pastor, Rev. Sy Voortman, greeted worshipers at the morning service and challenged the congregation to continued faithfulness. Current pastor Rev. Ted Gray led the service and administered communion. Rev. Larry Johnson spoke from Matthew 5:14-16 on “A Shining Witness for God in Oak Lawn and the World.”

Because the building is not air conditioned, attendees were grateful for sunshine and cool temperatures. After morning worship, refreshments were served outdoors. During this time and the subsequent meal, former and current members of the congregation renewed acquaintances and enjoyed fellowship with each other.

A hymn sing was held prior to the second service. For the final hymn, all men were invited forward and sang the first three stanzas of “How Great Thou Art,” with the congregation joining on the last one.

Rev. Gray says, “There were many tears of joy as we remembered the greatness and goodness of the Lord to His church.”

At the 1:30 service, Rev. Ken Van Kampen preached from Acts 2:42-47 on “All First Oak Lawn Needs.” According to Rev. Gray, he emphasized the power of God to equip and guide His people into another era of service. “Both sermons focused on the wonderful grace of God given to our church over her history.”

Rev. Johnson, a former URCNA minister, is ordained in the OPC and teaches at Zion Christian School in Byron Center, MI. Rev. Van Kampen pastors Atoka Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Atoka, TN. The two ministers are sons of the congregation.

“Both ministers uniquely exemplify the way the Oak Lawn church has been used by God to help other churches,” explains Rev. Gray. “Rev. Johnson and Rev. Van Kampen grew up in Oak Lawn, and then in God’s providence were moved to other parts of God’s kingdom for service. The same has been true for countless other church leaders. Almost all the churches in the surrounding area and beyond have members who grew up or were baptized in Oak Lawn.”

One speaker referred to First Church as “a feeder church” due to the way God has used it to feed so many other congregations.

“It truly was a wonderful day,” says Rev. Gray. “Having experienced the Lord’s faithful blessings for the last century, we look forward to the future, trusting that our faithful God will lead and guide us, and we pray that He will continue to use us as a witness in our community and as a blessing in His kingdom.”

Rev. Ted Gray accepted the call to First Church in 2004, and the congregation has been part of the URCNA since 2009.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 9 of the December 9, 2015 issue of Christian Renewal.


Thinking Christianly about vocation, work, and leisure


Leland speaksProtestants traditionally demonstrate an active work ethic, but many—perhaps particularly within Dutch Reformed circles—have more difficulty viewing leisure appropriately.

At the annual fall conference of Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, Leland Ryken, long-time professor and prolific author, guided attendees in developing a biblical view of vocation, work, and leisure.

He addressed each of those subjects in three lectures on November 6-8, 2015, attended by between 100 and 200 people.

A native of Pella, Ryken has taught in the English department at Wheaton College for over 40 years. He was an editor for The Literary Study Bible: ESV and has written numerous books on a wide variety of subjects, including Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure and Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective.

The conference began on Friday evening with a survey of foundational principles that apply to work and leisure. Dr. Ryken explained the biblical concept of vocation as having a general calling to live the Christian life and particular callings to fulfill the roles in our lives.

Because God is sovereign over every event in our lives, everyday activities can be viewed differently than mere duties or annoying distractions. He said, “Thinking of them as callings instead of tasks gives them significance.”

He demonstrated from the Bible how God has assigned people their daily work and how we can be exuberant about it when we put God at the center. We can relate to God and respond to him through our work, and we should reject attempts to separate life into sacred and secular compartments.

“Time is the arena in which we live,” he said. “Work and leisure compete for it, and we cannot add hours to one without subtracting from the other.” He encouraged listeners to “plug into the flow” of time, rather than being tyrannized by it. Ecclesiastes, “the most famous poem on the subject,” can guide us to accept and understand that “everything is beautiful in its time.”

Dr. Ryken urged attendees to “discard activities that do not seem like callings,” but concluded by asking, “Are you granting the same importance to your callings that God has?”

Soup supperFollowing a soup supper on Saturday evening, Dr. Ryken spoke about work. He described problems with it, including tendencies to overwork or undervalue or misvalue it. He advocated a Christian view of work as a solution to the problems.

“Work is rooted in the character of God,” he said, pointing out that work or works is mentioned 200 times in the Bible. “God is pleased when people perform the work he gives them. God wants the heart that loves him and wants to please him.”

He explained that the purpose or goal of work for the Puritans was to glorify God and benefit humanity. God works through Christians who serve him in service of people. He said, “Serviceableness is key to vocation.”

While work is a moral duty and a healthy work ethic requires self-denial, Christians ought to rise above mediocrity in their occupations. He said, “Christians are called to excellence because the God they serve is excellent. Achieving excellence in what we do is a virtue.”

During the church school hour on Sunday morning, Dr. Ryken appropriately addressed the subject of leisure. He explained that the two-fold etymology of the word includes license and learning. He noted leisure’s link to the Sabbath, speaking of it as “a state of being” and “a growing time for the human spirit” through “rest and restoration.”

Many within our circles exhibit a strong sense of obligation and duty, tending to consider free time as unworthy. “The Protestant tradition has elevated work at the expense of leisure,” he said. “But in our hearts, we know that leisure can be something very good indeed.”

Stating that the Bible provides just as much data on leisure as on work, Dr. Ryken led listeners through specific references. The seventh day was part of the creation week, not separate from it. Jesus did not reduce life to endless work and evangelism, but took time for fellowship and leisure. The Bible provides warnings against abuses apart from God and prescribes times for leisure. Regarding biblical festivals and feasts, he said they were less like worship experiences and more like a modern evangelical equivalent of summer camp. The festivity and feasting resembled Thanksgiving Day.

“We do not simply have a right to leisure,” Dr. Ryken said, “we have a need for it.”

He explained the concept of “semi-leisure” as appearing midway between work and leisure on the time continuum. He encouraged listeners to “make creative use of semi-leisure.” It is possible to rescue activities from the realm of work to that of leisure simply by changing one’s attitude.

The challenge to practice leisure appropriately can be more difficult for Christians who often shortchange themselves through church work. But we should heed Christ’s injunction to come away and rest.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & & of the December 9, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.

Uriah Courtney — wrongfully convicted

UriahIn 2005, Uriah Courtney was convicted for a crime he did not commit and sentenced to life in prison. He was released and exonerated in 2013 after new DNA testing proved his innocence.

Because he was accused of a sexual assault on a minor, he was not permitted to see his son for the entire eight years he was wrongfully incarcerated, from the time the boy was two until he was ten.

If anyone has an excuse to be bitter, Uriah does. But he chooses not to harbor bitterness and anger. This is not easy, but he trusts that God was in control of even those eight years in prison, and he sees how God used that time to turn him from running toward destruction to walking with the Spirit.

Uriah says, “What I went through was not a good thing, but it was used for good. Knowing that has helped me overcome bitterness. I have been given a new life and I don’t want to waste it by spending all my time being angry and bitter about something I can’t change. But I confess this is not an easy task. I must always be looking at Christ and Him crucified in order to keep from dwelling too long on all that I’ve lost. It’s godliness with contentment that’s great gain.”

Uriah’s response echoes Scripture because he spends time in God’s Word. When he entered prison, he found a Bible and read it for hours each day, trying to make sense of what had happened to him. Even though he wasn’t guilty of the crime of which he’d been convicted, the Spirit revealed to him that he was a sinner and his sins had been an offense against a holy God.

“As painful as it was to admit to myself,” he says, “it became very evident to me by my reading of the Scriptures the reason for which I was in jail—so I could repent and be saved. God saved me from self-destructing and spending an eternity in hell. I was close to death’s door from the large quantities of drugs I was using and utterly depraved, but God’s great grace swallowed me up and He caused me to be born again.”

When asked about his conversion, Uriah says, “The best and most accurate answer for when I became a Christian, I believe, is when Christ died on the cross for my sins 2000 years ago; for God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. That being said, I became aware that I had been born again in August 2005, in county jail. Some might say I’m a jail house convert.”

Although Uriah’s mind was still clouded from drugs he’d been using and he’d always hated reading, he felt inexplicably drawn to reading Scripture.

“It just seemed like I was supposed to read that Bible,” he says. “I didn’t understand why, but I knew I had to. And read I did, every day, two or three times a day. I began reading it like you would any other book, from the beginning. I thought this was the most logical and sensible place to start because Genesis 1:1 starts, ‘In the beginning, God.’”

Initially Uriah had no idea about the impending charges. “I was completely unaware of the trial and tribulations I was soon to face. But God surely knew and He was no doubt preparing me to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

A few weeks later, he was extradited from the county jail in Texas to San Diego, where he was charged with kidnapping and rape. He says, “I was completely bewildered and utterly devastated by such horrible accusations. I had never experienced such fear in my life. This panic, fear and confusion led me deeper into the Word.”

Uriah on beachPsalms especially resonated with him. “My greatest comfort came from the Psalms. There was just so much material there that I could relate to. It was from them I learned that it was okay to pour out your anger and frustration and fears to God without offending or sinning against Him. King David’s prayers became my prayers and I bent the Lord’s ears with them constantly.”

Uriah was transferred to another county jail in San Diego and began attending chapel services, where he prayed the customary sinner’s prayer, asking the Lord to forgive him and inviting him into his heart. “And so began an extremely long and painful process of sanctification,” he says. “But the truth is He was already there.”

After being moved back to the previous jail, Uriah became very close to the chaplain and his wife. “They were a great encouragement to me before, during and after my trial. I spent two and a half years in county jail, 18 months of that the Lord blessed me with the steadfast love and friendship of the Budloves.”

In June of 2007, Uriah was sent to the state prison to begin serving his life term. Still deeply reading the Bible, he developed a budding interest in theology but material was sparse and shallow. Yet he read whatever he could find.

“In 2009, I was moved to another yard at the prison where I was being warehoused and wound up with celly who was Reformed,” he says. “Up‘til that point, I don’t think I had ever heard of the Reformed faith, let alone any of the Reformers.”

His new cellmate had a number of volumes on Reformed theology, and Uriah became familiar with authors such as R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, and his favorite: Jonathan Edwards.

“It took no time at all for me to develop a deep love and affection for the Reformed faith,” he explains. “So much of the confusion and lingering questions on passages of Scripture and certain doctrines finally made sense to me. My passion for God’s Word was set aflame all over again. This was, as it were, my second great awakening.”

A couple of months after Uriah’s introduction to the Reformed faith, he learned of a Reformed Bible study and was permitted to enroll and attend.

He says, “Glory be to God for this Bible study!”

The study was led by Alex Ferrat, who was then a deacon at Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA. From the start, he emphasized that the study should not take the place of attending regular worship services, encouraging the men to fellowship with believers and share their faith with others.

“But I confess that I really did consider this Bible study ‘church’,” Uriah admits. “It was the only service available where one could actually hear the gospel, maybe not preached, but certainly exposited, and that with reverence and awe.”

Alex’s devotion and dedication were apparent to Uriah, who appreciated the teaching as well as the many resources Alex made available to the men. Alex often mentioned Christ URC and Pastor Michael Brown, or related something from a sermon, or described the church’s worship.

“I yearned to be part of such a congregation and vowed that if I ever got out of prison I was going to go to Christ URC,” Uriah says. “I developed much brotherly love and affection for Alex during that time and was devastated when we were no longer allowed to have our Bible study due to some lame security issue.”

Uriah grew even more despondent about a year later, when the White Horse Inn no longer broadcast over a local radio station. He and his new cellmate, Jonathan (who was a devoted Lutheran) had loved listening to that program, followed by Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind. Uriah wrote to Dr. Michael Horton, expressing his sorrow and explaining that those programs had been the only resource for prisoners seeking to deepen their biblical understanding. Dr. Horton responded by sending Uriah a copy of his The Christian Faith.

“I must add here that celly, Jonathan, is one of the kindest, gentlest, faithful children of God I know,” Uriah says. “He had a Masters degree in Divinity and much training in righteousness and godliness. We were cellmates for over three years, and it was certainly by our great God’s providence that he and I were brought together. I learned a lot from that brother.”

God had plucked Uriah like a burning reed from the fire of self-destruction, and breathed the Holy Spirit into his heart. He had provided cellmates and Bible study that opened Uriah’s mind to the Reformed faith. Uriah’s life had been changed, yet he often despaired.

“At times, fear and loneliness were my closest companions and tormented me day and night,” he says. “I really had no way of knowing for sure that I would ever go home because the Bible didn’t explicitly say, ‘Uriah, you will surely be exonerated and your liberty restored.’ I understood that God didn’t owe me anything just because I had repented and become a believer. He already did enough by sacrificing His Son to pay the penalty for my sins. But through my diligent study of the Scriptures, I was strengthened and encouraged.”

Uriah with his family
Uriah with his family

In 2009, Uriah’s parents contacted the California Innocence Project (CIP), which pursues only the most hopeful of the many requests it receives. Even when the CIP accepts a case, numerous other events must fall into place before a rare exoneration occurs. Only about one in 1,000 Innocence Project cases results in exoneration. Uriah’s case was that rare exception due to a series of circumstances: his case garnered CIP attention, the original evidence had been retained, the District Attorney’s office cooperated well with CIP, and eventually a new method of DNA testing proved his innocence. The DNA matched a known sexual offender, similar in physical appearance to Uriah, who had been living within three miles of the scene at the time of the crime.

After being wrongfully incarcerated for eight years, Uriah was released from prison in May of 2013. With the full approval of the DA’s office, a Superior Court judge dropped all charges against him in June of 2013. Uriah Courtney was exonerated.

Uriah gives God all the glory. “God was the ultimate cause for me getting released from prison, being fully exonerated and my name cleared,” he says. “But God works through means and that means was the California Innocence Project.”

After Uriah’s release, he began attending Christ URC, where the congregation welcomed his warmly. He says, “They embraced me with such love that it felt as if I were being embraced by Christ himself.”

Uriah was baptized and publically professed his faith on November 10, 2013. “That was one of the best days of my life,” he says. “I had finally become a member of the visible body of Christ. I won’t recount here what Pastor Brown said to the congregation before he baptized me, but there were many eyes with tears in them, and many hearts giving glory and praise to God.”

Uriah and sonAdjusting to life on the outside can be difficult. Many things had changed in the past eight years. And Uriah feels uncomfortable at social functions. But he relates how the hardest thing is having missed watching his son grow up. “This pains my heart deeper than anyone can possibly understand. I’m a stranger to my own son. He knows who I am, but he doesn’t know me.”

Still Uriah thanks God for the blessings in his life, especially his work as an apprentice pipefitter and his home with godly parents. “I get to hug my mom once again each night before I go to bed and greet my stepdad very early each morning before I go to work. My parents have given me so much and I just thank and praise God for them.”

He’s also becoming occupied with the Innocence Project. He recently spoke for the Irish branch, and he participated in the national Innocence Network conference. He also recently testified before the state legislature.

“On May 6, I had the opportunity to give my testimony to about 50 baseball players from San Diego Christian College,” he says. “May 6 was my one-year anniversary of freedom. One of the elders from Christ URC is a coach at the College and set things up. It was a wonderful day and I thank God for it.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 20-22  of the June 25, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

Dayspring church plant in Boise

Dayspring ChurchA church plant on the far east side of Boise, ID, is moving forward with faith and vision.

Dayspring Reformed Church, a church plant under the supervision of New Covenant United Reformed Church in Twin Falls, ID, may have a rather unusual name, but it is rooted in Scripture. Dayspring comes from the prophecy of Zechariah, when God restored his speech after the birth of his son, John, about whose mission he said: To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:77-79, KJV).

Dayspring’s pastor, Rev. Jonathan Van Hoogen, notes how the text proclaims a comprehensive Reformed perspective: “We see justification by faith in the remission of sins through God’s mercy, an evangelical apologetic in bringing light to those that sit in darkness, and sanctification in our feet being guided in the path of peace.”

Rev. Chris Folkerts, Nick Smith, Jonathan Van Hoogen, Joel Van Hoogen, and David Booth
Rev. Chris Folkerts, Nick Smith, Jonathan Van Hoogen, Joel Van Hoogen, and David Booth

Rev. Van Hoogen was installed as the church planter for the Dayspring group on May 10, 2013. Rev. Christopher Folkerts (New Covenant) gave the charge to the pastor from John 21:15-19, speaking on “The Lord’s Shepherd.” Jonathan’s brother, Rev. Joel Van Hoogen gave the charge to the congregation on “Spoken and Speaking” from John 3:27. He is the pastor of Bread of Life Fellowship, an independent church in Boise. Rev. Nick Smith (URC of Nampa, Nampa, ID) and Rev. David Booth (Cloverdale URC elder and interim pastor for Sovereign Redeemer OPC, Boise, ID) participated in the service with Scripture reading and prayer.

Since the Dayspring group began meeting late last year, three babies have been baptized and three couples have been married. The group also lost a 90-year-old member who “brought a glow of anticipation to every endeavor of the church plant,” according to Rev. Jonathan Van Hoogen. “We have rocked the cradle and prepared the grave in our short time as a church.”

“Our life together as a church is less highlights and more the normal growth and fellowship of believers together,” he adds. “We have enjoyed fellowship meals and church picnics. We are preparing for leadership by an overview study of our confessions and catechism on Sunday evenings. This fall we will begin a ministry to preteen and teen girls called TRUE. We are developing another program…that we will call Semper Fi (Always Faithful), a mentoring ministry to young men and boys. What all this means is that we are looking to disciple true and faithful followers of Christ.”

Boise is the third largest population center in the Pacific Northwest and has more in common with the two larger cities, Seattle and Portland, than with the culture of smaller metropolitan centers. Dayspring Reformed Church embraces an urban vision in its desire to proclaim Christ to the culture in this vastly under-churched area of the nation.

About 50 people regularly attend Dayspring’s services. The group meets at 11:15 a.m. for worship and again at 6:00 p.m. for family discipleship. Meetings are held in the FriendsChurch at 3102 Palouse Street, which is near the Boise airport and convenient to the freeway, only four blocks off the city’s main artery.

Vicki and Pastor Jonathan Van Hoogen
Vicki and Pastor Jonathan Van Hoogen

“Church planting to me is really exciting,” Rev. Van Hoogen says. “There’s almost giddiness in seeing how the details of God’s providence play out.” He describes church planting as the “work of the Holy Spirit, opening eyes of people to the gospel. That’s what makes church planting such a joy.”

Although Van Hoogen is obviously a Dutch name, he explains that his grandfather was a Dutch orphan who grew up in predominately Italian and Jewish communities. He says, “Our group is not filled with Dutch people.”

Ethnicity is not even a consideration within the community of diverse heritage, whose focus is on reaching the lost with the gospel. “You can’t preach the law without answering with the gospel…in Christ. As Christians, we need the gospel,” he says. “We’re going out and sharing it in a winsome way. We want what we say to be good news. When I preach, I always ask, ‘Was that good news? Or did it come across as ‘do more, pray more’?”

As the Dayspring group looks to the future with vision, it hopes to organize next spring and become a more active part of Classis Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, the group appreciates prayer and financial support. Dayspring also would be happy to receive approximately 50 Trinity Hymnals or Psalter Hymnals no longer needed by another church. Financial support can be sent to the deacons at Twin Falls URC or directly to the group, which is already registered as a 501c non-profit:

Dayspring Reformed Church
3527 South Federal Way, Suite 103
Boise, ID  83705.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 14 of the September 11, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

Rev. Van Hoogen reports: “Dayspring will be adding nine new members on November 10th and have its first adult baptisms that same Sunday.  We are thankful for God’s faithfulness in gathering his people together.”

Messiah’s ordains church planter for Jersey City

Deacon Alfredo Rogriguez, Dr. Carl Trueman, Elder Danny Bernard, Rev. Sam Perez, Rev. Bill Boekestein, and Rev. Paul Murphy
Deacon Alfredo Rogriguez, Dr. Carl Trueman, Elder Danny Bernard, Rev. Sam Perez, Rev. Bill Boekestein, and Rev. Paul Murphy

Ten years ago, Sam Perez was searching for something more evangelical than his Pentecostal tradition. Passing through broadly evangelical and then Reformed Baptist churches, he found his ecclesiastical home at Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in New York City.

“Listening to Christian radio everyday, I came across a gruffy, deep, booming voice that was preaching in a way I’d never heard before. ‘This is great,’ I thought. ‘And this church is in New York, to boot!’ My good friend Danny Bernard [now an elder at Messiah’s] and I visited, and we knew we were home since that first time.”

On May 24, 2013, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship ordained Sam Perez as a minister to plant a United Reformed Church in Jersey City. About 150 people from regional URCs attended the service, held at the church facility in Manhattan’s “Hell’s Kitchen” where Messiah’s meets on Sundays.

Rev. Paul Murphy, Sam’s mentor and spiritual father, officiated the service and gave the charge to the congregation. Rev. William Boekestein, who had grown close to Sam since his missions trip to NYC in 2004, gave the charge to the minister. Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia preached from Colossians 1:3-8 on “The joy and power of the Gospel.”

“Dr. Trueman taught me various courses on church history (I sat under him for four courses),” explains Rev. Perez. “He embodied the best kind of Reformed scholarship and clear thinking on historical Reformational matters. While he was Academic Dean at Westminster, he hosted a weekly forum with students called ‘Deans and Donuts’ which I regularly frequented.”

Perez family
The Perez family

A 2012 graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, Rev. Perez and his wife, Emily, have been living in Jersey City for the past year where he has been working as a ministerial intern for Messiah’s. They have a son, Adam David, and expect a second child in September. In his capacity as an ordained minister, Rev. Perez will continue and expand his work there.

“My responsibilities, generally speaking, will be to shepherd the core group of about 30 people into a church through weekly Sunday worship, fellowship, corporate prayer, catechetical instruction, and visitations,” he says. “Additionally, I meet with Christians in Jersey City who are struggling with various issues and/or are interested in joining a healthy church. Essentially, discipleship for those inside and outside the core. This summer, we’ll be doing focused evangelism in Jersey City, too.”

Sam is convinced that the power of the Gospel is indestructible: “Can the Gospel change lives? Indeed, we confess nothing else. Can the power of the Gospel change lives in deeply broken areas like Jersey City? Absolutely! This is my hope and this is my confidence: that God raises sinners from the dead and that His Word never returns void but accomplishes His purposes.”

Rev. Perez is eager to visit churches and speak about the work in Jersey City: “More than this, I extend an open invitation for any church or interested member to visit Jersey City and see first-hand this URC mission. Our vision and hope at Messiah’s is to see the glory of God cover the eastern seaboard of the United States, especially in major metropolitan areas, through confessionally Reformed churches that are faithful to His Word. May God bring this to pass!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 7 & 11 of the June 12, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.