Dear brothers, sisters, and friends,
I’d like to take this occasion to update you on the Urbans and our ministry endeavors.
What chaotic, uncertain and tumultuous times we live in! I have a lot to say about current events, having done a good deal of research about the globalist agenda and who is behind the scenes pulling the strings. I will spare that topic for another occasion; suffice to say for now that if your primary source of information is the mainstream media (especially leftist news), you are hearing a convoluted narrative that does not accord with fact or sanctified wisdom. There is a war going on for the mind of modern man on a global scale. It has been planned for a very long time. What flows from the corporate media conglomerate presses is not objective information but political spin, weaponized in order to assault traditional values and bring America to its knees in preparation for a coming global government. What we all must realize is that what comes from the presses is nothing short of propaganda warfare designed to inculcate a narrative that has as its endgame your total enslavement to the state. Don’t believe the narrative they are selling you. Stick to Scripture, do your research, and learn to think critically with biblical discernment. Satan wants your life, your liberties, and your soul. But the Lord Jesus Christ will have the final word.
It is urgent that the people of God: (1) make their voice heard in the public square as they bear witness to the gospel of Christ, decrying sin and calling the world to repentance; (2) stand for biblical values and legislation in their communities and spheres of influence; (3) defend our God-invested civil liberties as outlined in the Constitution; (4) prepare for censorship, hardship, and suffering.
Thankfully, we know there is an ultimate metanarrative over all these false manmade narratives. God’s story is the ultimate reality and it will end the way He has decreed it to end. He will direct global affairs as he sees fit, bringing about his eternal plan to subsume all things under the headship of Christ, even as he sits and laughs in the heavens (Ps. 2). No matter what comes, we can have the assurance that none of it escapes God’s sovereign will for our good. We can live in hope even though the world around us lives in despair. Let us shine like lights in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation. The dimmest light shines most conspicuously in the midst of the grossest darkness, because the pervasiveness of the darkness causes the light to stand out by way of contrast. Friends, our times may be the darkest ever in humanity’s history, but this darkness gives us the opportunity to shine with the light of the gospel and its fruits. So don’t just curse the darkness—pierce it with the light of God’s great gospel.
Regarding my studies at PRTS in Grand Rapids. I already have my MTS (Master of Theological Studies). I’ve been studying the MDiv track and am about to enter my final semester of full time studies. After this semester, I will have some straggling Hebrew exegesis courses that need to be completed, but it should be a home run from there. Once this upcoming semester is completed, I plan to transition to spending my time recording material for our ministry project. This includes the video curriculum for our Spanish seminary.
My time at the seminary has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It has been two years since beginning my studies in Grand Rapids. I’m being mentored by Dr. Beeke and I have discovered that he lives as a true, modern day “Puritan.” I feel like such a spiritual dwarf next to him. I have unlimited access to any literature I want to browse or study through our William Perkins Library, which houses one of the best Puritan and Reformation collections in the world and carries books on many topics from different Christian persuasions (about 100,000 volumes). I’ve been able to meet and fellowship with many people, even pastors and leaders from different countries. My colleagues at the seminary include pastors from the US, Canada, Africa, China, the Netherlands, etc. and brethren from many other nations. This place is like Antioch—there are many pastors and teachers, there is a large International presence, and from this place the gospel is going forth to the nations.
Last semester, I finished courses in Greek exegesis of the Gospels, Hebrew II, eschatology, Puritan theology, Reformed experiential preaching, and theological ethics. From my time here, I have a couple thousand pages of notes that I could go on and on sharing with you, but I’ll spare you. The seminary closed toward the end of last semester due to COVID, but classes still continued through Zoom (online videoconferencing software). I’ve been able to maintain full time status since my enrollment, taking 14 to 16 credits per semester. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep up a 3.8 GPA (which wasn’t easy with Hebrew thrown into the mix!). It has been challenging, but well worth the effort.
For those who may wonder: yes I still believe in believer’s baptism. My professors do not, and they are very learned, but the more I learn about paedobaptism, the more I see it to be inconsistent with Scripture. I have not flinched from my convictions for a second. My conscience is held captive to the Word of God and in it I do not see anything different than believer’s baptism administered by immersion. I’ve been able to study more deeply some 17th and 18th century Particular Baptist writings since being here, including Coxe, Keach, Gill, and others. I even did a research project on them. I can testify that I have a deeper appreciation for our Particular Baptist forefathers than I had before and a better understanding of their covenant theology. I also have a better understanding of the nuances of the Reformed position on paedobaptism and I think I can critique it fairly, respectfully, and competently.
For Luis from Colombia (the South American country). For the past year, I have been mentoring this brother who is in his early 30’s. He and his wife moved to Grand Rapids to study at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and Luis requested that I serve as his mentor during studies. Luis is a translator and is currently studying with aspirations to pastoral ministry. He also wants to do apologetics and provide biblical and theological education for the church in Colombia. He plans to return to Colombia after finishing his studies. He and I have met regularly to pray together, fellowship, discuss the issues of life and ministry, and talk about the things of God, especially church life and theology. We go on for hours and hours about complex theological topics. My experience in Mexico has enabled me to understand Luis’s aspirations much better, because I’m intimately familiar with the Latin American context he plans to go back to minister to. Luis is a dear brother with a sensitive conscience, a voracious appetite for the Word, and an evident gifting to preach. He has preached at our church plant numerous times with grace and ability. A quick testimony: this couple had wanted children but had not been granted any. We prayed for this in a prayer meeting and immediately afterward, the Lord granted the fruit of the womb! Their first child was born two months ago. Please keep this brother in prayer, and me also, that I would be able to serve him as a capable and helpful mentor. I have benefited from his fellowship at least as much as he has from mine. Being able to help serve and mentor Luis is a very important investment into the future of the church in Latin America, for this brother has so much potential.
Ministry in Mexico. I have been in continual contact with the brethren and churches in Mexico. They continue to persevere through all the Corona craziness. Our churches had grown a bit in number when the pandemic struck. Since then, attendance has dwindled a bit but the membership is still solid and committed. Some attend the Lord’s Day meetings, others have been staying home and joining in with the live-streamed services. They continue to meet but have implemented some protocols for preventing the transmission of COVID-19. A number of brethren have become more aggressively evangelistic recently, motivated by the global crises to preach the gospel in the public square with more frequency and urgency.
Our last conference was prior to the breakout of the pandemic. It was on “The Glory of Christ in the Minor Prophets,” twelve messages focusing on how each of the Minor Prophets points to Christ. I had a burden to communicate the message of these books of the Bible because they are the most neglected portion of Scripture, but they are so rich in biblical theology and Christocentric testimony. I think J.C. Ryle was right when he said that “a whole Bible makes a whole Christian.” We had over 700 people come out for it. The event was hosted in the mountains of Jalisco on a beautiful ranch. It was twelve messages, Q&A sessions, meals together, four days of fellowship, and enjoying the outdoors together. There was better feedback from this conference than any one prior. Some were moved to tears and exclaimed that they now see Jesus in the Old Testament like never before! We wanted people to have the Emmaus road experience: burning hearts by hearing how all the Scriptures point to Christ. It is only by beholding and meditating on the glory of Christ in the Scriptures that we are transformed into his image (2 Cor. 3:18). We taught not only on select passages of the Prophets, but also on a number of hermeneutical principles inferred from the texts that our people can apply to their own reading of Scripture in order to discover Christ in the text (i.e., typology, promissory anticipation & fulfillment, distinctives of the prophetic/apocalyptic genre, intertextual echoes & allusions & citations, theological interpretation of the text, etc.). We wanted to not only inform them but especially equip them with the subject matter so they could apply the same hermeneutical principles to their own study of the Scriptures. By the end of the conference, my throat and my voice were gone! But my heart was content. And I trust the dear people were helped, and God was glorified.
Family. Lina is pregnant; the baby is due in November. She had a lot of complications toward the beginning of the pregnancy but has been doing just fine for a while. Ariella (4 yrs.) and Josiah (7 yrs.) are doing well. Some time ago, Josiah made a profession of faith—of his own accord. Since then, he has been eagerly engaging in his morning devotions (Scripture reading and prayer) and listening to the audio Bible every day. His attitude is different toward us as he has been more humble and obedient. Every week, he says the Lord’s Day is his favorite day, even though certain weekday activities are limited for him that day. He is also very attentive during family worship and never wants it to end! Of course, only the Lord knows the heart, but we are encouraged by these gestures of interest and sensitivity toward the things of God. Please pray for him. He is being homeschooled with a classical Christian curriculum and he loves apologetics, especially anything Ken Ham puts out. I want my boy to be very apologetically astute, because he’s going to need it in his generation.
Bad news. Two weeks ago, Lina and I were both diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Supposedly, it is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick or nymph. We also both have the common symptoms of this disease. I estimate that I have had it for at least 4 years, which means I have Stage 3 Lyme since I never had any treatment. My symptoms all match Stage 3 descriptions. It is apparently not possible to eradicate the disease at this stage, but there is hope that we can subdue it enough to live relatively normal lives if we pursue treatment. We probably contracted the disease while serving in the mountains of Mexico. About one year ago, it really started to take its toll on me, and my symptoms grew worse than Lina’s. I went through a prolonged season of extreme chronic fatigue, torturous insomnias for weeks and months on end, paralyzing pain flair ups that made it almost impossible to sit in a chair or walk (I had to crawl through the house groaning out loud in pain), cognitive impairment, blackouts, vertigo attacks, constant dizziness, skin breakouts, headaches, etc. To top it off, part of my upper rib cage caved in due to a deformity and intruded into my solar plexus, producing a terrible sensation that made me prone to panic with physiologically induced bouts of anxiety. Pure misery. There were times I cried out to God that he would either heal me or kill me immediately, but not to let this continue. Yes, it was that bad. I went to about 10 different doctors, and two ER visits, and none of them diagnosed it until two weeks ago. In the meantime, I was in full time seminary studies, doing TA work on the side for some needed income, doing pulpit supply for a church plant, and trying to keep up with the work in Mexico. 60 hour ‘work’ weeks. I managed to keep up with seminary with good grades but I lagged in my commitments to other duties due to physical impairment. I have no idea how I made it through Hebrew under Dr. Barrett except for the grace of God! The professors were very gracious to me on the days when pain made it impossible to show up at the seminary and I got recordings and notes of the lectures to take home. So thankfully, I have not fallen behind in my study track.
Luther said that a true theologian is only made through prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, and temptation (which includes affliction and tribulation). He also said that only the devil makes a true theologian. I still feel so inadequate as a “theologian,” but I’m learning the theology of the cross through a deeper experiential acquaintance with temptation, pain, and desperation—which necessitate increased and utter dependence on God. I’ve rarely felt the hounds of hell breathing down my neck so hotly as when severely deprived of sleep for months at a time, suffering torturous physical agonies, while trying to subdue the complaints of the flesh and be fruitful in kingdom service. But I’ve learned what Moses was getting at when, struck with the frailty of life, he prayed in Psalm 90, “teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” I came here to learn theology from professors and books, but the Lord would teach it to me with rods and chastisements and by crushing the self-will out of my prideful heart. My hardest lesson is to learn to kiss the rod with which my Father smites me. I still protest to it, not so much in my mind as in my heart, but I’m learning what heart submission to the way of the cross really entails. Please pray that I may be content with my crooked lot, fully satisfied with nothing but Christ, and ever ravished with the conscious sense of his love. I know his grace is sufficient.
Church plant. Some have wondered if the endeavor regarding the Solus Christus church plant in Jenison provoked my health crisis. I think it did not contribute to it at all. I’ve had Lyme disease since at least 2016 (maybe longer), but it went undiagnosed. I suffered with mystery symptoms all this time, the cause of which were unknown to us. Untreated, the disease only progresses. So with or without the church plant, it would have caught up with me the same. Nevertheless, because of current providential constraints, I have been counseled to pull out of the church plant in order to focus on what is most important, to study and seek treatment for Lyme. The church plant will probably have to close. I feel okay to continue with this last semester but it is urgent I get treatment ASAP. Lina cannot pursue treatment until after the baby comes.
There is much more to share, but I do not want to burden you with too many words. Please pray for us, and pray for the world. There is a lot that is uncertain right now regarding the future of travel and missions in the ‘post-COVID-19 era,’ as they call it. Draconian surveillance, censorship, and heightened restrictions will apparently become the new norm (not to mention possible economic collapse resulting in the defunding of many mission endeavors).There are many challenges, but we hope and pray that an open door may lie before us for the sake of the gospel in Latin America and beyond.
We are grateful for every one of you who prays for us and supports our work, beyond what words can express.
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” -Charles H. Spurgeon