OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries
Helping to Train, Encourage & Connect Deacons






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Showing Mercy in One of the Poorest Regions of the World: Karamoja, Uganda


by Mark Van Essendelft, OPC Missionary Deacon to Karamoja, Uganda

“Which one of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “the one who had mercy on him.” Luke 10:36-37

In Karamoja Uganda you don’t have to look far for opportunities to “show mercy,” as it is one of the poorest regions in the world.  The constant temptation is to “pass by” like the Pharisee and the Levite, and then excuse ourselves because we are too busy, or someone else should take a turn.  To the extent that the Lord has given us faith, I hope to share with you the opportunities that we have taken in 2021 to “show mercy” in Karamoja in 2021. 
            Sadly, KEO (Karamoja Educational Outreach) has remained closed due to the continued lock down by the government due to covid.  Though many more affluent citizens have continued with online schooling, once again the poor are suffering here in Karamoja. We have kept the teachers on payroll, and Angela has organized their time into weekly instruction, discipleship, visits to encourage struggling, poor and sick church and community members, etc.  The teachers have also been teaching literacy to some of the employees on the main compound.  Recently, the teachers painted the walls and ceiling in the school so it will look very pleasant when the schools do open. We are hopeful the school will open early next year. 
            Leah Hopp has continued to head up the health outreach. In addition to things like hygiene and preventable sicknesses, they have been promoting Covid-19 prevention methods and vaccines in the community.  She has also been doing a research paper in which she is gathering and organizing the statistics from our clinic which will give the Ugandan government and others a better understanding of the demographics of the local community, which to this point no one has done.  
            Chris Verdick has had a busy year between administrating the clinic, gearing up for new clinic housing, recruiting, and hiring new employees, and having a new baby in the home. So far on the new clinic housing Chris has overseen the installation of the perimeter fence, and we hope to drill the bore hole soon and then start construction by the end of January 2022. One encouraging thing is that we have finally, after four years, gotten the title to the land across the road where the clinic is and where the new clinic housing sight is.  We are currently in negotiations with the former owners of the land to sell a portion back to them.  One discouraging thing is that this year we lost one of our prized nurses (who we hoped to see fill more of a leadership role) due to some poor life choices.  The clinic also led a vaccination effort for the staff and community and had 100% of the staff vaccinated by September.
            As far as my work on maintenance, we have mainly kept to smaller jobs this year.  We have dug a trench around the clinic to keep the water away from the building (cracks were developing.)  We have started to fix the cracks in the walls and hope to paint the interior walls early next year. We have almost completed two-bathroom renovations in the main house, which were long overdue. We also fixed some structural issues in the main house due to poor drainage. We have also repaired a lot of the existing fencing on the missionary compounds which is showing its age. This will continue into 2022. A shelter which was started over ten years ago was finished and roofed, and we re-thatched several houses.
            The following are some of the things we have done with the diaconal funds of the mission this year: We helped get treatment for Apuun Paul, a former KEO teacher, who has cancer on his neck.  We have helped a local young man who was shot through the hip get some medical care. Unfortunately, the only way he can be further helped is a hip replacement, which is not possible with the funds we currently have. We helped some orphans that the local church assists to relocate their housing close to their caretaker.  We often help with transport for various reasons, but one notable time this year was bringing a young woman, who is a church member, to the hospital and police after she was raped by a man with HIV.  She is mentally handicapped and is the eyes for her blind mother.  Also, she has a daughter who is about 11 years old who is also the result of a rape. After much work and prayer on her behalf, we have learned that she did not get the HIV and the man has been arrested. Praise God for this!!!
            The farm project was relatively small this year (acres planted), and most of the crops did not produce well due to an extended dry spell during the growing season.  The peanuts we planted produced very well however, to our surprise! The farm project, though it is not a money maker, does give us inroads with the local community. Though many may look at it as an opportunity for mere work, through it we have been able to bring God’s Word daily to people who don’t otherwise come to church, and we have cultivated some sweet relationships which by God’s grace will yield fruit for eternity. 
            My diaconal work with the local church has been challenging at times, but I think is moving ahead. Preparing them for autonomy at the local level is one of our goals, which we made good strides toward. This year the church cultivated a one-acre plot for feeding the orphans and a five-acre plot to help support the local church.  This went very well.  The mercy committee, which is comprised of church members who are voted in by the congregation, meets every Friday.  Being able to send people who are begging from us at the mission to this committee has reduced the begging of missionaries significantly. It is much more effective at discovering and helping truly needy people, because local members know much better the needs of people who come.  By teaching and practice, I have been training the members of the mercy committee on wise principles of helping those in need.  We are in the process of totally separating the church funds from the mission.  (Up to this point all funds have been held by the mission and all accounting done for them.) Starting in January 2022, we hope to implement a cash box system with accounting sheets and double signatures for each transaction. 
            This is a sample look at some of the many ways that the funds from the CDM are spent here in Karamoja.  I wish all supporting churches could read about what God is doing here in Karamoja. The work is slow but sure!  It is amazing how these many small acts of kindness in word and deed bear fruit from often the least expecting people.  All this could not be done without the support of many church members, who I will probably never meet on this earth but share with us in God’s global mission!  I am so thankful for them, and for the involvement of the CDM who oversees this work!  To God be the Glory!


On behalf of the Karamoja station,

Mark Van Essendelft             


A New Podcast: The Reformed Deacon

By Trish Duggan

In November 2021, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM) launched a podcast focused on the office of deacon, called The Reformed Deacon. It was developed with the local Reformed deacon in mind: to help train him, to encourage camaraderie with other deacons, and to educate a greater audience on the role of the deacon. Episodes will include interviews of local deacons, elders, pastors, authors, and others with relevant experience. The podcast will also share case studies and dig into topics often complex or misunderstood. 

The Office of Deacon 

Perhaps you have heard one or more of the following in your church: I can’t hear the preacher—I’m not sure his mic is even on! I’m sure one of the deacons will get to it. Or, I know that family isn’t really making ends meet. I’ll be sure to mention it to one of the deacons. Or, We don’t have enough chairs set up for Sunday school. I’ll let the deacons know. Or, We’re moving next week. I’ll ask the deacons for help. 

The local deacon’s role can sometimes seem to be a kind of catch-all for many of the physical needs of the church, from managing church facilities to aiding a needy family to everything in between. Further complicating their work can be its sensitive nature, along with complex family situations, distrust from those both inside and outside the church, and even dishonest requests for help. This office requires great wisdom! 

In addition, many OPC deacons may be serving their congregation alone, without the benefit of a colleague to commit to regular times of counsel and prayer. Some diaconates are small and spread thin, with somewhat unclear tasks. So what exactly is a deacon’s job, and how can he be better supported in it? 

Supporting Deacons through a Podcast 

The CDM continues to recognize the need to support the local deacon in his God-appointed work, and it prayerfully strives to meet that need. A unique aspect of the CDM’s approach is its great desire to see local deacons supported not only by the committee, but also by one another. There are, after all, nearly one thousand deacons in the OPC, representing hundreds of years of experience! 

Over the years, the CDM has organized gatherings primarily for deacons (three national summits to date and another one in June 2022) and developed training materials, a resource website (OPCCDM.org), a newsletter (The Mercy Minute), and a deacon check-in program (where deacons are partnered in order to take intentional time to talk one on one and are given counsel and financial support). 

And now, there is a podcast, too. 

In its first episode, Tim Hopper, a deacon at Shiloh OPC in Raleigh, North Carolina, said that he reminds himself often that deacons, too, need to sit at Jesus’s feet. “It’s easy for me to be doing things and staying busy,” he said, “and I’m good at making my lists and getting things done, but that’s what Martha was doing, and our Lord told her she needs to sit at his feet . . . My wife often asks, ‘Are you getting to hear the sermon?’” 

In another episode, Dr. Cornelis Van Dam explained that he wrote his book The Deacon: Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy because, when he was a pastor, newly ordained deacons would ask for resources on the diaconate. “That question always kind of bugged me,” Van Dam said, “because I didn’t think there was a good holistic treatment of the office.” 

Deacons, this podcast is for you, and the CDM hopes you will benefit by listening. For those who are not deacons, the podcast may allow you to better understand and support your local deacons in their work. When you are able, remember to pray for the deacons and elders in your church as they fulfill their calling. They are likely doing more than what you see on Sunday! 

Look for The Reformed Deacon wherever you listen to podcasts. We’d love to hear from you. What topics would you like to hear on this podcast? Go to: opccdm.org/podcast-feedback or email us at mail@thereformeddeacon.org. Find show notes and links at thereformeddeacon.org. 

The author is communications coordinator for the CDM. 


Refugee Ministry Part 1: Is it Safe for Christians to Refuse to Welcome the Stranger?

by Rev. Chris Cashen
Pastor, Trinity Reformed Church in Lanham, Maryland and
Chairman of the Refugee Ministry Subcommittee

A little over two weeks ago, on May 3, 2021, President Biden raised the 2021 cap on refugee resettlements in the United States fourfold: from 15,000 to 62,500. As he did so, the president stated that the previous limit “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.” In the same statement, President Biden indicated that he would set the refugee admission cap at 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins this year on October 1st. Shortly after President Biden’s statements, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, declared that “It is in our DNA as a nation to open our door to those seeking refuge[1] . . .”

What does this mean? Who are these refugees? And how are we to respond? All good questions which require thoughtful answers.

Each year, the president sets a limit on the number of refugees allowed to resettle in this country. This means that the Executive has determined, for planning and budgeting purposes, that the United States will agree to grant permission (or immigration status) for that number of “refugees” to enter the country legally. It does not necessarily mean that the entire number will actually enter the US. But it gives the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), those folks who are involved in refugee resettlement in this country, the ability to plan, budget and prepare. This is a bit like creating an annual budget for your local church. You plan, or budget, to spend a certain amount on electrical service, but if the summer is not too hot, you may not spend all the budgeted amount. It is the same with the refugee admissions cap. The country has agreed to allow up to 62,500 refugees to enter, but it may not (and probably will not) receive that number as there are many factors which enter into resettling a person or family from a foreign country.

Who are these refugees? There is a legal definition of “refugee” which is helpful to know. In 1951, the United Nations resolved to adopt the following definition of a “refugee” as any person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” That is the short version. In plain English, a “refugee” is a person who, because of his race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, has been persecuted or is reasonably fearful of being persecuted; has left his home country (crossed a border), and is afraid to return home because he thinks that there will be no safety or peace for him there (that is, his homeland government won’t or can’t protect him). That definition is somewhat sterile.

The UNHCR website is currently reporting that there are 45,449 refugees from the Tigray region in Ethiopia who have fled the violence and fighting and entered a neighboring country: Sudan.  An Ethiopian woman, now a refugee in Sudan describes the horrific conditions she escaped, “We did not know what was going on when we heard the gun shots. Many people were killed—we could see 10, twenty bodies lying on the ground. That’s when we decided to leave. I walked until my legs were injured and bleeding. I thank God that we are safe here and we have something to eat.[2]” There are refugees from Syria due to civil war; there are refugees from Eritrea due to the persecution of Christians; there are refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo due to violence, war, and political opinion. The stories are different, but the human suffering and the material needs are similar. And all of them need Christ.

Is it safe for our families, you may be asking. Is it safe to help those coming to this country legally as persecuted, homeless, weary, refuge seekers? Deep down, you know the answer—only God knows. But let’s consider “Jonas”, a fictional man living in a fictional refugee camp in Tentland, Africa. Jonas must be interviewed and screened by the United Nations in order to be titled, or classified, as a “refugee”. Jonas has to meet the legal definition. After the UN has completed their screening, they look for a willing country to host Jonas. If the US raises its hand and agrees to consider accepting Jonas, it will conduct its own background check before giving Jonas a ticket to enter the country. By the time Jonas arrives at the airport here in the US, he will have been interviewed by the Department of State, registered in the Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System, checked by FBI, Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Defense, and interviewed by Department of Homeland Security. Jonas will also have his fingerprints taken and have his biometrics screened against several databases. Only after all this vetting is complete to the satisfaction of these agencies, will Jonas be permitted to enter the country and be resettled as a refugee. The better question may be, “Is it safe for Christians to avoid or refuse to welcome the stranger and alien?”

That brings us back to the words of the President and Secretary of State. Think of this—these men, possibly very secular in their worldviews—surprisingly use words we might consider using ourselves. Christians are a people called to welcome and love the alien and stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19). Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have taken refuge in Him from their sin and the tribulation of this world. Shouldn’t we desire to usher others into that very same refuge—indeed, the only true refuge from the storms that our sins have created?

[1] Steve Harman, “Biden to Quadruple Number of Refugees,” Voice of America News, May 3, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/usa/biden-quadruple-number-refugees-allowed-us.

[2] Ibid.