David Okken and Gerry and Marja Mynders
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Living in Karamoja, we were quickly confronted with this culture's outlook on death. On one occasion, a man came to me after his mother had passed away, and he asked for financial assistance to pay for the burial. I was puzzled. If this strong, healthy man was too poor to pay another man to bury his mother, why couldn't he, together with his equally capable brothers, do it? I supposed that perhaps the work was simply too burdensome for those in mourning.
So I offered to do the work for them. I figured that my involvement would provide a good opportunity to present the gospel. But when I tried to assemble a small crew to assist me, I found that no one wanted to have anything to do with it. I soon learned that this work was reserved for "wizards." (The wizards are not only supposedly immune to the fear of death, but even grossly obsessed with it. This enables them to charge high prices for their labors.) Other people did not dare to get involved in such work. They were reluctant even to dig a grave, much less go near the body.
Why this strange behavior? Some of my Karamojong friends have told me that their people believe that by coming in close contact with a dead body, one runs the risk of contracting the same illness that caused the death (regardless of any sanitary precautions taken). Others have told of the belief that a man who comes near the dead will later find his own children dying in infancy. Others have expressed the fear that by being involved in a burial, they will be believed to be wizards themselves. Sorting through these fears and superstitions, it has become clear to me that the Karamojong are terrified with death.
That should not come as a surprise. The writer to the Hebrews describes the lost as "those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:15). Death is something that all men fearand which they very well should fear. The apostle Paul wrote that death is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23) and that even fallen men, deep in their hearts, know this. They know "God's decree" that because of their sins they "deserve to die" (Rom. 1:32). The behavior of the Karamojong in the face of death simply reflects this fear of death, which terrorizes the hearts of all men under its curse. Every time one of them dies, the Karamojong are painfully reminded that every sinner will at last receive his wages. In Karamoja, like everywhere else, death is an awful tyrant, which holds men enslaved.
So what was I to do, now that I had offered to assist this poor man who had lost his mother? I certainly did not want to hire a wizard. But who would assist me? Tete (pronounced teh-tay) George quickly rose to the occasion and volunteered. He showed that he had no fear of death.
George is a dear brother and a member of our church. It has been such a joy to see him so enthusiastically receive the Word of God as we have ministered it here in Nakaale. He has many times testified that what is being preached here is "the real word." I believe that the Lord may be raising him up to be an elder. As I have been leading him and some other men in a study of the Westminster Confession, he is the one for whom one meeting a week is not enough. He wants to meet as often as possible. Last September I even had the privilege of baptizing his son, Loyan Adam. Adam is the firstborn to George and his wife, Nagit Lucia, and happens to be about the same age as my son, Caleb.
So there we were, George and I, beginning the work of digging a grave. What a thrill it was for me when some other Karamojong men, inspired by George's courage, began assisting in the work as well. What a wonderful opportunity it was to open up the Scripture and read and preach from the second chapter of Hebrews about God's Son, who by his own death and resurrection has brought a great deliverance of those who were held in slavery through fear of death. The word went forth and the exalted Christ was proclaimed as the one victorious over death by his own resurrection from the dead. And there stood George, a living testimony of the life-changing power of the gospel.
How was it possible that among a multitude of Karamojong, paralyzed by fear of death, Tete George had emerged as one with no such fear? God's Son, Jesus Christ, had emerged from the grave as the great champion who, in experiencing death himself and then rising again, had destroyed that evil tyrant, death, and rescued those whom he held captive. George knew that he would never have to receive the wages of his sin. He knew that he would never have to face the death that his sins deserved. His Savior had died for him. In coming to believe in Jesus, Tete George had been delivered from the fear of death.
Our First Months in Suriname
Almost every week since arriving on the field, Gerry and Marja Mynders have written a newsletter to family and friends, describing their new life and ministry in Suriname. When pulled together, the newsletters almost form a journal of their first months on the field. We thought to give you a taste by extracting sections from several of them. Mark T. Bube
September 17, 2003
... The officer checked our papers and seemed to be satisfied; she kept all the papers and told us to go to another building somewhere in Paramaribo to pay the bill. After having paid the bill, we were sent to yet another building, where we found out that things had changed.... This is typically Suriname, I am told: if there is a change, not all the offices involved will be notified of it. Computers in government offices, so far as we have seen, do not exist, but records are written and kept in books. We are thankful that we are slowly moving ahead. Driving on the left side of the road is not as much of a challenge as I thought it would beso far so goodand Marja is driving, too, although not yet downtown, for that is another matter!
On Sunday we went at 7:15 a.m. to Klein Powakka to preach for the Arawak Indians. Since last year, the group has decreased in number, but it seems some have grown in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is good news! At 5:00 p.m., we had the service in Paramaribo, where the people are somewhat more mature spiritually. After church, we were invited to have supper with the people who live above the church.
On Monday night we had our first "mission meeting" with Hassan. It was a good meeting! Please pray for Hassan, as he may become an elder in the church, but also for his "call" of the Lord to become a minister of the Word. Pray that the Lord will provide the financial means for Hassan to study.... We continue to pray for you all, that you may abide in Christ, for there is no other place where we may find love, peace, and joy.
September 24, 2003
Since the last letter, many things have happened here in Suriname. Our container arrived Sunday, September 14, at the port of Paramaribo. By God's grace, we found a broker whom we could trust. The Wednesday before the container would arrive, we started to get the paperwork in order, so that we could receive the container on Monday. However, on Monday we were told to pay ten million Suriname guilders [about $4,500] because we do not yet have Suriname residency. (This money we are supposed to get back when we have the Suriname residency papers in order.) ...
... When we went to the harbor, we found the container, which was loaded on a truck and had to be opened for inspection. While waiting for the customs officer to come for inspection, I started to speak with the trucker. Soon the question was asked if he was saved. To make a long story short, this man began to tell me his life story, how God had called this sinner by his Word and Spirit and saved this sinner through the blood of Jesus Christ. We had a very pleasant time together in the presence of our Lord! When my friend had finished his story, we hugged each other.... So the Lord brings even "situations" together in the midst of hundreds of containers.
...We are preaching twice on Sunday, in Paramaribo and in Klein Powakka. Overall, the people seem to listen. Please pray for them that they may truly grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have had our first "congregational" meeting in each of the churches. In both churches, the people unanimously voted to have Sunday school for the children up to eleven years and Catechism classes for the young people of twelve and older, to have a sermon discussion after the sermon, and to have a Bible study every other Wednesday night, including a prayer meeting. May the Lord of all grace bless this important work to the hearts of the people, young and old!
We have made contact with the people of the "Esther Hof" (leprosy camp). Next Monday, Marja and I hope to meet with the leader and try to set up a proper time to preach the Word for those people and to shepherd them in their needs. May the Lord bless this work too!
Whenever there is opportunity, I speak with the people on the street about their state before God; often the answer is they are "working on it" (that is, on their salvation). But when you tell them that their "working" is the big problem, and that they must only rely on Christ and his blood, by the grace of God, you see their eyes swelling; they have not heard this before. Oh, pray for us to be faithful to God's Word, for there is so much "cheap religion" in the land.
October 7, 2003
We had seen a barbershop not too far from the house.... The barber, about thirty years old, was a Hindustani. Both he and his wife were brought up with evil spirit worship, snake worship, and what have you. As he was cutting my hair, he asked me where I lived and if we were in Suriname for vacation. Soon the man found out that we were a missionary family. He asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ and from which church I was. The barber began to share with me how the Lord brought him, through the Word and the Holy Spirit, to conversion about nine months ago. You can imagine we had a good talk together. This man shared with me how true God's Word is and how he experiences from day to day the truth that if you seek first the kingdom of God, all the other things will be given as the Lord pleases. What broke my heart was the fact that this young man believes so strongly that the Lord has called him to minister among the Hindustani people of Suriname.
When I came home, I told Marja my experience, but I felt selfish when I told her, "It would be nice to have such a man working with us." However, it is important that we all pray for this man, that the Lord will lead him to witness Jesus Christ to the Hindustanis in Suriname.
October 14, 2003
Again a week has hurried by; time flies here in Suriname. We are now living in the "dry season," which lasts from sometime in September until sometime in November. It means no, or a very little, rain. The last three weeks we had no rain at all. The water pressure is very low, and you might run out of water, which has occurred twice. The holding tank on this property is above ground, and when there is no pressure, the water will not reach the top of the tank (about five feet) to fill it up. This Saturday, D.V., we will dig an in-ground tank, so that the water will keep filling the tank....
I believe that we may already be seeing fruit from the preaching of God's Word. Pray for me to be faithful to the Word and for the people to "eat and drink" the Word of God and live it out to his glory.
October 21, 2003
Greetings from Suriname in the name of our precious Savior. Another week has rapidly disappeared. Last Sunday we administered the Lord's Supper for the first time in both churches. It was a blessed Lord's Day. Soon we may baptize two children; that would be the first time for me as a minister.
Thank the Lord also for Lucien, as God is strengthening her faith and blesses his own Word to her under the preaching of the Word of God. Lucien has three children and is not married. The father of the children does not live with her, although he does provide some money for the children. He is a Muslim and will not speak with me. Lucien confessed a few weeks ago that she cannot live anymore after the things of the flesh, but desires to live according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1). It is a delight for me to speak with Lucien about the Lord; you do hear genuine childlike faith speaking; that is great! Lucien lives with her mother and siblings in a house which is about 14 by 16 feet (for eight people). She has tried to find a place of her own, but cannot afford it; besides, she sometimes works three days a week to get by and needs her mother to watch her children then. Yes, there are some real poor people in Suriname. Lucien also experiences much animosity against her faith in Christ from her mother and family. But when you meet with Lucien, she seems to be beaming with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray that she will find a place to live on her own.
October 28, 2003
... Lord willing, I will baptize Lucien's youngest child, Justin, who is about four months old. Justin will be the first child whom I will baptize in my ministry.
Continue to pray for Hassan and his family, for support when he begins his studies for the ministry next year. Hassan will be ordained November 23, D.V., as an elder.
This Sunday I hope to preach for the people in the Esther Hof (leprosy camp). Pray for the Lord's presence; it will be a mixed group of older folks who will be hearing the Word of God. May the Lord of all grace bless each person with his saving grace and the righteousness of Christ. Continue to pray for the people of both churches, for spiritual growth, which is so needed. You can really notice these people have no background in the Word of God. Oh, that the Holy Spirit may work mightily in them to God's glory and their spiritual well-being.
November 4, 2003
Greetings from us all in Suriname in the name of Christ the Lord. After weeks of no rain, we got it a few days ago, and this afternoon it came down in buckets, praised be the name of our God. It was really dry!
Last Sunday I preached for the people at the Esther Hofwhat a sight. Most people were missing arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. Some were blind; some were illiterate. By far, most were older folks, and in the midst of them was a seven-year-old girl listening to the Word and singing God's praises with us; how good. But you know what? I felt a spiritual connection with some folks during preaching and afterward when speaking with them ... That makes your day! Yes, praise the Lord for these blessings, which we need in a "dry" and "parched" land. May the Lord work with his life-giving Holy Spirit in those hearts, who are still outside of grace; pray for them!
This coming Sunday, D.V., I hope to baptize Justin Jason Sabajo, who is Lucien's third child (and third son). It will be the first time I will administer the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
... I just got a call from the Esther Hof, asking me to visit a sick man in the Diaconesse Hospital. Pray for him too; he has open wounds because of diabetes. His name is Mr. Lemmert.
Now, I think, I will let you go. Pray for us for strength and faithfulness to the Word. And thank the Lord for his goodness to us; it sometimes makes me want to cry to see how good God is to us. Do you experience that too? When Marja and I look back on our day, then we may truly say, "Thank you, Lord," for the strength and wisdom given. Yes, he is real; there is no one besides him!
November 11, 2003
... Another week has disappeared; how time flies! Well, that brings us closer to eternal glory on the one hand, but on the other hand, there is so much to do yet, when I think of the mission work in Suriname. The more we speak with the people "on the street," the more we hear that "it makes no difference at all; as long as you believe that there is a God, then it will be okay with you." When the question is asked if they know Jesus Christ personally as the one who shed his blood for the forgiveness of sin, then they look at you with a hidden question, "Are you normal?" Suriname is overflowing with faith, but not in Christ! Therefore, we must continue on with proclaiming our Savior, by lifting him up in the preaching, teaching, speaking, and in our walk.
... There is always reason to thank the Lord! Last Sunday I administered for the first time the sacrament of Holy Baptism to Justin Jason Sabajo.... We presented the mother with a very good Dutch children's Bible. May the Lord bless her and help her teach her children at a young age the only way of salvation by lifting up Jesus Christ before them.
November 25, 2003
Last Sunday we ordained the first elder of the Reformatie Kerk, Hassan Hamid. We had many visitors that evening in church, with whom we had a time of fellowship after the service. We are truly thankful that the Lord himself provided this young man as an elder of the church. Again I ask you to praise the Lord for his blessing....
Please continue to pray for Hassan, that the Lord will provide support for his studies. Pray the Lord to convert and call many young indigenous men to proclaim the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know, we have lots of room and work for such men in Suriname. Pray that the Lord will provide these preachers and send them out.
December 2, 2003
... We want to finish the church building at Klein Powakka, which needs a fair amount of work yet. Also we are in the process of painting the interior of Reformatie Kerk and relocating the church library to create room for catechism classes. It is good to see that the people are willing to donate their time in helping out. Please pray for strength and wisdom also in these matters....
Continue to pray for Hassan and his family. We are busy doing house visitations; he is really a great help for me, praise the Lord. But ask also for wisdom at these house visitations because we have to deal with real "ugly, messed-up situations" sometimes. Yet, we are also called to deal with such situations, and would it not be great if, by grace, sinners would repent from their sinful living and turn to our glorious Savior? Oh, let us not be afraid to get "dirty hands" in the ministry. It is worth it for Christ's sake and his purposes.
D.V., this coming Sunday, I will be preaching again in the Esther Hof. Remember these folks in your prayers, for it is truly a "colorful" bunch. I don't really care who they are, as long as they may be touched by the life-giving Holy Spirit, to be born again unto Christ the Lord. That is what matters. The Lord does not convert "nice" Christians; he converts sinners to himself, and let us do our utmost to continue to live up to our Savior before men. Let us all pray to be faithful to the Word in all we do. The Lord bless you in your prayer meetings and on the coming Lord's Day with the abundance in Christ himself. The more we taste and eat from Christ, the sweeter he becomes. Eternity will be too short to marvel at Jesus Christ our Lord, who gave himself and died for us. Until next time, so the Lord wills and we live.
December 11, 2003
We greet you all from Suriname, in the name of our precious Savior, who never forsakes the works of his hands. It is by his grace that we may say: his goodness is over us and our children.
Last week I visited Mr. Lemmert in the hospital. He told me how the open wounds were healing very rapidly. Then he said to me, "Pastor, I know you pray for me, but there must be a whole lot more people praying for me. The healing is going so fast, it looks like I will be home before Christmas." We praised the Lord together at his bedside. What an encouragement it is for all of you to continue to pray for the work in Suriname; the Lord does answer prayer! As a matter of fact, Mr. Lemmert came home the very next day, on Friday. And on Sunday, when we had to preach in the Esther Hof, Gerry John (our son) and I pulled Mr. Lemmert's electric organ out of a storage room, and Mr. Lemmert played the organ in the worship service. It is amazing, and heartwarming, to see a man, whose fingers are all twisted and deformed, and still plays the organ. Even these things do humble a man in the dust and caused my heart to praise our Lord....
Pray also for little Justin; he has a huge boil on his back. I felt it on Sunday; it must be three inches around and sticks out an inch; it is big. Because his mother, Lucien, has a government-appointed doctor, who treats all patients with the same medication, we told her to take Justin to a good doctor to get the proper medical attention. Also in these things we are reminded that we live in a third-world country.
We continue to be busy with fixing things up at the Reformatie Kerk building and need to do so at the Klein Powakka church building, too. Pray for extra strength, that we may get these things done for the well-being of both churches, and that our Lord may receive all the glory. This coming Lord's Day, D.V., we hope to celebrate the Lord's Supper at both churches. May we truly be at his table, in his presence; oh, what a feast to be in his presence!
December 17, 2003
Greetings in Christ Jesus our Lord; grace, mercy, and peace be with you all. What a joy to walk in his light and experience his presence from day to day, even when our patience is being tried. In the past week, we had many power failures (electricity), and in the past few days we have been without telephone connections (yes, the bills are paid). But in such situations I tend to think back on those missionaries who had no electricity and "wire" communications at all! May we never murmur nor get grumpy, but continue the work that the Lord has placed on our shoulders.
We had another interesting week and have many reasons to be thankful. First, I want to encourage you all to pray for the work in Suriname; the Lord does answer prayers! Remember the enormous boil on Justin's back? We told his mother to take him to the doctor; she went on Wednesday, and by Saturday the boil was gone, I mean gone!
Marja and I received an invitation to help celebrate Esther Hof's fiftieth anniversary. We had a good time there and got another invitation to meet with Esther Hof's general manager. A while back I wrote that we shook hands with the wife of Suriname's president. Lo and behold, unexpectedly the president himself visited the Esther Hof on Saturday. Of course, a bunch of huge security guards surrounded him. He came at a time when everyone was seated and left when most were still seated, but he had to pass the place where I stood. Not knowing what these enormous guards would do to me, I did not walk up to the president, but he and I did look in each other's eyes and greet each other at a distance of four feet from each other. Maybe, when we see each other again, there can be a conversation. However, the Minister of Social Affairs was also present; he did come to me and shook hands. I just hope and pray that one day we may proclaim the gospel of our Lord to these men too....
Last Sunday almost all the seats were taken at Reformatie Kerk, which means we need to buy more seats and possibly extend the church in the near future. Sometimes you do not know what is happening. We prayed in church for those who in former times had attended Reformatie Kerk, but had ceased to come. After the service, at the point of going home, a mother of five children, who used to come to this church, came by, and we hope to visit her and her children next week; I did not expect the Lord to answer that quickly. I must pray expectantly! Another young family has been coming faithfully for the past three weeks and seeking to become members. Please pray for these people, that they may find spiritual food out of Jesus Christ for their hungry souls.
December 23, 2003
On Sunday, both at Klein Powakka and Reformatie Kerk, all seats were taken in the churches. It is humbling to see, when we especially pray and focus on spiritual growth in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, that the Lord also blesses us with numerical growth. Praised be his name! It also means that we need to do some construction work at Reformatie Kerk to gain more seating space. We were blessed last week that the Mission Committee of the OPC approved this construction project. Please pray the Lord for wisdom and strength for "our" people to do this work. Much will be done using the free labor of the people of the church. At Powakka, the building is large enough for now, but we need to increase the seating capacity. Continue to pray for both churches, as I really notice, while preaching, that there is much intense listening going on. Oh, may the Lord of all grace and mercy cause these folks to grow spiritually and may he convert the unconverted.
December 30, 2003
Looking back over the last four months, I believe that there has been a great improvement in listening to the Word of God at both churches. I even, at a very low level, hear talk of spiritual things going on. Keep on praying for those folks in Suriname, for growth in grace and knowledge of the Savior. Last Sunday after church, we had a real good conversation with the women of Powakka. I was greatly encouraged by their talk and honesty.
January 6, 2004
I have mentioned in sermons that a Christian is like an open Bible for the world wherein he or she lives. The question is, how does the world read that Bible? Believe it, the world outside the church, and those within the church, do read God's people, even here in Suriname. As Christians, we can put up a show in "writing" and "talking," but how is our walk before God and men? May we all live holy before God the Father, which is only possible through Christ the Lord; without him we cannot please the Father.
... During the year, on certain days, the Hindustani have their "feast days," which conclude with firecrackers shooting to scare away evil spirits. What a poor religion! And how blessed are those in Christ, for he took care of all things; and when we live in and out of him, we have nothing to fear; even in difficulties, we have nothing to fear. Oh, Christ is so worthy to be praised; may we by grace live more and more like him....
Pray for more laborers called by God to work among their own people in Suriname; we are in real need of them! When I look to Esther Hof, to Klein Powakka, and to Reformatie Kerk, then I believe it won't be long before they need their own pastor to serve them, and we could move on in following the Lord's direction to spread his gospel in other places. Therefore, continue to pray for the wisdom, direction, and guidance of the Holy Spirit in us.
... This is it for now. Greetings from all, and, D.V., until next week.
Gerry and Marja Mynders
Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2004.