In time, Reformed Presbyterian Global Missions began sending people with the good news of Jesus Christ from North America to other nations. The vision for missions began in the fledgling Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America in 1818 when the synod appointed a committee to explore establishing a foreign mission. Probably due to the fact that the United States and Canada were so rapidly expanding and so much energy was being poured into expansion of churches in North America, nothing came of the committee until the early 1840s. Even then, the first mission abroad to Haiti abruptly came to a halt as the missionary sent to the field parted ways with the RPCNA. The history of RP Global Missions, from the beginning, has been a story of God’s faithfulness far more than our own.
However, even through initial false start in Haiti, vision for Jesus’ calling to go to the nations continued to be cast in the RPCNA. In 1856, Rev. R.J. Dodds and Joseph Beattie were sent to Syria with their families. They learned Arabic in Damascus and eventually settled to serve in Latakia, Syria. The first convert, Hammud a Fallahin was baptized by R.J. Dodds in 1861. In time, a number of schools were established and a medical mission was begun. The work extended from Latakia to the cities of Aleppo, Tarsus, and to many other towns. Several dozen missionaries were sent out to labor in work that would continue formally into the twentieth century, though no visible, organized churches remain from these efforts in what is now a war-ravaged nation. The history of this chapter of Jesus work can be read in a short volume titled A Syrian Mosaic by Marjorie Allen Sanderson.
Workers from Syria also took the gospel into parts of modern-day Turkey. But the next field that prospered was Cyprus. Reformed Presbyterian missionaries followed, almost literally, the footsteps of the Apostles by going to the island of Cyprus in 1887. There, church planting, medical work, and educational efforts took root in Larnaca and Nicosia. The fruit of these ministries continues in the Greek Evangelical Church of Cyprus with whom the RPCNA maintains fraternal relations.
In 1892, Dr. David Methany, one of the missionaries in Turkey, offered synod $5,000.00 to help open a mission in China. RP Global Mission has always found that those who go to field stretch the vision of the church with more vision. In 1895, Pastors A.I. Robb and I.T.E. McBurney and their families went to Canton, South China. The Boxer Rebellion forced their return to the U.S. until 1901. They saw their first convert in 1902, a 75-year-old woman who was baptized. From there, the work continued through revolutions and wars until 1949. In those years, the mission had a clear sense of a need for a self-propagating and self-supporting work. Exploration, labor, and church planting continued in South China and Manchuria. Hoi Moon, written by Alice E. Robb and Jeanette Li, an autobiography, tell parts of the story of the work in China and Manchuria.
When the Reformed Presbyterian missionaries boarded ships to leave China, they did so with heavy hearts, though the fruit of their labors would continue to multiply inside the country in ways then unknown, and through outside investments such as the work of Reformation Translation Fellowship. Charles Chao’s brief autobiography, Out of the Tiger’s Mouth tells the story of that ministry.
The ships carrying the missionaries expelled from China stopped in Japan on their way to the United States. General Douglas MacArthur had pled for churches in the United States to send thousands of missionaries. Presumably because of post-war animosity, American churches sent very few. The Reformed Presbyterian laborers who stopped in Japan visited the city of Kobe. They were led of the Lord to disembark and serve the Lord there; at least one missionary had her papers personally stamped by General MacArthur. A few churches have been planted, and RPGM continues to support this ministry. Though still small in number today, the church in Japan is evidence that Jesus is building his church, just as he promised.
The RP Global Mission board (then called the Foreign Mission Board) endured a period of decline in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Existing ministries continued, and the board helped to support missionaries sent by individual RPCNA congregations through other mission agencies. But no new fields were opened for many years. However, the Lord was faithful, and in the 1990s, the board gained new vision.
One of the first expressions of that new vision came through the establishment of RPGM’s short-term missions department. RP Missions has sent hundreds of short-term teams to many other countries as well as to places of service within North America. In addition to spreading the gospel in lands far from home, the Lord has pressed home the call of missions on the hearts of many servants through RP Missions. Some who began as short-term missionaries continue as long-term servants today. Others have become long-term supporters through prayer and financial means.
In 2005 God was pleased to establish a new ministry in South Sudan. Cush4Christ, as this ministry is known, has seen the Lord work to convert thousands of souls and plant a number of churches. The ministry of strengthening these churches continues today. Vince Ward, the pioneering servant of this work, has written a brief history of the Lord’s work in this part of the word in the book Pursuit of Glory.
As God reinvigorated his vision for the nations within the RPCNA in the early 2000s, he used the financial crisis of 2008 as a rallying point for prayer for the work of Global Missions in the denomination. The church responded with generosity of heart, and the gospel continued to go forth. The “poverty” brought by the financial recession of 2008 resulted in spiritual riches for the nations being reached by RPGM.
In the next decade, works were started in several locations in Central and South Asia where the Lord’s word is increasing. Vision for ministry in parts of Africa, South America and various parts of Asia continue to be cast.
We pray that in all of these places, God’s grace will abound and that he will fulfill his promise that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea and that the glory of Jesus Christ will be magnified among the nations.