The unexpected happens on MV Doulos
‘Can you organise some Bible studies to train us for the ministry?’ This was the request of two young Americans serving on the OM mission ship MV Doulos (http://www.mvdoulos.org/) in summer 2004.
As we discussed possibilities, it was decided to use our family’s cabin for a study through the Book of Romans for any young person on the ship who might be interested. It would be on Sunday nights, and attendance would be voluntary.
Our family had chosen to serve for two years on Doulos – from January 2004 to February 2006. With my Dutch wife Maria and our two daughters (seven and five years old when we joined) I was enjoying serving the Lord overseas, together as a family.
We had continual opportunities to connect on both a pastoral and theological level with many young people from about fifty different nations. But we had little idea what the Lord had in store for those weekly Bible studies.
Church history bears witness to the things that can happen when people work through Paul’s powerful letter to the Romans. Augustine of Hippo was converted reading Romans 13:14 and tells us that ‘clear light’ flooded his heart and that ‘all the darkness of doubt vanished away’.
Eleven centuries later, Martin Luther met God through Romans 1:17, as he recognised that God justifies sinners through faith. Luther said, ‘I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise’.
In the twentieth century, F. F. Bruce said, ‘there is no telling what may happen when people begin to study the epistle to the Romans’. We also had no idea what would happen!
I already held a reformed understanding of the doctrines of grace. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ series on Romans had been food for my soul in previous years.
Our little cabin was packed with people. They filled every available space and many had to sit in the corridor. We openly discussed the wrath of God; justification by grace through faith; the sinfulness of sin; total depravity; election and God’s sovereignty. I think it fair to say that a theological and reformed movement took place then; and it was a true work of the Holy Spirit.
This study on Romans was followed up many months later with a chapter by chapter study of John’s Gospel. It seemed as if many young people were fed up with the theological greyness they had been accustomed to and were desperate for clear biblical answers.
The on-board library proved a real tonic. Literature by the Banner of Truth Trust was especially valuable. Young people began to devour biographies on Spurgeon, Whitefield and Lloyd-Jones, while commentaries by John Calvin and William Hendriksen seemed to be the flavour of the month.
Sermons on MP3 by R. C. Sproul and John Piper seemed to pour further fuel on spiritual fires. All of these Doulos people, most under the age of 25, have now scattered to different parts of the world armed with the gospel of God. Many returned to European countries.
In an age when the church in the West is often spiritually depressed, perhaps this unexpected ‘awakening’ was an encouraging indication that the theological tide could be turning. None of us knows for sure, but let us pray that we will soon witness a fresh revival and reformation in the European church and worldwide.
The author lives in Sheffield and is studying for a PhD in theology, at WEST.