Face-To-Face with Dr. David Bronkema of Palmer Theological Seminary

Elise Sweigart

December 10, 2018

On Monday, December 10th, the fellows of the Philadelphia Commons Institute were honored by the opportunity to meet and hear from Dr. David Bronkema. Dr. Bronkema began by sharing a bit about his own life. He grew up overseas to a missionary family that worked in both Portugal and Italy. Because of his time in these countries, he developed a graciousness and cultural sensitivity that is (unfortunately) all too rare among Americans. I was particularly struck by a story he told about the day another American girl began attending public school with him in Italy. In class, she said something along the lines of “Aren’t you Italians grateful the Americans saved you during WWII?” Such shocking insensitivity and American supremacism horrified Dr. Bronkema, and it should give us pause as well. Perhaps, in order to truly love others who are unlike us, we must cease to view America as the pinnacle of human political achievement. Because of his cultural sensitivity and respect, Dr. Bronkema was able to work for a number of years in Honduras, where he often acted as a translator (something that cured him of his fear of public speaking). It was so encouraging to hear that he, too, (one of the most personable, easy-to-talk-to people I have met) was once afraid of public speaking. Each of us is on a journey and we need not be stuck with our current shortcomings and fears forever.

 One of the questions I asked Dr. Bronkema was: “Why were your parents missionaries to Italy? Italy is a Christian country, after all, what with the pope and Catholicism, etc.” He answered by telling us that his parents were working to promote justice and the good of the underprivileged in Italy rather than spreading Protestantism. It was only when he was older that Dr. Bronkema came to see the importance of evangelism in missions. He had many fascinating things to say about “measuring the spiritual impact” of missionaries. He asked us, “Would you say that a missionary who spent his whole life in Mongolia and only had one convert was a failure?” and then went on to propose that spiritual impact is a spectrum. Perhaps those Mongolian people started out with great hostility to the gospel, and yet through the love of that one missionary came to love and respect Christians and Christ, even if they were not yet ready to accept Christ. This resonated with me as my own parents are missionaries in a country that is rather closed to the gospel and have not been “reaping a vast harvest.” It is time for us to stop measuring the effectiveness of a missionary by the number of converts they have made.

The last, and in my opinion most important, thing that Dr. Bronkema spoke to us about was prayer. He reminded us that we are called to pray without ceasing, and told us that he is constantly in conversation with God—not constantly supplicating and asking God for things, but just sharing his thoughts, his enjoyment of a beautiful day, and such simple things with his Creator. He also shared that, as a leader, he has found it incredibly helpful to pray before meetings, and also to pray silently during meetings, especially when things are not going smoothly.

Some Questions that were Raised During the Course of Our Time With Dr. Bronkema:

How do we represent our country to those of other cultures? How can we become less condescending towards them?

What does it mean to be a missionary? Are there legitimate types of mission work that are not necessarily focused on Evangelism? Are we called to convert Christians of other Denominations? How do we measure the spiritual impact of a missionary?

What does it mean to pray without ceasing? How can we begin to pray constantly?

While we did not have time to discuss (or even raise) all of these questions during our session, they are all worth considering and definitely arise from the stories and wisdom that Dr. Bronkema shared with us.