An American Pastor in Italy: From Santee to Milan for the Brown family

Brown-Ferrari-cWe want the gospel to be proclaimed to all nations, we pray for our missionaries, and we write out generous checks for mission endeavors. But how many of us would be willing to give up our comfortable homes and familiar communities to live and work in a foreign country among people who speak a different language?

The decision to serve as missionaries for Reformation Italy, beginning in June of 2018, was extremely difficult for Pastor Mike Brown and his wife, Janie. God’s will became increasingly clear through many circumstances and people over the last two years, but what finalized their conviction were unanticipated questions posed this past summer by their 11-year-old son, Iain.

In Pastor Brown’s letter to the Christ URC congregation he currently serves in Santee, CA, he related his conversation with Iain while they visited Italy’s far south.

‘Dad, who will be the pastor for the people here in Cannole?’ I carefully replied, ‘Well, we hope that God will send Vincenzo [a student at WSC] after he graduates seminary. But we need to pray about that.’ ‘Who will be the pastor in Perugia?’ ‘Well…We don’t know yet. We need to pray.’ ‘Don’t the people want Pastor Ferrari there?’ ‘Well, yes, the people are very happy with Pastor Ferrari, but…we need to pray.’ ‘If Pastor Ferrari goes to Perugia, who will be the pastor for the people in Milan?’ ‘Son, we just need to pray that God will supply a pastor, so that all the churches here can grow, OK?’ ‘Dad, I think we should pray and ask God to send you here. You could help them.’ I smiled and said something like, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ I went into the bathroom, closed the door, got down on my knees to pray, and cried.

That may have been a turning point for Pastor Brown, but Rev. Andrea Ferrari had hoped his friend would join him in the work of Reformation Italy ever since Rev. Brown had assisted him during the summer of 2015. When the Browns returned for the summer months of 2017, Rev. Brown filled the pulpit in Milan, while Rev. Ferrari pastored a small group in Perugia. This period of ministry convinced both men that Rev. Ferrari was a good fit for the work in Perugia and Rev. Brown could serve well in Milan.

Having both arrived at the same conviction, they worked up a proposal suggesting this division of labor as Reformation Italy goes forward toward its goal of establishing a Reformed federation in Italy. The Christ URC consistory discussed the proposal and then sought counsel at the September meeting of Classis Southwest US.

“The delegates were very supportive of the proposal,” Rev. Brown said. “They have been familiar with CURC’s mission to Italy since 2009.”

The elders at Christ URC also sought the advice of the URCNA Missions Committee. Missions Coordinator Rev. Richard Bout and Rev. Paul Murphy traveled to Italy and recommended the plan to Christ URC’s consistory. The Milan and Perugia groups each voted unanimously in favor of the proposed pastors serving them.

Christ URC’s elders additionally conversed at length with the elders in Milan, a new elder in Perugia, and Pastor Ivan Forte in Turin. Revs. Ferarri and Brown had worked with Pastor Forte during the summer, helping prepare him for a ministerial examination.

Because Rev. Brown has traveled to Italy several times since 2009 and has studied Italian intensely in recent years, he is proficient enough to preach without a translator.

Christ URC’s council voted unanimously for the proposal at its October meeting. Churches within Classis Southwest US have expressed support, and the plan is scheduled for implementation in June of 2018.

Rev. Ferrari explained that Rev. Brown can immediately and effectively serve people who already know him within the established and organized church in Milan, a multicultural city similar to San Diego. “When Rev. Brown arrives, he will be able to concentrate at once and without any distraction on his pastoral responsibilities and refining his knowledge of the language/culture.” He added, “On the other hand, I have been visiting Perugia regularly in the last three years, knowing the people and the place so that it is much easier for me to labor there as a church planting pastor.”

Perugia is a university city and has a population of about 175,000 people, with a culture is very different from Milan, according to Ferrari.

“Because of the load of work and need for wisdom from more people,” Rev. Ferrari said, “we think that more than one consistory in the US should be involved in the work in Italy and also that the Missions Committee itself should determine a plan to be more present on the field to assist and encourage Rev. Brown and myself, helping us to form a class of mature elders and deacons in the churches.” Ordaining office-bearers in Turin and Perugia will permit the churches to begin holding Classis meetings, the first step toward organizing Chiese Riformate in Italia (CRI, Reformed Churches in Italy).

The Browns plan to sell their house and apply for a religious visa through the Italian consulate. Iain is preparing for the move by going to a private tutor and doing daily homework in Italian. The family hopes to commit to the mission for at least five years. Rev. Brown anticipates raising financial support from URCNA churches and private donors.

“Janie and I are confident that just as the Lord supplied our family’s needs while I was in seminary, he will provide for our family again,” he said.

Pastor Brown graduated from Westminster Seminary California in 2004, but began teaching a Bible study in Santee a year earlier under the oversight of the Escondido URC consistory. The congregation became an organized church in September of 2006 and Rev. Brown was installed in January of 2007. He and Janie love their church and have rejoiced to see God’s amazing work in it.

“He has established CURC as a congregation that has remained hungry for the gospel and willing to love one another,” Pastor Brown said. “He has marked this church with peace rather than controversy, and service rather than selfishness. On top of that, God has used CURC to produce several pastors and missionaries that are now serving the church in different parts of the world. He has done far more abundantly than we ever thought or imagined.”

The church has been involved with mission work in Italy since early in its organization, when they began supporting a ministry that published Reformed literature. Christ URC member, Simonetta Carr, translated projects for the editor, Rev. Andrea Ferrari, who pastored a Reformed Baptist church.

As Rev. Ferrari became more familiar with the Reformed faith, he and his congregation sought affiliation with more confessionally Reformed churches. Rev. Ferrari sustained a colloquium doctum in Classis Southwest US, and Christ URC ordained him as a missionary pastor to establish a Reformed federation of churches in Italy. He subsequently has preached primarily in Milan’s Chiesa Evangelica Filadelfia, but Reformed believers from other areas have been in contact with him after discovering the Milan church’s website.

The group in Perugia, about four hours south of Milan, has prayed for a pastor for years. For the last two years, they have gathered in front of a computer to worship with the church in Milan via Skype. About every eight weeks, Rev. Ferrari administers the Lord’s Supper and provides pastoral care. The congregation loves Rev. Ferrari and his wife, Christina, and looks forward to their arrival in June.

Another group in Turin, about 80 miles west of Milan, is led by Rev. Forte. Pastor Ferrari travels to Turin monthly to instruct church members in the Three Forms of Unity and the URCNA Church Order.

Rev. Ferrari explained that there is contact with a handful of Reformed believers in a part of the Italian “heel” with few Protestant and evangelical churches. The hope is for God to raise up Reformed pastors to minister to these groups and eventually form a federation.

Two Italian brothers are attending seminaries in the US. Vincenzo Coluccia, a member of the Turin church, left a position as an engineer and is in his second year at Westminster Seminary California. Ottavio Palombaro, from Perugia, is a student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids and attends Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.

As the URCNA Missions Committee sought counsel on establishing a Reformed federation in Italy, they were consistently advised to seek an experienced minister to come alongside Rev. Ferrari. Rev. Brown has 14 years of pastoral experience. He chaired the URCNA study committee on missions, helped write mission policies for the URCNA, and served as Chairman of the URCNA Missions Committee, on which he still serves.

Rev. Brown originally resisted the idea of becoming a full-time missionary and was reluctant to leave his home and church. “Janie and I were willing to go wherever God called us, but we quietly hoped that he would send someone else.”

He thought his 2017 trip to Italy might be his last. “This arrangement did not seem sustainable for CURC or for me personally. We agreed to go to Milan for three months because we believed it was necessary for the starving group in Perugia.” But then God used Iain’s words to convince him otherwise.

For more information on the work in Italy, see Reformation Italy’s updated website at www.reformationitaly.org.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal

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Church plant takes root in Romania

 

benediction-croppedIn 2013, Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, welcomed Mihai and Lidia Corcea, a young couple who had traveled from Romania for Mihai to study at Westminster Seminary California. During 2016, Mihai graduated on May 28, sustained his candidacy exam by Classis SWUS on July 19, and was ordained on July 24. The couple returned to Bucharest on July 25, where they began a church plant.

“It has been a tremendous blessing to see how the Lord has answered our prayers for Mihai and Lidia,” Rev. Michael Brown says. “I met Mihai years ago, when he and another member of the core group in Bucharest, Claudiu Stefu, travelled to Milan for its Reformation conference. He told me about the desperate need in Romania for solid churches to be planted. He explained that, besides a few Hungarian-speaking churches, there is no Reformed presence in Romania, nothing to reach the Romanian-speaking population. I was impressed with Mihai’s passion about bringing the gospel to his native country and planting confessional churches. It was obvious that he had given much thought about how to do in Romania what Rev. Ferrari was doing in Italy. We discussed the challenges and obstacles to planting a Reformed church in Bucharest. At the time, it seemed almost impossible, little more than a dream.”

ordination-2
L-R: Elder Dan Palmer, Elder Dr. Ryan Glomsrud, Rev. Mihai Corcea and his wife Lidia, Rev. Michael Brown, Elder Dan Plotner, and Elder Jonathan Taylor

He adds, “But of course, with God all things are possible. Within a couple of years, Mihai and Lidia left their jobs and home in their native country and made the long journey to California.” Mihai began his seminary studies, and the couple attended Christ URC, where they warmly bonded with their church family.

Mihai served a year-long internship at Christ URC, attending consistory and council meetings, teaching catechism classes to youth, and going on home visits with the elders. He also led worship and exhorted at least once per month.

“We were pleased with his maturity, humility, and wisdom,” Rev Brown says. “We had the joy of watching Mihai and Lidia grow in their faith as well as their love for Christ’s church.”
ordination-3-cRev. Brown says Mihai did “an exceptional job” on his candidacy exam, “which is especially remarkable when you consider that he did this in a second language.”

At Mihai’s ordination service on July 24, Rev. Brown preached from Ephesians 4:1-16 and gave the charges to the pastor and congregation. Rev. Corcea pronounced the benediction. He is now a Missionary Pastor, called to make disciples in Romania by planting a church in Bucharest and evangelizing the lost.

“I think the best way I can describe the church that we hope to establish in Bucharest is by the three parts of the Heidelberg Catechism,” Rev. Corcea says. “Our church plant should be a people gathering in a place where they understand their sin and misery, they receive the knowledge of God’s merciful salvation through the gospel, and they start living more and more according to all the commandments of God out of thankfulness for God’s grace.”

exterior-cThe Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest (Biserica Evanghelica Reformata din Bucuresti) began meeting in a rented building in downtown Bucharest. It is about three minutes walking distance from a subway station and two blocks from the city’s largest park.

“We chose this location because it is easily accessible to anyone by car or subway,” he says. “We are also very close to the financial district where most young professionals work.”

A few local Reformed Christians, who had became members of Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia (Rev. Ferrari’s work in Milan) four years ago, now attend services at 10 AM and 6 PM. Church members are inviting friends and family to worship, and the group utilizes social media, such as Facebook, and have a website, where they post video recordings of the sermons.

Although Milan is a two-hour flight away, the two church plants encourage each other. The consistory of Christ URC supervises both groups by maintaining regular contact with the pastors, encouraging them, and helping raise funds for support. Each church planter reports via Skype at Christ URC’s month consistory meetings and communicates weekly via email. The hope is for Rev. Brown and an elder to visit Bucharest in conjunction with their annual visit to Milan.

“We believe that an annual visit to our missionaries from a member of our consistory is an important component of effective oversight,” Rev. Brown says, “as it helps us to encourage them on the field and maintain our fellowship with them.”

interior-1-cAlthough a Reformed presence previously existed in Romania, the last Romanian Reformed church disappeared in the 19th century. Today 97% percent of Bucharest’s two million people are Eastern Orthodox.

While Mihai was growing up, his family left Eastern Orthodoxy to become Baptists. But he experienced a great deal of religious confusion as a young person. The Bible began to make sense for him when he started reading Reformed literature. His stint at Westminster and time at Christ URC have shaped the way he envisions the Reformed church in Bucharest.

“Spending three years in an URC church in California has helped me understand more that church is not an add-on to our ‘relationship with Jesus,’ but the main way through which God has promised to bless us. As I preach every Sunday and I look at the covenant children present in our church plant, I am reminded of God’s grace to them that they have the opportunity to grow up in a church where they are catechized according to the truth of the gospel. I rejoice in the fact that, Lord willing, they will not have to go through the same confusion and pain of not having a healthy church close to them.”

In addition to the work involved with planting a church, the Corceas plan to begin publishing Reformed literature that they have translated over the last three years. He says, “We hope that by this small Reformed publishing house, we will be able to raise awareness of the Reformed church and the Reformed doctrine and practice.”

The Corceas appreciate the financial support they received during Mihai’s seminary years, saying they are “greatly thankful” for the “love and generosity” of individuals and churches.

Rev. Brown explains that the Romanian mission work is funded by URCNA congregations who wish to participate in “this exciting opportunity to make disciples in Romania and establish a confessional and Reformed denomination in that country.” He adds, “We encourage all churches in the URCNA to consider supporting this mission, helping us to shoulder the burden of this worthy labor for Christ and his gospel.”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the September 21, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.

URCNA Missions Committee gathers for face to face meeting in Orlando

mission-committee-2016
Pastor Michael Brown (SWUS), Pastor Jody Lucero (Central US), Elder Paul Wagenmaker (Mich), Pastor Richard Anjema (Western Can), Pastor Harry Bout (Ontario East), Pastor Jared Beaird (Pacific NW), Pastor Neal Hegeman (East US), Pastor Richard Bout (Missions Coordinator), and Pastor Greg Bylsma (SW Ontario)

With members from every classis across the United States and Canada, the URCNA Missions Committee generally meets through video-conference calls or communicates via email. But it aims for two face-to-face meetings per year, and January 26-28, 2016, seemed the perfect time for committee members to gather in sunny Orlando, FL.

Classis SWUS representative Rev. Michael Brown says the Committee met, “primarily to continue our work on developing a manual for foreign missions in accordance with our mandate.” He adds, “We are very encouraged about the work of URCNA missions both on the foreign field and domestic.”

Prayer for those mission endeavors was a highlight of the meeting, according to its chairman, Pastor Greg Bylsma. “Our first night was devoted exclusively to receiving updates on the various mission works and, after each update, spending time united in prayer for that specific work and pastor/missionary. This was a blessing for the whole Committee, and was also one of the great accomplishments of our time together.”

Another important feature of the meeting was the report from URCNA Missions Coordinator, Rev. Richard Bout, who visited many domestic and a few foreign fields during his first year in that position.

Those visits have given Rev. Bout “a holistic picture of the ups and downs of URCNA missions,” according to Pastor Bylsma. “As a Missions Committee, we don’t want him feeling like he is doing this work alone or unappreciated. This meeting gave us time to look together honestly at his observations and work together toward ideas and proposals to the federation that might benefit both those working in missions and the work of missions for the glory of God and the faithful extension of His kingdom.”

The meeting focused more on foreign missions than domestic efforts, due to the continued work on the Foreign Missions Manual, which Rev. Bylsma describes as having an “admittedly thin” possibility of being presented for approval at Synod 2016.

Other items of business at the Orlando meeting included updating prayer maps for the 2016 calendar year, reviewing past publications, preparing a report for Synod 2016, and planning a mission conference for 2017.

Foreign mission challenges facing the URCNA are giving meaningful oversight to those laboring overseas and working in a more united manner in the fields. Domestic challenges include the difficult work involved in planting a church.

“Someone once said that the number one quality a church planter needs is an infinite capacity for disappointment,” Pastor Bylsma says.

A challenge for established churches is to become more like a mission church that serves as “a light in its community,” according to Pastor Bylsma. “So perhaps one area of challenge for all of us would be to pray Paul’s prayer in Col. 4:2-4; that God would give us doors for sharing the gospel, boldness to speak when they open, and the ability to make it clear when we do.”

Rev. Bylsma believes one of the greatest joy involved in URCNA missions is witnessing the federation’s zeal, evidenced by the large number of works undertaken by this relatively small organization. “We are eager as a federation to see God’s kingdom advance through preaching Christ and Him crucified,” he says. “We are pressing on in missions, we are making our best effort, and God in His grace is blessing it.”

But the greatest joy is “seeing God use His people in the URCNA (both ordained and non-ordained) to bring dead sinners to life in Christ,” he adds. “The incredible beauty and blessing of this can never be overstated. At every church plant and in every mission work (and in every established church), God is working. He is opening blind eyes to the glory of the cross.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 12 of the February 24, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

URCNA ministers’ and missions conferences at June’s end

group
Rev. Paul Murphy speaks in a presentation that served as the final one in the Ministers’ Conference and the first for the Missions Conference.

Mid-America Reformed Seminary was the site for back-to-back URCNA conferences in June. The Ministers’ Conference ran from June 24-26 and the Missions Conference was held from June 26-28. This was the second Ministers’ Conference. The first conference two years ago grew from an idea at Synod London.

“Three years ago at Synod London a plan was born for a URCNA ministers conference,” says organizer Rev. Harold Miller. “That plan came from the conviction that our ministers be afforded an opportunity for great teaching directed at the needs unique to the pastor of a local congregation, and specific to our URC ethos and circumstances. The first conference in 2011 was well attended and was very satisfying in meeting our expectations. However, the Lord surprised the organizers by more than doubling the attendance at the conference this year—and richly satisfied all with wonderful teaching and fellowship.”

Although this was the second Ministers’ Conference, it was the first formal URC conference on missions.

“The URCNA Missions Committee is grateful to God for his blessings on our first official mission conference,” says organizer Rev. Michael Brown (Christ URC; Santee, CA). “Nearly fifty people attended from all over the world, mostly URCNA pastors and missionaries, but also many elders and laypeople. Ten seminary students were able to attend by the financial assistance of a private donor. Two ministers from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand were also present, as well as Mr. Mark Bube, the General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

singingRev. Nick Smith (URC of Nampa, ID) was impressed with the number of attendees from such widespread locations. “As one speaker noted, this was a sure sign of health among our churches, that so many ministers were eager to learn and fellowship together, and that so many congregations were willing to make it possible.”

Both conferences satisfied Rev. Todd De Rooy (Redeemer URC; Orange City, IA). “My expectations were to be refreshed from a week of encouraging speakers and brotherly fellowship. That’s exactly what I received. Both conferences featured speakers who are not only pastors, but pastors who had long-term ministry experience in the areas of which they spoke.”

Rev. Mitch Ramkissoon traveled from Alberta to attend the conferences. “From the list of speakers, I expected the conference to be exciting, provocative, and stimulating. They did not disappoint. The passion and frankness with which they spoke to us betrayed great love for Christ’s Church and a deep personal knowledge of the struggles of the ministry in low and high moments. It was obvious that their wisdom came from years of study and experience.”

Speakers for the Ministers’ Conference included Dr. J. Mark Beach, Rev. Alan Strange, Dr. Joel Beeke, Dr. Gerhard Visscher, Dr. Joseph Pipa, Dr. David Murray, and Rev. Paul Murphy. They spoke on a variety of topics related to “Ministering in Changing Seasons.”

Rev. Murphy’s final presentation at the Ministers’ Conference served as the first presentation for the Missions Conference. Other Missions Conference speakers were Rev. Michael Brown, Rev. Bill Boekestein, Dr. Brian Lee, Rev. Mitch Persaud, Mr. Mark Bube, Rev. Richard Bout, Rev. Wes Bredenhof, and Rev. Andrea Ferrari.

“Altogether nine speakers presented lectures on everything from the nuts and bolts of church planting in North America to how to establish a confessional Reformed denomination in a country overseas,” says Rev. Brown. “Each session was educational and motivating, making this precisely the kind of conference we, as a federation, need right now as we continue to find our footing in missions.”

Rev. Brown explains that two Q & A panels, one on domestic and the other on foreign missions, were designed as “brain-storming sessions” for attendees. “We also held a luncheon in which ideas for and concerns about funding church plants and foreign missionaries were discussed. The consensus seemed to be that we need to be more organized as a federation and prioritize our giving so that URCNA church plants and foreign missionaries are not underfunded.”

As a representative of the URCNA Missions Committee, Rev. Brown presented a manual on church planting that the Committee hopes to present to Synod 2014 as a suggested “shared strategy” for home missions. He encouraged conference attendees to offer feedback since the Committee desires the work be beneficial to consistories, councils, church-planters, and core groups.

“Overall, the URCNA Missions Committee was happy with how the conference went,” said Rev. Brown.

Rev. Miller added, “Each local congregation who sent their pastor can rejoice in the way the Lord has blessed these humble efforts.”

Alumni of Mid-America Reformed Seminary attending the conferences
Alumni of Mid-America Reformed Seminary attending the conferences

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the July 31/August 21, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

New exhorter for Reformation Italy

Mark Patterson answering questions put to him by Rev. Andrea Ferrari
Mark Patterson answering questions put to him by Rev. Andrea Ferrari

On May 16, 2013, Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia church leaders examined Mark Patterson for his license to exhort. Having successfully sustained his exam, Patterson exhorted on May 19.

Rev. Andrea Ferrari relates that Mark and Sonia Patterson and their 12-year-old son, Daniel, began attending Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia in Milan about a year and half ago. Both Mark and Sonia graduated in 1998 from the Evangelical Theological College of Wales at Bryntirion in Bridgend, South Wales. Mark subsequently pastored a Calvinistic, Baptist church in Cambridgeshire, England, for about six years. The family moved to Italy in 2005, but Mark was discouraged by his experience with Italian evangelicalism.

“I understand that Mark began to gather information about our church in 2010/2011 and I received a letter from him in January 2012,” says Rev. Ferrari. “Our first conversations focused on the spiritual condition of Italy as well as covenantal theology and Reformed ecclesiology. We had a few meetings and then I met his family. I told Mark and Sonia that in order to be part of our church family they had to embrace our confessional documents and follow the procedure explained in our Church Order.”

Rev. Ferrari adds that Mark was raised in the Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland, where “he had as his mentor the late William Still of Aberdeen, who was used of God to encourage a number of pastors both in the UK and US.”

This background helped Mark assimilate the finer points of covenantal theology, but he also sought counsel from Reformed leaders. “As we were in the process of considering Reformed ecclesiology, Mark wrote to some prominent ministers in the UK he knew to ask for advice: Sinclair Ferguson, Edward Donnelly, Ian Hamilton and others.”

The Pattersons became members of the Milan church and fit well in the life of the congregation. The consistory began discussing ways to utilize Mark’s gifts and experience for the benefit of the church.

“In October 2012, Rev. Michael Brown visited us for Reformation Day and we asked for his advice,” says Rev. Ferrari. “We decided together that the best way to go was the licensure exam following the directives of the Church Order.”

The hope is that Patterson will exhort two times per month beginning in September, once in Italian and once in English. Rev. Ferrari explains that the English exhortation will be for the sake of English speaking visitors as well as providing an “international flavor” to the church in the multiethnic city of Milan.

“We do not know what the future has in store for Mark and for us,” he adds, “but thus far we are much encouraged by the fact that the Pattersons decided to join our church because of its faithfulness to the Reformation.”

The Milan church continues to grow, having welcomed four new members via public professions of faith on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the July 10, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

A Romanian seminarian in need

Lidia and Mihai CorceaRev. Andrea Ferrari and his church in Milan, Italy, are working with believers in Bucharest, Romania, who long to establish a Reformed church. One young Romanian couple, Mihai and Lidia Corcea, plan to move to the United States this summer so that Mihai may study at Westminster Seminary California (WSC).

Mihai has been accepted to WSC and it is hoped that grants and donations will cover his tuition costs. In order to secure a student visa from the US government, however, he must show that he will have $32,000 of annual support for living expenses. One church has already committed to more than a third of that annual expense, but the remainder still needs to be raised.

“Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, will provide Mihai with $12,000 a year during his studies as an M.Div. student,” reports Rev. Michael Brown. “This, however, is not sufficient to cover the cost of living for Mihai and his wife. They will need more than this to survive during his three years of study.”

Rev. Brown relates that he had the privilege of spending a few days last October with Mihai in Milan. “Mihai is an exceptionally bright young man deeply devoted to the Reformed faith. He leads a core group of young Romanian Reformed believers in a weekly Bible study. He is also a gifted translator, who has translated a sizable amount of Reformed material from English into the Romanian language.”

Mihai was raised in a family that left Eastern Orthodoxy to become Baptists. During his teen years and early adulthood, he was confused about church history and Christian doctrine. He began reading Calvinistic books and started to understand Reformed doctrines regarding salvation and the church.

“Six years ago I visited a Reformed congregation in the Netherlands and spent one week with a Dutch Reformed family,” he writes. “I found their theology, piety and practice to be quite different from my Arminian/Fundamentalist background. Throughout the years that followed, the memory of the Dutch Reformed I have met remained a reference point with regard to how I envisioned that a church should be.”

Although the Reformation spread in the sixteenth century to Eastern Europe, including Transylvania, which is now part of Romania, Reformed Romanians were gradually rejected by many communities that had been assimilated by Hungarians during political and ethnic conflicts.

ferrari-mihai-claudia-brown
Rev. Andrea Ferrari, Mihai Corcea and Claudiu Stefu, both Reformed believers from Romania, and Rev. Michael Brown

According to Mihai, the last Romanian Reformed church disappeared during the 19th century. Today 97% of Bucharest’s two million people identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox. After translating and publishing Reformed articles online, Mihai came into contact with other Reformed believers and their core group was formed. Mihai was encouraged to attend seminary after these believers became members of Rev. Ferrari’s Milan congregation, Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia, in July of 2012.

“We wish to establish a confessional Reformed church in Bucharest that can be a sound Protestant alternative to the Eastern Orthodox or Evangelical communities,” writes Mihai. “Our greatest dream is that our children will not have to go through the same confusion we experienced regarding the Christian faith. We believe that having our children catechized and raised in a Reformed congregation is the greatest gift we can give them. We pray that God will use His Word and His Church to the blessing of future generations of Romanian people.”

Rev. Ferrari requests Christian Renewal readers to pray for Romania, Italy, and all of Europe. He writes, “It is important for readers to understand that Europe is a mission field!”

Churches or individuals wishing to contribute to Mihai’s support should contact Rev. Michael Brown at michaelbrown@christurc.org or Christ United Reformed Church’s treasurer, deacon Bob Gordon, at bobgordon@christurc.org.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the April 10, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

Overlapping URCNA pastors/missions conferences

Mid-America Reformed Seminary

In a creative cooperative effort, organizers for two URCNA conferences have not only scheduled them subsequently at the same location, but they’re also overlapping them by making the final session of one the first session of the other.

The two conferences will take place in June on the campus of Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. The URCNA Ministers’ Conference will be held from June 24-26, while the URCNA Missions Conference will run from June 26-28.

“When ministers have the opportunity to partake of the three-course meal of superb teaching, searching discussion, and sweet fellowship, they tend to make reservations to eat!” says Rev. Harold Miller, an organizer for the Ministers’ Conference. “Brothers, your table is waiting.”

This year’s speakers at the Ministers’ Conference will address the theme: Ministering in Changing Seasons. Sessions include: Pastoral humility in years of popularity by Dr. J. Mark Beach; Loving the flock when it seems they don’t love you by Rev. Alan Strange; Maintaining pastoral vitality in a long pastorate by Dr. Joel Beeke; Beginning well: What to do and what to avoid in your first charge by Dr. Gerhard Visscher; Concluding well: How to know it may be time to emeritate and how to finish well by Dr. Joseph Pipa; as well as Blogs, Facebook, and the flock: What is the relationship of social media to the local pastorate? by Dr. David Murray.

The final Ministers’ Conference presentation, The Pastor as an Evangelist and the Evangelist as a Pastor by Rev. Paul Murphy, will also be the initial presentation for the Missions’ Conference. Its title, which is almost a palindrome, aptly conveys this presentation’s function as a hinge connecting the two conferences.

Delegates at Synod Nyack 2012
Delegates at Synod Nyack 2012

Missions Conference organizer Rev. Michael Brown says, “We hope to organize the conference in such a way that we focus on domestic church planting on the first two days and foreign missions on the third day, even though much of this material will overlap.”

The Missions Conference will also include: How to Plant a Reformed Church by Rev. Michael Brown; Developing a Plan for Outreach by Rev. Bill Boekestein; Maintaining a Vibrant Ministry in a Small Church by Dr. Brian Lee; The Cultural Factor in Church Planting by Rev. Mitch Persuad; The OPC’s Method for Mission by Mr. Mark Bube; Lessons Learned in Latin America by Rev. Richard Bout; Mission Work Among Native Americans by Rev. Wes Bredenhof; and The Long-term Commitment in Foreign Missions by Rev. Andrea Ferrari.

“The URCNA Missions Committee is excited about this conference as it will provide pastors, elders, and interested lay people in our federation with an opportunity to think together about church planting and learn from one another,” says Rev. Brown. “As a young federation, we have a lot of growing to do in the area of missions. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this conference to motivate, instruct, and sharpen us in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.”

Registration fees for each conference are the same, with a discount for those who register for both.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 15 of the February 27, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

Church tour to end with return to Costa Rica

Bill-Aletha in Pella URCBy the time Rev. Bill and Aletha Green arrived at Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, on January 9, 2013, they’d visited 18 churches since October. Pella was a stop on the way to give presentations at churches in Michigan on the last leg of their furlough trip.

At the beginning of February, they plan to return to Costa Rica. Rev. Green will resume his regular work as the Executive Secretary of CLIR (Latin American Fellowship of Reformed Churches). After 15 years as the Administrator of the TepeyacChristianSchool, Aletha will not be returning to that position.

“After a time of both spiritual and physical refreshment,” they said, “we’re looking forward to going back.”

At the Pella presentation, Mission Committee chairman Dr. Richard Posthuma opened the evening by reading Romans 1:8-17. Rev. Green remarked that Romans 1:16 was the theme verse the Greens chose that was printed on their prayer cards when they first went to Costa Rice 28 years ago.

Rev. Green listed two goals for the evening: that audience members would be informed about URC missions in Latin America and that they would be able to pray more knowledgably.

Although when first starting out in missions the Greens originally planned to be in Costa Rica only a short time while learning Spanish, they soon discovered that they had arrived during a time of great spiritual turmoil. There was no Reformed work at all in Costa Rica, where the stronghold of the Roman Catholic church was competing against new inroads being made by Pentecostal churches promoting a “health and wealth” perspective that Rev. Green called a “cruel gospel.”

There are now four Reformed churches in Costa Rica. Two of those are served by native pastors, one of whom was the first convert under the Greens’ ministry.

Out of a desire to help educate and bring the gospel to youth in a poor community, riddled by violence, the Greens helped begin the TepeyacChristianSchool in 1993. Now including both a grade school and a high school, construction for the secondary facility began in 2001 and is nearly complete.

bill speaking in Pella URC“The school has been very challenging,” said Rev. Green, explaining that most teachers require a great deal of teaching themselves since they are first generation converts and that financial support is a “huge struggle.”

The year 1993 also marked the beginning of CLIR and its print shop in the Greens backyard. The distribution of thousands of copies of CLIR’s theological journal has been particularly effective over the years. CLIR additionally has printed over 70 other titles of Reformed works in Spanish. Rev. Green points out that CLIR’s materials have a wide-ranging impact since Spanish is the predominate language “from the Rio Grande to the tip of Chile.”

CLIR is a fellowship of Reformed federations that promotes church planting, leadership training, and cooperative evangelistic efforts. Rev. Green noted that MINTS (Miami International Theological Seminary) works with CLIR to help equip church leaders throughout Latin America. Rev. Nick Lamme, a 2007 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary came with his family to Costa Rica in 2008. He pastors a congregation, teaches at the school, and does writing, translating, editing, and computer work for CLIR.

The Board of CLIR met from November 26-27, 2012, in Orlando, FL. Lack of funds had prohibited the Board from meeting for the three previous years. During the meeting, which Rev. Green described as a “smashing success,” the Board discussed the financial crisis and noted with thanks a financial commitment from the Brazilian Presbyterian church. The Board also decided to focus on producing Reformed instructional materials for youth. In God’s providence, CLIR had already begun translating the new URC “Life in Christ” catechism curriculum.

Following concerns raised at Synod Nyack in 2012 regarding joint venture agreements and financial support between countries, the Greens want to stress that supporters in both the United States and Canada have unhampered avenues for contributions to their work. American churches or individuals can send gifts designated for “CLIR” or “Tepeyac school” to:

Bethany URC
Attn: JVC
5401 Byron Center Ave.
Wyoming, MI 49519

Canadian churches or individuals can send donations to:

Thunder Bay URC
PO Box 32012, 572 Arthur St. W.
Thunder Bay, ON  P7E 0A1
CANADA

More information about the Greens and the various aspects of their ministry in Costa Rica can be found at their website: http://www.reformedmissions.org

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-11 of the February 6, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.