Synod Celebrates Chiapas Mission Work
General Synod on Friday evening celebrated the vibrant, fast-growing church in Chiapas, Mexico, and the RCA missionaries and mission supporters who helped build it.
What started with a handful of believers has become a spiritually mature, self-supporting, indigenous church that numbers in the hundreds of thousands and sends out missionaries of its own.
Sixteen missionaries who served in Chiapas were present for the celebration and shared with delegates about their ministry.
“Chiapas was my first call coming out of seminary, and something that I dreamed about and prepared for,” said Janelle Koolhaas. “I was mentored in some way by all the people God has put up here [on the stage]. I consider it a gift and one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to belong to this group and be a part of the work God was doing in Chiapas.” Koolhaas’s husband, Jose Angel Lopez, was the first Chiapas native to graduate from Western Theological Seminary.
The church in Chiapas has grown tremendously since the 1920s. That’s when RCA missionaries John and Mabel Kempers began serving the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico’s beautiful, rugged, and remote southernmost state.
The Kempers served in Chiapas for 41 years; many other Reformed Church missionaries joined the work and continued it. Al and Sue Schreuder, the last missionary couple assigned to serve with the Chiapas church, left San Cristobal, Chiapas, this spring after 35 years of offering leadership training and development classes in Bible schools and seminaries, and at retreats, women’s groups, and churches.
During the Chiapas celebration, delegates passed a resolution to honor the Schreuders for their work; a standing ovation followed the resolution. Sue Schreuder then addressed the synod: “On behalf of all the children in Chiapas who can attend Sunday schools because they have trained teachers; on behalf of all the young people who are part of a new youth ministry; on behalf of the women who have found a voice in their congregations; on behalf of the paramedics who have learned to serve their communities; for all of the elders, deacons, and pastors who were able to be taught in the Bible schools that you raised with your support, with your hands; on behalf of all of the seminary students who were able to study because of your scholarships...for all of those who have been released from the bondage of poverty, of sickness, of sin, because they’ve had the translated living Word of God in their hands—on behalf of all those Chiapanecans, I give you thanks.”
“When I first arrived in Chiapas in 1980, we had our first mission meeting that we attended, and were told, ‘You came to work yourself out of a job,’” said Al Schreuder. “‘You came to teach the church, to train the church, to be involved with the church, to disciple the church, to help the church to grow, to prosper, to reproduce. You came to help the church of Jesus Christ extend the kingdom of God. And when you’re done, the Lord will send you home.’”
Al admitted to delegates he does not cry easily, but the Schreuders’ goodbye service in Chiapas brought tears of joy “because the church of Chiapas can stand alone now. To God be the glory.”