Guest Column

Richard Denham On 31 July, 2013, the Lord called Rev. James Richard Denham into his presence. Richard was 86 years old and leaves a widow, Pearl, and seven children. He had served as a pastor and missionary in Bra
01 April, 2003 3 min read

In 1950, newly married and fresh out of graduate school,

we accepted the pastorate of a struggling Baptist church that had turned for help to the Conservative Baptist movement.

During the two-year pastorate in the little farming community we learned valuable lessons which helped prepare us for fifty years of missionary service.

Pearl taught piano lessons while I drove a school bus, worked on a railroad gang, and helped with the wheat harvest.

Unlikely person

Once, after we had hosted two Bible School girls for a week, we were without food and there were still several days before the end of the month. We considered asking the church treasurer for an advance, but decided to wait on the Lord.

Later in the morning, I noticed from our living room window the familiar figure of an elderly Catholic lady, known as the town miser, who passed our house daily on her way to confessional at the church next door.

To my surprise she turned into our driveway. Pearl responded to my hurried call and went to the door to invite her in. Refusing to come in, she handed Pearl an envelope. She had been shopping at the market, she said, and had heard a voice telling her to bring the contents of the envelope to the Baptist pastor.

With that word she turned and left. In the envelope was a five dollar bill, which half a century ago was more like fifty today (whether she really heard a voice I cannot tell).

We thanked the Lord and went to the market. The same God who sent ravens to feed his prophet had used the most unlikely person in the town to meet our need.

Proven faithfulness

Many times when faced with strong opposition in Roman Catholic Brazil, we would recall how he had used a Catholic lady to meet our need.

When challenged to evangelise the Madeira River region of the Amazon, we sold our earthly possessions and – trusting his proven faithfulness – landed in Brazil. We had two footlockers and no promise of material support, but it began a fifty-year ministry in Brazil.

As I think of the more than 300 Portuguese-speaking pastors who have been helped through receiving a book a month, our quarterly magazine Faith for Today, and provision to attend our yearly conferences, I am reminded of the hundreds if not thousands of other pastors that need to be equipped for the battle.

Needs met

The most important thing we can teach them is to trust our sovereign God to provide their spiritual and physical needs as they seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

Though most have material needs, we rejoice that faithful men are seeing God meet those needs in wonderful ways.

We who teach the sovereignty of God often seem to show less dependence upon him than many of our pentecostal Assembly of God brethren. Every neighbourhood of our city has an Assembly of God church, started and supported solely by nationals.

I can and do find fault with their doctrine, but am forced to admire their zeal and cannot deny that many lives have been transformed.

What an opportunity we have to share the reformed faith with them! A number have embraced the doctrines of grace and have left the charismatic movement.

Needed example

I fear that Reformed brethren tend to suffer from near-sightedness. The current focus on giving financial aid to a few selected pastors obscures what is really needed – to prepare by example and precept the thousands who will by faith labour at any cost to preach the gospel.

Only men who have learned to trust God for their daily bread can provide the needed example to fellow pastors and those who will follow after them.

Admittedly, if I were a struggling pastor in a poor country, I might think foreign support both attractive and necessary. The fact would remain, however, that it would encourage an unhealthy dependence and would affect my testimony among my own people.

Hard truth

To provide further food for thought, I decided to share the contents of this article with a godly Brazilian who has served as our conference interpreter for the past eighteen years.

I wanted my readers to see the situation through his eyes. He wrote back: ‘You told the truth with all the letters of the alphabet. The truth is hard but it cannot be denied…

‘When there appears a foreign organisation disposed to support “nationals”, the Brazilian – who is no fool – gets on board.’

As Reformed churches with limited resources, we can either support financially a limited number of national pastors, who will become dependent upon us, or we can by example and precept help hundreds (and why not thousands?) of national leaders to prove the faithfulness of our sovereign God, who even provides for the birds of the air.

Could it be that in the homelands we are failing to see more churches brought into existence because their potential leaders have not learned dependence on an unfailing God?

Is our failure to raise up men of faith here affecting our foreign missionary policy? ‘Your God is too small’ should not be said of us.

On 31 July, 2013, the Lord called Rev. James Richard Denham into his presence. Richard was 86 years old and leaves a widow, Pearl, and seven children. He had served as a pastor and missionary in Bra
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