“A Missionary Wrote Home”

Dear Christian friends,

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, manner of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” I Tim. 4:12b.

These words of Paul were repeatedly in my mind the last number of weeks. Paul simply told Timothy that he had to be an example of believers in various ways. And that command which Paul gave by the authority of the Holy Spirit is for us today.

Yes, at various times and occasions these words really echoed in my mind. One such occasion was this past week when Vice President Spiro Agnew visited the Australian Prime Minister in Parliament House in Canberra. We, as a family on a holiday trip, were there to hear approximately 200 demonstrators, carrying Viet Cong Rags, chanting “Ho Chi Minh,” shouting abuse at the police and screaming hateful slogans against the United States. We heard bearded young men praise the efforts of those who worked for “the parties of the working men” and of those who led revolutions in countries now under Communist dictatorships. These young, and not so young people, certainly were trying to be examples and leaders for the “cause of revolution.” But hundreds of people, undoubtedly some were confessing Christians stood by silently—all one could hear from the silent majority was the clicking of cameras. And at that time, and later, the words of Paul echoed in my mind. Did I have an opportunity to be an example in various ways—and did I fail? I did try to speak to one young lady passing out pamphlets. She uttered an obscene curse and told me to “get lost.” I spoke to some people about supporting the police and they agreed with me. Was that enough?

“Be thou an example in…” came to mind as I walked through the trailer parks in which we were camping. As a family, the five youngest children were with us, we had our morning prayers, we had our devotions around our picnic table each meal. We engaged in conversation with those who were camping beside us; we spoke with proprietors and “kiosk attendants.” We tried to live, buy, pay, converse as Christians. Was this enough to fulfill the command to be an example?

“Be thou an example in…” repeatedly was pressed upon my conscience as I spend my days in our more permanent vacation spot. We have a lovely summer home for two months in the Dandenong Ranges, 80 miles from Geelong. The boys are able to walk down a lane to a fruit farmer. So far they have picked various types of berries, cherries and peaches. This gives them something to do during the summer. And they have to mix with other workers.

These other workers are a varied lot. There was 50 year old Mick. (He refused to tell anyone what his last name was.) A Hungarian migrant, living away from his wife and children, he spoke of his problems at times. I spoke to him of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He agreed Christ was the answer to his problems. Did he see this also in our lives? Then there was Alison, a daughter of a well-to-do doctor in Melbourne. Dressed in her furs, she came to the farm and lived in a picker’s hut. She picked little fruit. She spent much time in her hut with her boyfriend who suddenly appeared from nowhere. She told fanciful stories. The farmer asked me to speak to her about her behaviour. Alison indicated she was well educated, but what a rebel! And she lost no time in telling me to mind my own business. To which I promptly replied that that was just what I was doing. It was my “business” to speak to people, all people, concerning their needs and their greatest need—Jesus Christ. She was not impressed at all. in fact, she became angry and clearly showed her resentment the next day and then she disappeared. And the question remains: was I an example?

We had Peter with us for five weeks. Peter is a classmate of one of ollr sons. Peter’s father died of cancer in March ’69. This was very difficult for Peter to accept. He was certain God violated His own commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” by using cancer to take his father away. I talked to Peter about his problem. For five weeks he joined us in family devotions; he went along to the worship services. He joined us in our way of life in many respects. His widowed mother and youngest brother also spent some days with us. She seems prepared to continue to have some contact with us. And the question remains: because we were examples? Did the widow and fatherless 16 and 9 year old boys see evidence of true religion in us? (cf. James 1:27)

In our summer holiday experiences we attempted to be Christian witnesses. We also sought and found much relaxation and rest. We also sought to be just everyday Christian people among the working and holidaying people of Australia. It was good for me personally, as a minister and professor in a Seminary to be among the people. I’m sure I’m more ready than ever to teach young men to be preachers, evangelists, pastors, teachers and counsellors than ever before.

There is one factor that really stands out in my mind after our summer experiences. It is this: much as Cod requires exemplary living from us, He also requires the actual word of the gospel to be personally spoken or publicly proclaimed. Christian action and living arc so necessary. But the spoken Word of the Gospel is all important! And this Word of the Gospel must be the Word as it is given in the Scriptures. It must not be cleverly reworked into the terms and systems of modern theological interpretations. I mean simply this: the word I speak must be God’s Word, not the theologians’ interpretations of the Word. I must go directly to God’s Word; I should not go to God’s Word via some favoured theologians’ path of interpretation. I write this because it became very evident to me that the people living in the decade of 1970 do not need any more human opinions and interpretations and devices. They need, yes, sorely require the truth of God as revealed in his only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We wish to thank all of you who sent us Christmas and New Year greetings. We were very happy to take note that at the time of our twelfth Christmas in Australia we had as many letters, greetings and other expressions of friendship, support for the Lord’s work, and assurances of being co-laborers and prayer partners with us as at any other time. This is a real cause for joy, courage and hope for the future.

In our next letter we’ll try to let you know a bit about our 1970 endeavours in Kingdom work.

And in closing may I press upon your hearts the words of Paul “Be thou an example of believers…” in every way.

May God’s Spirit fully enable you.

Rev. Van Groningen is professor of theology at Geelong Theological Seminary, Victoria, Australia.