Book Review - Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following review was written by seminarian Matt Koerner on Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns: Evidences in Southeast Asia by Jean Kortering (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing, 2022).
With passion, humor, and insight, Jean Kortering’s book tells the stories of her own experiences as a pastor’s wife during a time in which he served in foreign lands, as well as stories of some of those to whom they ministered during those years. Originally written for Kortering’s grandchildren as a gift to them for the years they missed having their grandparents present in their lives, the work is a wonderful read for children and young people. At the same time, however, it has enormous value for older audiences as well. The child of God, regardless of age, will greatly profit from reading this book.
This book as a whole is highly encouraging. This is true in the first place with a view to the future. As believers, we know it to be true that persecution is part of the Christian faith; it is to be expected. In this land, persecution is relatively light; to be a Christian here is not particularly challenging. However, there are other nations of the world where this is not the case. Many face extreme hardship on account of their faith in Jesus. And because it is the promise of Scripture that persecution will indeed come, even those Christians who live in countries where there is presently little may be sure that one day, they will feel persecution’s scourge more directly. One temptation for the child of God, therefore, is to look ahead with fear, worrying about what might happen to one’s church, family, or oneself. Reading books like Kortering’s is helpful in this regard. It is extremely encouraging to know that there are others who in the past have borne up under persecution and remained faithful to their Lord. It is encouraging too that there are others doing so right now.
This type of encouragement comes out numerous times in Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns. Particularly is this true in the section in which Kortering tells stories of those she and her husband met while laboring in foreign lands. The story of a young girl named Poh Li, which is told first, is amazing. At a very young age, she was introduced to the faith and would return to church again and again, knowing full well she would be beaten by her mother when she returned home (32-33). If a young child such as she was can endure such pain for the gospel’s sake, we may be encouraged that God will so sustain us as well, when the day of increased persecution comes. Another story gives an interesting account of a different sort of persecution: Huey Min tells of the fact that she was not physically attacked, but that her mother would weep over her conversion to Christ and engaging in Christian activity. This would lead her to sadness; it weighed on her to know that she was the cause of her mother’s grief, and this was enough to prevent her from going to church at times (86-87). Here too, however, God overrode her troubles, and He faithfully and lovingly brought her to Himself. Enduring persecution points to a deeply rooted faith. That comes out too in the story of an unnamed man from India, who received electric shock treatments for perceived insanity after his conversion from unbelief but pressed on, even when his family ostracized him, and later committed himself to speaking to one person every day about the faith (294-95). The strong faith of Dorin is also encouraging. Faced with a family that hated her for converting to Christianity, she too endured beatings at just 14 years old, as well as mockery, ridicule, taunting, and the tearing up of her Bible and other religious materials (64ff).
Dorin’s story is encouraging in an additional way, however, and this is representative of another aspect of the book’s value: it encourages the reader not just with a view to future persecution, but also to his/her present-day faith walk. Dorin displayed beautiful trust in God during her struggle with infertility. When she finally got pregnant, she lost her first child in a miscarriage. All of her pregnancies came with great difficulty. And yet, her testimony was this: “I don’t know what the next stage [of my life] will be, but I know the Lord will carry me through. All these things help me to grow in trust and to really experience His presence, especially the peace that He will not leave me” (72). Reading of such strong faith makes one want to walk by faith more and more in every area of life. Similarly, one may also be encouraged by this book in one’s calling to witness as part of the daily Christian life. At times it can seem as though our efforts are futile, and it is no longer worth continuing. But this is not true; God’s Word never returns to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). Poh Li’s story is proof: though her parents would beat her for converting, they eventually were won to Christ by her good conduct and her faithful witnessing to them (35). The commitment of Rev. Titus to the Reformed truth is also very encouraging (123ff). How often do we not take for granted what treasure we have in true doctrine! The reader will be encouraged to look with new wonder at the truth of Scripture when reading these pages. Finally, it is not only the stories of others that encourage the reader in his or her Christian life, but even the author herself. It is so beautiful to read of her love for her husband and her appreciation of his labors. This comes out on various occasions (333, for example). Reading of this woman’s love for her spouse encourages readers to strive for a deeper love in their own relationships.
The value of this book is also seen in that it traces the providential hand of God, reminding us that our God is in control at all times. One application of providence is to the forming of our earthly relationships, and this is clearly on display in Chapter 4, “Christ, the Lord of Romance.” The origin of the church in Singapore also brings to mind this glorious doctrine. How wonderful to read of how God worked to bring the Reformed truth to the dear saints in that land (see especially 13ff). And then there is the story of Peng Lan, a teacher, who by an amazing act of God’s providence did not have to be observed by a curriculum evaluator when she was under scrutiny for teaching the truth of God’s Word in her classroom (82). These stories are a clear testimony that God works wonders even today, ensuring that His gospel might go forth and His elect children might be saved.
There is another element of value to Kortering’s book: it provides the reader with a deeper understanding of mission work. Kortering’s stories and firsthand accounts are helpful in that they reveal some of the particular joys and struggles with which missionaries and their families meet. They get the privilege of meeting and laboring among converts from heathen religions, meaning they get to experience the blessedness of hearing their testimony and walking with them as they learn more about the teachings of the Reformed faith. But there are also difficulties. Teaching the faith to those unfamiliar with it is not simple. In addition to patiently setting forth Reformed theology for those who were not raised learning it, there is also the struggle of teaching other aspects of the Reformed faith, such as proper biblical church polity (185). Missionaries very often must adjust to living in an entirely different way than that to which they are accustomed. The humorous story of dealing with 2 Singapore’s system of income tax illustrates this well (27-28). Similarly, the description Paulraj gave of what the people in Vellore, India do to stay cool in the hottest part of the year is illustrative of the great adjustment a missionary would face in moving to that country (303). But making changes to one’s way of life is necessary, not only because of climate and such, but also because of cultural differences. A missionary must be willing to sacrifice certain pleasures, conveniences, and preferences. This helps him not to offend those among whom he labors. In the case of the sorts of countries to which the Korterings went, the extreme poverty is a real factor. That poverty comes out many times in the book (ex: 198-99, 201, 217, 333-34). And yet, the people of God in such countries so often display such contentment in their circumstances. A missionary, therefore, may not cause offense by living luxuriously. During a brief section written by Rev. Kortering, he makes the point that enduring difficulties and inconveniences in foreign lands is part of being all things to all men (299-300). This is a pointed and good reminder. And then of course, there is the immense struggle of having to leave one’s own family members. Kortering underscores the pain of this as she mentions being moved to tears merely thinking about it while she wrote (4). A missionary and his family must be prepared to give up much for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All of this is to say, Say Among the Heathen is a recommended work. The reader will not only grow in appreciation for those men whom God calls to be missionaries and for their families, but will also be led to thank God for His great grace. It is a grace that draws sinners to Himself, saving them at times even out of idolatry and wicked families. It is a grace that sustains His children even through harsh persecution and great poverty. And it is a grace that unites all His people in one common covenant. Though we be separated by many miles and even (in some cases) many years from the individuals referred to in this book, we may rejoice in knowing that we are so very close to them: we join hands with these saints as we kneel together at the foot of our one Savior’s cross. Kortering wrote concerning her husband’s and her experiences, “I always preferred to think of our years in Singapore as a privilege rather than a sacrifice…a rich blessing given to us by the Lord. There are comparatively few who have that privilege, and the Lord in His goodness had given that to us” (3-4). Although it is true that most readers will never be called to serve on the mission field as the Korterings were, this book gives one a taste of some of those same experiences. In a small way, therefore, the reader may indeed share in that great privilege.
Rev. Jason Kortering (1936–2020) was a minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches. From 1992–2006, he and his wife Jean were called to missionary labors in Singapore, India, and Myanmar. Say Among the Heathen the Lord Reigns is Jean’s account of those years. The recollections and stories in this book will direct your heart to the Son of God who gathers, defends, and preserves to himself an elect church out of all nations, kindreds, peoples, and tongues.
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