Continuing our ongoing series of profiles of Westminster Alumni, missionary Ben Hopp graciously agreed to talk with us about his life and work since graduating from Westminster. Ben graduated with an MDiv, and Heather with a Certificate in Christian Studies, in 2001. Ben is currently a Missionary Evangelist, called by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, to labor in Haiti. Ben and Heather have four children.
***Since we spoke with Ben, he and his family’s situation has changed once again. Please continue to lift them and the nation of Haiti in your prayers.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to faith in Christ?
My name is Benjamin Hopp. I was born in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada but spent my growing up years living all over Canada as well as southern Germany. I graduated from Westminster with an M.Div. in 2001. Along with my wife, Heather, and our four children, I have lived in Haiti over 12 years.
I was born to unbelieving parents, though they had me baptized in a liberal Protestant church. Over my first year of life, God worked in their hearts using those baptismal vows they had made to convict them of their sin and their need to know more about Jesus. They began to attend church and came to faith in Jesus Christ. So it was that I grew up in a believing household.
Since my father was an air traffic controller in the Canadian military, we moved around, spending time in several Canadian provinces and in Germany. We attended Protestant chapels on the military bases and, by God’s grace, received good biblical instruction. This laid the foundation for my later growth in grace. I do not know the day or hour when I was saved, but do remember from a young age recognizing my sin, my need for a Savior, and understanding that God had loved me in Christ. The love of God was communicated and modeled to me and my siblings in a real, tangible way through my parents and the church.
Looking back I can see God’s providence directing my path and calling in life. In my teens, I had an opportunity through a cadet scholarship program to learn to fly—something I had always wanted to do! I wondered if my calling was to be a pilot, but God made it clear this was not my path. My love for geography led to full-time study of it during college. This vocational calling was also only part of my preparation, not my life-long calling.
During my teen years, God began to do two particular things in my life. One was to work on the many sins and sinful attitudes remaining in my heart, particularly my pride. Rather than glorifying God in every part of life, I chose to compartmentalize my life into my Sunday game face and the rest of the week. While I was active in church activities and played “church” on Sunday, I wasted my time in aimless pursuits weekdays, spending time with friends who took me away from Christ, not toward Him. When we were finally caught vandalizing school property I saw the light. God stripped me of my pride, and drew me back to Himself, reminding me that every second of my life is to be devoted to my Creator. The second thing God did through this experience was show me that the Christian life is about more than my own relationship to my Savior, as important as that is. God desired that I be someone who was used to share the gospel with others. I began to understand that God was not finished with me yet. The same Holy Spirit who had convicted me of sin and brought me to repentance was at work setting me apart for God.
How did you decide to come to Westminster, and what did you plan to do with your degree?
I first heard about Westminster during my introduction to reformed theology at a church in London, Ontario. I had attended a Christian & Missionary Alliance during the last few years of high school and looked for a similar church in London, Ontario where I was studying at Western University. For 3 years I was discipled by one of the pastors of the church. The pastors were essentially Reformed Baptists. I still remember the first book we worked through was A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God. They introduced me to Westminster. After college, I worked in consulting as a research assistant, but still had a strong call to full-time ministry. I had learned about Westminster during university and it was the first place I considered going to seminary, partly because it was still relatively close to my family. Right from the beginning I planned on using my degree in full-time pastoral ministry.
What does your work and/or ministry look like now?
There are essentially two parts to my work in Haiti. The first is as a church-planter and pastor of a congregation in Port-au-Prince, the capital city. My co-pastor, Octavius Delfils, is also part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Haiti Mission. We teach, preach and shepherd the sheep. We are also in the process of training elders and deacons who have been nominated by the congregation. There are two other churches on the island of La Gonâve, a large island 14 miles off the mainland. I travel there twice per month to preach and teach. Though these churches have their own leaders, we are involved in helping and teaching at these congregations. So the ministry involves a lot of travel, averaging 5-6 nights a month away from my family. Also, since Haiti is such a poor country, a good portion of my time is spent dealing with diaconal needs, and then ensuring generators keep running, vehicles are in good condition, and fixing broken items around the home. I also coordinate and plan short-term teams that come from our OPC churches several times a year. These teams include pastors who train our local pastors and leaders, Vacation Bible School teams, and construction teams.
What are some particular challenges in your ministry or field of work that Westminster helped prepare you for?
One of the challenges of working in a foreign country is being away from ministry colleagues and resources. As you encounter difficult theological and practical questions, you don’t have easy access to others who might shed light on the answer. Even with modern communication methods, it is still difficult to have easy access to the wisdom of others as you encounter difficult cultural questions. And this holds true for other resources such as books. It is not only the difficulty of accessing materials for my own sermon and teaching preparation, but the fact that there are not many good Reformed resources available in French or Haitian Creole that we can pass on to our pastors, elders, and students. Westminster provided an education that was based on methods not just knowledge. I have a rich theological framework to sift questions through and come to a biblically-solid answer on my own.
Another challenge is helping a people who are very poor see the spiritual nature of our faith. We deal with lots of diaconal situations – some are valid needs and others are requests that come out of a culture that has learned to ask for things. The story behind the requests is not always true and it hard to tell when it is true or not. We certainly desire to help people with their physical needs but at the same time want them to deal with their spiritual need first, and to always keep their eyes firmly fixed in heaven, looking to their Savior Jesus Christ. Westminster taught me the grand redemptive story contained in all of Scripture. I have a message of hope for the lost and the saved because the Messiah has come and will come again.
As a missionary living in a foreign land, away from family and the life back home, you question the impact that has on your family life and children. My wife homeschools our children, and we are thankful for this road we began even before we moved to Haiti. There is no other educational option here, but our kids have been well equipped. We are thankful for the time we have together as a family. It has drawn us closer to each other and closer to our Savior. We are grateful that the sacrifices we make are being used by the Lord to grow us all in sanctification. We left family behind in 1998 to head to Westminster and enter full-time pastoral ministry. There we learned the blessing of the church family and fellowship with other believers from different walks of life and different nations. We learned the importance of friendship and the blessing of iron sharpening iron. We learned the joy of sacrifice and the need to live evangelistically in a solidly biblical way. The Biblical counseling courses have been a treasure trove on which to draw practical help for building our marriage and raising our children. What a blessing to share these life-changing principles with others!
Which professors and other relationships had the biggest influence on you at Westminster, and why?
The professor who had the most profound impact on me during my time at Westminster was Dr. Richard Gaffin. In God’s providence, he led us to an OPC congregation in Gwynedd Valley when we first moved to Philadelphia. It was there we met Dr. Gaffin and his wife Jean. The biggest impact for us was their godly life. It was wonderful to sit under Dr. Gaffin’s teaching and learn to carefully handle the Word of Truth. His classes, in particular, gave me the tools I needed to see the larger themes of the Bible and how it all fit together. But it was his teaching combined with a humble, godly witness that showed me what I wanted to be as a minister.
The other set of relationships that impacted me greatly were those made through the church at Gwynedd Valley OPC. Through many conversations, my understanding of Reformed theology and practice was solidified. I was so thankful for the encouragement of my gifts and opportunities to use them among the saints at Gwynedd Valley. It was through these relationships that my call to the ministry was confirmed along with my desire to use the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability. It was a blessing to do an internship with the guidance of this seasoned session and learn the day-to-day work of ministry.
I have developed many lasting friendships with other students, too. It is amazing to travel on furlough and encounter many brothers I studied with who are ministering across the country and globe.
I also worked on campus while I studied. This gave me an opportunity to interact with Westminster staff as well. It was a joy to work alongside godly men and women who had a desire to support my education by working for the seminary.
How can seminaries like Westminster continue to have a positive influence in your area of work, ministry or influence?
Westminster can continue to have a positive influence by doing what she has always done well. Train specialists in the Bible who can take the Word of God and preach it to the people of all nations. As a missionary, I have a special passion for taking the Gospel to all the nations of the world. We need more missionaries who are not only committed to a lifetime of service in another culture but also able to rightly divide the Word of truth. If other mission fields are anything like Haiti, the lack of Biblical understanding, particularly among those purporting to lead the churches, is very high. We need men who not only know the Scriptures and the Savior they speak of, but know the system of doctrine contained in the Bible.
What about your time at Westminster has left the biggest impact on you?
The greatest impact was the overall experience of being and learning at Westminster. To have time to set myself apart and study the Word under the tutelage of great Christian minds was incredible. Having time to interact with the Bible on so many different levels was life-changing. The studies were rigorous and challenging. My faith was bolstered and I learned to love my Savior more and more as I studied. My hope is that I am using this great gift to pass on what I have learned to others who haven’t had or may never have that opportunity to study, all for the Lord’s glory.
What five books would you recommend that students should read before they go into seminary?
- Called to the Ministry by Edmund Clowney
- The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges
- The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson
- Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock by Daniel Strange
- It Is Not Death to Die: A new biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty
How can the Westminster community pray for you, your family and your ministry in the weeks and months ahead?
First, pray for safety. Our family has enjoyed 11 years of ministry in Haiti where the country has been relatively stable and secure. The last 18 months, however, have seen increasing unrest and a deterioration of the security conditions. Pray particularly that these conditions will not hinder the work of the ministry.
Also, pray for our family. Amidst all the upheaval in Haiti, we are also going through a big transition in our family as our oldest two children headed off to college this year. Pray for Ethan and Emma as they study in Texas and Canada, respectively. We are grateful for the opportunity God has afforded them as well as good church homes. Pray for the separation that we are all keenly feeling.
Finally, pray that God would continue to raise up pastors and elders who can lead the Haitian Reformed church. We have been working hard in teaching and preaching. We desire the churches here to become self-governing and they can only do that through indigenous leadership. Plans for the formation of an indigenous Haitian presbytery have been postponed because of the unrest in Haiti. Pray plans could move forward.
The Hopp family had to make the unfortunate decision to evacuate Haiti once again on October 24. Ben and the family traveled back to Florida safely. Sadly the situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate and the roads continue to be blocked. They will spend some time back in the US and evaluate the situation in Haiti to plan a return. “It is always challenging to make wise decision with limited information,” Ben writes. “We are grateful that our God knows all things and holds us in the palm of His hand. Please continue to pray for the saints in the churches of Haiti. Pray they would not grow weary in well doing and would look to the Savior for hope. It is difficult to see a path forward humanly speaking but we serve a God who does all things well. Pray that the churches would not be hindered from worshiping and that their daily needs would be provided for.”