LN feature: ARPA is having an impact around the world



March 6, 2018
LN: Since your retirement some years ago, you’ve been filling some vacant pulpits of Reformed churches, and not just in Canada. Recently, you’ve been to New Zealand, you’ve been to Australia, now you’re in South Africa. And you’re encountering – from what I gather from an update that you sent (ARPA Executive Director) Mark Penninga – you’re encountering a real appetite in some of those locales for the kind of work that ARPA is doing in Canada. Talk to me about the political situations that exist in those other countries, and how there’s an appetite for a Reformed Christian witness in those contexts.

WdH: Yeah. As you mentioned, I first went to New Zealand, and there it struck us right away, you know, how much the churches – the Reformed churches – are engaged in political affairs such as abortion. Obviously countries like New Zealand and Australia have laws to restrict abortion to some extent, but people there are very active.

Just as an interesting note, we just recently read in the bulletin that we still get from New Zealand that they too have their “Booties” project. So they are also knitting like anything, making booties for the purpose of a project like we had in ARPA Canada as well.

And then in Australia last year, I had a meeting with the Board of ARPA Australia; they are kind of emulating what we have been doing in Canada. They have hired a man, Laurence VanderPlaats, who was hired for one day a week in order to prepare newsletters for those who are connected with ARPA and to inform the churches of the political issues particularly in Western Australia, where all the Free Reformed churches are located.

And then, yeah, when I came here (to South Africa) too, the men’s societies of the two Reformed churches of South Africa asked if I could speak about the work of a Reformed approach and a Reformed response to political action. And so I had a wonderful opportunity to share the activities of ARPA Canada, and the response here too – and especially – was exciting. You know, people said “We’ve never heard a speech like this.” The people are more detached from the political arena. There is not really all that much of an interest or excitement for political engagement. But after the meeting, the response was very positive, and I had a request if I could speak some more about the more practical ways in which this could be implemented. So at a congregational meeting of one of those churches, I had another speech about “Reformed Action by Reformed People.” And that too was received very well, with quite a few young people in the midst of that congregational meeting. They were very engaged by the questions, but also after the meeting they came up to me and they were all very interested in checking out our ARPA Canada website, and finding there that whole treasure-trove for issues and matters that are so relevant in those countries as well.

So all in all, it was very exciting (for them) to see what we have, and to see the interest in it and perhaps also to see a response coming out of it of a greater engagement for the political situation in the countries.

LN: You know, one of the things you write in that report that you sent to Mark Penninga was that you were struck by “how much we have the same struggle in common that we’re fighting in Canada against the spirits of liberalism and secularism and apostasy”, and that this shows the “great variety of issues in which ARPA Canada is engaged.” Is it really the same battle in those other cultures, politically?

WdH: Well, I would say certainly New Zealand and Australia. They are basically on the same page as what we see in the western world – in the European countries as well as in Canada. The liberalism. The secularism. Also issues of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, same-sex marriage. You know, they are very much in the forefront of the political arena there. And therefore, especially last year when I spoke at the Board meeting of ARPA Australia, you know it was remarkable how much they could benefit from the “Respectfully Submitted” documents as well as other policy papers that are on the ARPA Canada website and, you know, make use of them for their particular situation.

You know, the situation is not quite all the way the same. In Australia, with the Reformed churches being only in Western Australia, the engagement, politically, is more in the provincial politics. Although, you know, I must also add quickly that when the whole issue of same-sex marriage came to the fore and was pressed so hard by the federal government in Australia, then we have seen in the church bulletins of the metro-Perth churches how much of an engagement there was with the church members to speak to their MPs and to address the government and to write and also to stimulate the members to vote against this plan in the referendum that was going on there. So yeah, we saw really a very active engagement in political issues there. And you know, while we were there last year they also had elections provincially. And in those elections they have a few members of the Reformed churches running for office. None of them was elected, but that too was evidence that there is an upswing in political interest among those churches as there is also among the youth of the churches there particularly, who prepared a very informative paper to inform the voters about the issues. And then we saw the on report that they prepared, basically the same issue that are current in Canada, such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage also provincially there. So we were very pleased to see how much of an interest there is, but at the same time it was striking how eagerly they wanted to emulate what we are doing. Which was, in a way, the purpose of meeting with the Board. And I have spoken to young people, and they have afterwards set up a youth chapter of ARPA Australia. I just recently – last week even – had contact with the secretary who wanted to structure their work very much along the lines of ARPA Canada, and ARPA youth in Canada. You know, kind of imitate the activities that we are engaged with in Canada as well.

They recognize from the material on our website how much they can benefit by studying the material and then to contact their local MPs and share their impressions with them as well.

LN: You know you say there’s a lot of engagement. Is there any evidence – and I have to ask the question – is there any evidence that the engagement is having an impact? And I’m thinking for example about the referendum on gay marriage in Australia.

Was the margin of approval or rejection different in Western Australia – where, as you say, the ARPA Australia chapter is more active – was there a difference in the vote result? Are we seeing any impact on the ground in terms of the work that’s already being done?

WdH: That is a bit difficult to answer. I do believe indeed that there is in Western Australia a greater reception for the input of our members. They were certainly encouraged by a variety of MPs in their provincial government, but also as a result of special meetings that were held where MPs of the federal government had speeches about these matters also to stimulate the members there to vote against the referendum.

So maybe, you know, percentage-wise it’s hard to answer the question, but as far as engagement is concerned these issues and opportunities generated a much greater interest and engagement among our members than it had ever done before.

So the mission of ARPA Canada, to “educate, equip, and encourage”, is also taking off there. Just as in Canada, the spirit of the country is moving more and more in the direction of liberalism and secularism. So against that background, we should not or would not necessarily expect let’s say a greater impact from our people on that process; on that development. But despite that situation, the interest is growing. And I think that’s very encouraging, also in Canada with ARPA Canada. You know, we also are up against the maelstrom of liberalism and secularism and apostasy; lawlessness, you name it. But that does not mean that it deters us from being politically engaged. On the contrary, it is a stimulus to get more and more engaged, and not to be apathetic or give in to defeatism.

LN: What about South Africa? We’ve talked about Australia quite a bit, and the New Zealand context. South Africa seems to be a little bit different, no?

WdH: Yup. It is different. The issues that are so prevalent here are more the political situation regarding corruption. People have been very turned off by (President Jacob) Zuma and his corrupt government. They have just recently – last week – received a new president, so there is a lot of hope, a lot of optimism, focused again on the fight against corruption and the turnabout also politically among maybe the blacks. The (new) president in his maiden speech actually brought out his desire to see farms switch from the white owners to the black owners. So that right away brings back an issue that has been current in other countries in Africa as well; namely the transition from white to black and how well that will be going.

So in that sense indeed it’s different. The issues of euthanasia or abortion you don’t hear much about. It’s more the matter of AIDS and how the government is going to remedy all the consequences of AIDS and – you know – the great number of orphans and orphanages and what have you. So yeah, there are different issues.

But what I really experienced in the meetings where I spoke about the work of ARPA, is that our people here have not been engaged in any of these issues at all. It has been a situation like we had in Canada say some 20-30 years ago where you kind of observe the political situation and kind of shake your head and say, “What can we do?” And that was basically the response that I received in the meetings here too. But then I stressed very much our Christian calling for loyalty and solidarity with the country of which we are citizens. And that really struck a special chord in the meetings where I spoke here, that indeed people are so disengaged, that – yeah that whole idea of loyalty and our calling to show solidarity with the country where we are citizens was not really an issue. So I spoke to one of the members who is – who was – a professor at the university here in Pretoria and he said “Wow. You know, this is really going to give a different slant to our calling here in South Africa” because people are very much focused on Holland still, or they are considering emigrating to Australia. But no, the churches that are here have a calling for the government.

So I also very much stimulated in the second meeting all the things that we are doing in Canada regarding email – you know, EasyMail – approaching government MPs, having a relationship with local MPs. I found out via one of my discussions that there are members of the Gereformeerde Kerk – the Reformed Church here in South Africa – who are MPs. So I encouraged them to take up contact with them immediately to see how they can be encouraged first of all, but also can be engaged in the political process by way of mobilizing the members here.

And especially those young chaps that were in the meeting; they were very responsive to that idea, and were planning to check out our website, but also to find out who these MPs were and what they could do for them and with them. So the response was positive.

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