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Featured Articles

New Music Review: Debra Perry & Majestic Praise

Debra Perry  CD CoverWest Michigan's multi-talented Debra L. Perry and her ensemble Majestic Praise have a new, praise-filled recording showcasing a mixture of styles.

"Conqueror" takes hold with its ear-grabbing title track featuring syncopated percussion and lyrical phrasing right from the scriptures.
Perry includes numerous Grand Rapids area musicians whom she has worked with through the years. The Bethel Seventh Day Adventist Choir contributes on "You Are God." A GRPS music teacher, Perry singles out the Coit Creative Arts Academy Honors Choir in "Look At Me Now" with a danceable sound and a bit of hip-hop style lyric.

Pastor-Author Affirms Generosity is God’s Intended Super Power for Humankind

Laura Sumner Truax Cutline No. 1Rev. Laura Sumner Truax: “When we start to live generously, we start to uncover the truth.” Most pastors would perform a celebrative dance if their church received a $1.6 million windfall, but the bonanza initially proved to be a time of spiritual hand-wringing for Rev. Laura Sumner Truax, senior pastor of LaSalle Street Church, a 300-member nondenominational congregation in downtown Chicago.

"I remember feeling so apprehensive," said Sumner Truax, guest speaker Jan. 11 at Calvin College's annual January Series. "I wondered would we survive this blessing. We were facing some pretty big church challenges. We had a big hole in our budget that was growing in a neighborhood that was rapidly gentrifying. We always had bigger dreams than we could ever fill. There were lots of pressure points around us."

Critter Barn a Gem that Teaches Public ‘Miracles’ of the Farm

Critter Barn Cutline No. 1(from left): The late Florence Henderson and Critter Barn executive director Mary Rottschafer with the Christmas Bunny. Mary Rottschafer compares her three-acre farm to a precious stone that offers the public year-round lessons in agriculture, compassion, life and death and yes, even a front-row seat to miracles.

Just don't make the mistake of calling Rottschafer's Critter Barn, 9275 Adams Street in Zeeland, a petting zoo.

"I feel there's a gem here that unfortunately society doesn't have much access to," said Rottschafer, the Critter Barn's founder and executive director.

"The Critter Barn is a educational farm that teaches children agriculture, how our food is raised and how creation sustains us because that was the plan from the Garden of Eden," continued Rottschafer. "We minister to a lot of children who are less fortunate or are challenged. We give God the glory for the farming community and help kids experience the miracles of the farm, which are unlimited in number throughout the year."

Terry’s Picks: January 2018

EVENTSWest Michigan Christian News writer Terry DeBoer surveys the landscape for the area's faith-based arts and entertainment events over the coming month. Here are three highlights for January:

Winter Jam Veterans Return for 2018

Jason Roy 2nd from right and Building 429Jason Roy (2nd from right) and Building 429Jason Roy and his band Building 429 know the rhythms of the road on the giant Christian music tour called Winter Jam.

"We've done this tour five or six times," recalled Roy during a recent phone interview. "And every time it has felt like the fans are a great big family and are really fired up."

Since the late 1990s Winter Jam has played large venues across the country, including more than a decade's worth of shows at Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena. With 10 music artists, an inspirational speaker and a modest at-the-door admission charge, the tour has played to as many at 700,000 persons annually.

The (Real) Christmas Story

dan seabornDon't let the title fool you. This article isn't about BB guns, Chinese food, or someone's tongue getting stuck on a metal pole. I'd like to talk about the real Christmas story. The one about Jesus.

The story of Mary and Joseph is incredible for a number of reasons. For example, consider how Mary finds out that she is going to have a baby. She's visited by an angel of the Lord who reveals that she will become pregnant through a divine action. She's only about 13 years old and is engaged to Joseph who is probably in his late teens. Joseph learns about the pregnancy but initially he doesn't know about the spiritual intervention.

Therefore, he thinks Mary's been unfaithful to him because he knows he's not been with her. He's left with a tough decision to make. If he accepts Mary's pregnancy, the community will say that he's broken the law by sleeping with her prior to marriage. If he publicly divorces her, he runs the risk that she'll be stoned to death for adultery. Out of compassion, he considers divorcing her privately and not making it a public issue. While he is contemplating his decision, he is also visited by an angel of the Lord who tells Joseph he should go through with the wedding and not be afraid.

Bout With Brain Cancer Kindles New Mission: ‘I Shall Not Die But Declare the Works of the Lord’

Donna Hill Cutline No. 1-1“There’s power when people are connected by similar circumstances. We give Scripture and encouraging words to each other.” There was a time when Donna Hill was tentative talking to strangers about Christ. A bout with brain cancer that kindled a deeper move of the Holy Spirit has engendered her with a new mission.

"I have a testimony now that's great and I'm not ashamed to share it with people who will listen," said Hill, 68. "If I see someone who doesn't have hair (because of chemotherapy treatments), I'm not intimated to go up to them. I just share how God got me through my battle and He can get them through it too, and one of these days they'll have hair again just like me."

Hill initially assumed she had suffered a stroke in March 2015 when her husband of 48 years, Ron, drove her to Mercy Health Southwest Campus (formerly St. Mary's) in Byron Center.

Instead, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that resulted in a malignant tumor confined only in her brain.

New Music Review: "Give It Up"

Jeremy Hoekstra Give it Up EP CoverJeremy Hoekstra has a new seven-song collection centered on a theme of finding God's grace anew by letting go and looking beyond temporal circumstances. The collection is aptly titled "Give It Up."

Hoekstra, contemporary worship director at First Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, features pop-rock settings for his inspirational lyrics. Some of the words are directly addressed to God, carrying Psalm-like strains of worship.

The highlight there is "Your Love." Beginning at a slower tempo, the song builds to an anthem-esque climax before offering its final, simple prayer, "Lead me out of darkness into your great light."

Hudsonville Christian School Marks 100th Year With Bright Future

Hudsonville Christian School Cutline No. 1Superintendent Dan Pott stands among artifacts collected in Hudsonville Christian School’s 10-decade history. Hudsonville Christian School (HCS) is in the throes of celebrating its 100th year of educating students from a Reformed perspective. Enrollment numbers and parents' comments indicate the preschool through 8th school's future will continue to shine brightly, said Superintendent Dan Pott.

"There's a real resurgence in people wanting a Christian education," said Pott. "We want to be an academic school and we want to be a school that does best practices, but we also want to make sure this is distinctively Christian."

Grant and Smith Together Again for Holiday Season

Michael W Smith-Amy Grant Christmas 20172Michael W Smith and Amy Grant team up for a Christmas tour. Singer-songwriter Amy Grant says her Christmas tour with fellow artist Michael W. Smith is a combination of numerous elements that bring the holiday season together.

"It's not artist-focused, it's message-focused," said Grant during a phone interview before a tour performance in Kennewick, Wash. "There's something about these Christmas concerts that is very galvanizing as the audience connects with each other and with the people on stage."

Local Author Addresses Social Issues Through Animals in Her New Books

Dawn-34Dawn M. Thompson, author of Barnyard Bully, Double Trouble, and the upcoming Sedwick the Seagull—scheduled for release in early 2018—has been writing since she was young. "I began writing as a child," Thompson said. "It was something I loved, and something I felt God wanted me to do."

Even though she had been writing for so long, Thompson didn't publish anything until Barnyard Bully in 2016. Thompson said she would get 90 percent of the way through a project and then move on to something new. After attending writers conferences she decided to begin looking into marketing and self publishing. She learned a lot from the internet—and from self-published author friends who made mistakes for Thompson to learn from—and published Barnyard Bully.

Model and Local Author Create New Book that Addresses Core Issues Women Face

Reitz YouAreBeautiful HCAshley Reitz seemed to have it all: an active modeling career, traveling all over the world, and starring on FOX's reality television show Coupled. But for this "curve model," it wasn't enough.

Now Reitz reveals her life-long struggle with body image, self doubt and insecurity in her new book "You Are Beautiful: A Model Makeover from Insecure to Confident in Christ," recently released by FaithWords.

"When I was in high school, there were certain themes that kept popping up in my life, things I struggled with. I felt God tugging on my heart and felt I'd go into women's ministry at some point in my life," said Reitz, who is moving from Florida back to Michigan, where she grew up, this month.

Lakeshore Author Pens, Illustrates Christmas Picture Book

snowglobeCatie Cordero is many things: chicken owner, blogger, fiction writer, mom, wife, actress. With the release of her new book comes another title: children's book author. The Magic Snow Globe is a children's picture book about Willow and Wendell Potter and their journey of discovery of what Christmas is really about.

Cordero was inspired to write The Magic Snow Globe by the rise of the internet and smartphones, and the effect of both on kids' imaginations.

"I see a trend happening where young children are on their phones or tablets and are constantly bombarded by technology. Whatever happened to people just reading?" Cordero said. She made this observation many times, to which her husband responded, "What are you going to do about it?" Thus, The Magic Snow Globe was born.

Terry’s Picks: December 2017

EVENTSWest Michigan Christian News writer Terry DeBoer surveys the landscape for the area's faith-based arts and entertainment events over the coming month. Here are three highlights for December's Christmas season. Others are mentioned in his earlier article.

A Time to Say Thanks

dan seabornA few years ago many retailers started the tradition of opening their doors on Thanksgiving. Black Friday was no longer enough of a jump start on holiday profits. These stores offer such magnificent deals that even the most loyal Thanksgiving proponents consider sneaking away for a chance to buy that big screen TV at a ridiculously low price. Every year it seems a petition goes around on Facebook to stop these retailers, but so far that has not been successful.

I'm not writing this article to settle any debates, but rather my goal is to talk about the meaning of this day for you and your family. Maybe it will help you decide whether you should shop till you drop or give in to a tryptophan-induced nap on Thanksgiving Day.

“It’s Beginning to Sound A Lot Like…….”

Hark Up Horns Big BandThe Hark Up Horns Big Band It's time again for our annual Christmas concert preview. And as usual there are plenty of seasonal events to choose from.

The "season" actually backs up into November, but this listing will concentrate on those which actually occur in December.

The month starts up with a blast from "Hark Up" with four performances Fri-Sun Dec. 1-3 at DeVos Center for Arts and Worship at Grand Rapids Christian High School.

Safe Haven Ministries Expands Role in Battling Domestic Abuse

Executive Director Megan HopkinsExecutive director Megan Hopkins displays a rendering of Safe Haven Ministries’ future facility. Safe Haven Ministries (SHM) has provided a refuge for women and children who've fallen prey to domestic abuse for nearly 30 years.

Building on its wide-ranging approach to solving emotional, spiritual, physical and financial abuse and sexual assault are new initiatives intended to amplify its capacity to provide hope and healing to those maltreated.

New executive director

Megan Hopkins was tapped as SHM's new executive director, a role she's held as interim executive director since May.

College Choir Spreading Music of the Gospel

Gospel Choir led by Nate GlasperNate Glasper directs the Calvin College Gospel ChoirNate Glasper Jr. has watched the Calvin College Gospel Choir blossom in new ways in first year as leader of the ensemble.

"When I started as director (in July of last year) there were 38 members," recalled Glasper during a recent interview. "And this year that has grown to 67." (The Calvin group presents its annual fall concert at 3 p.m. Sun. Nov. 19 - see details below).

“The Garden” A Focus For Singer Kari Jobe

Jobe Kari singing at the 2017 Dove AwardsKari Jobe performs at the 2017 Dove Awards The inspirational theme for Kari Jobe's latest album points to the view outside her home's back window.

"The Garden," centered by its vulnerable yet hopeful title song, captures an emotional journey which culminates in the realization of God's healing of the soul. (Jobe brings her musical tour featuring "The Garden" to 20 Monroe Live on Sun. Nov. 12 – see details below).

"My sister and I were pregnant at the same time – she was a few months ahead of me," recalled Jobe, 36, from her Nashville area home.

Terry's Picks: November 2017

EVENTSWest Michigan Christian News writer Terry DeBoer offers some suggestions for faith-based arts/entertainment and enrichment events over the coming month. Here are his three picks for November:

Smashburger Manager Credits Mel Trotter, God’s Peace for Straight and Narrow Life

Tony Johnson No. 1Tony Johnson: “I made it because I surrendered.” Tony Johnson represents a "first" for Mel Trotter Ministries (MTM). He is the first former resident of this multifaceted ministry to the homeless who serves as a trustee on its Board of Directors.

"I made it because I surrendered; God changed my life," said Johnson. "I'm blessed. To surrender your will means taking yourself out. There's no pride, no arrogance. I serve the King."

Then, without hesitation, Johnson recites Proverbs 3 5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

Avoid the Mulligan Mentality

dan seabornIn the game of golf, if a player hits a shot poorly, at times he or she is allowed to take a gimme. Officially, it's called a Mulligan—the first shot is disregarded completely, like it never happened in the first place.

I worked with teens for many years, and in that time, one of the most frustrating aspects of my job was dealing with parents who had a Mulligan mentality, moms and dads who were using their kids' lives to make up for the past. It was as if the sons and daughters were do-over's—I really sliced that first one, but I'll aim better this time around.

Doves a New Spotlight for West Michigan Artist

Malcolm S perf at 2017 Doves w HollynSteve Malcolm (center) performs at the Oct. 17 Dove Awards in Nashville Grand Rapids native and hip-hop/rap artist Steven Malcolm didn't win any of the three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards for which he was nominated.

But the experience of the Oct. 17 award ceremonies and surrounding activity left a strong impression.

"Last night was like a dream," he posted to Facebook followers the day after the Dove festivities.

Panel Reviews Lessons Learned From Segregated Christian School

Panel 1From left: Johnathan Bradford, Chris Meehan, Rev. Duane VanderBrug and Rev. Reggie Smith. Denominational mores and entrenched racism yielded to scriptural inclusiveness following black parents' struggle during the turbulent 1960s to enroll their children in a segregated Christian school in Cicero, Ill, a suburb of Chicago.

The effort to unsuccessfully integrate Timothy Christian School — and the scriptural lessons learned from the fracas — was recounted at a recent panel discussion held at Calvin College's Chapel.

The 1960s dust up eventually birthed the CRC's Office of Race Relations.

Here Comes the Bill

dan seabornSummer is a big season for weddings and it seems like our society has lost perspective on the price of nuptials. I recently learned that couples in New York are spending as much money on their wedding day as they would to buy a small house in the Midwest. That's what a survey by the website TheKnot.com revealed. The average wedding in New York costs around $77,000, while the cheapest place to get married is Alaska at an average cost of $15,000. Brides spend around $1,200 on a wedding dress while grooms only pay about $230 for their tux. The average cost of a wedding cake is about $560. It's no wonder that the cost of weddings has skyrocketed and why weddings are a 50 billion dollar a year industry.

Children’s Story Gaining Support to Take Flight

LuluBook CoverThe tale of a young African girl's trek to get clean water is whimsically told and illustrated in the forthcoming book "Lulu and the Long Walk."

"What I love about this story is that it allows parents to engage with their child on a serious topic in a lighthearted way," explained Joel Schoon-Tanis, the Holland-based artist who did the colorful pictures in the 32-page book.

The underlying topic is the lack of clean water in rural Africa. That circumstance forces many residents to travel long distances each day for a basic need that we take for granted.

The Story Behind Her Art Tells Tale of Paying it Forward

Karen PetchauerKaren Petchauer stands near the two pencil drawings she created for ArtPrize Nine. The two color pencil drawings Karen Petchauer drew for ArtPrize Nine contrasts what Degage Ministries' building looked like in 1928 when it was the Moose Lodge and how it appears today.

But there's more to her artistic renderings than meets the eye when they were displayed on Degage's windows at 144 S. Division Ave. during the international art competition that ran from Sept. 20 to Oct. 8.

The drawings are homage to Degage Ministries when Petchauer found herself homeless and in need of positive ways to rebuild her life.

New Music Review: "Close"

MarvinSapp Close album cvr-hiGrand Rapids pastor and national gospel music artist Marvin Sapp celebrated the arrival of his 11th solo album with a listening party at his church in his hometown.

Sapp performed some of the songs on the new "Close" CD on Sept. 29 to several hundred fans and friends at Lighthouse Full Life Center Church on Madison Ave. SE.

Restoring News Media’s Credibility Must Happen Soon; Here’s How to Fix it, Urges Journalist

Mollie Hemingway Mollie Ziegler Hemingway: “I would love to see the media repair our damaged credibility and I think it could happen and I wish it could happen soon.”The mainstream news media is long overdue for some serious soul searching, a journalist said at a recent Acton Institute Speaker Series.

The Acton Institute, 98 E. Fulton St. in downtown Grand Rapids, is a think tank whose mission is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, spoke recently to a capacity audience inside the Acton Institute's Mark Murray Auditorium. She said the media repeatedly demonstrates it is out of touch with the time-honored values of the majority of its dwindling audience that looks askance at the veracity of its reporting.

Grand Rapids Church “Outstanding Venue” Finalist at Art Prize

bloodline“Bloodline” is an Art Prize 3-D finalist displayed at Monroe Community Church. An Art Prize juror called it "a perfect surprise" and "a breath of fresh air."

Monroe Community Church on Monroe Ave NW just north of downtown Grand Rapids is one of five finalists for the Art Prize "Outstanding Venue" award. Juror Larry Ossei-Mensah selected the finalists from among 170 venues participating in the annual arts competition, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city each year.

"As far as we can tell, we're only the second church ever to be recognized with this 'shortlist" designation," said Steve Fridsma, the church's Art Prize team leader.

New President Eyes a First for Kuyper College

Patricia HarrisDr. Patricia Harris: “It’s obviously a challenge but God will be glorified and our students will flourish.” When Dr. Patricia "Patti" Harris becomes Kuyper College's fifth president Oct. 12, it will mark a milestone in the school's 78-year history.

Harris also will become the first female to helm the school — or perhaps not.

According to Harris, who's been Kuyper's provost since 2013, that distinction should go to Johanna Timmer, who founded the newly formed Reformed Bible Institute in 1939 — later renamed Reformed Bible College and now Kuyper College.

Local Artist’s Song Takes On Serious Issue

Kali Joy - bridgeKali Joy has premiered her new music video.Singer-songwriter Kali Joy's new song carries a somber confession: "If I hadn't met you, I'd be dead right now."

The delicate ballad faces the issue of suicide, and how God can use caring friends to intervene in a troubled life.

The artist said she started writing the song two years ago after a conversation with a friend.

Art Prize Tree Provides Biblical Connection

Trees Will ClapThere's at least one entry in this year's Art Prize in Grand Rapids that brings a scripture verse to life.

It's a large, tree-like sculpture that actually gives forth the sounds of applause, echoing the refrain of Isaiah 55:12, "....the trees of the field will clap their hands."

"That verse has always been a favorite of mine," said Dave Vander Molen of Grandville, creator of the wood, metal and plexiglass work.

"I love that image of a tree....it has spoken to me for a number of years."

Thinking about Vern: A Personal Reflection on the Late Vern Ehlers

vernVernon J. Ehlers was a scientist, educator, politician, photographer and gardener. But after the August 15, 2017 passing of the former West Michigan Congressman, I reflected on a special connection I felt with this gifted man that resurfaced throughout the years.

Any formal biography of Ehlers lists his hometown as Pipestone, a city in southwest Minnesota. Actually, that's the location of the hospital where he was born and the county seat where birth records are kept. His "real" hometown was in nearby Edgerton, a small Minnesota community of around 700 at his 1934 birth.

Northeast-side Congregations Partner to Form One Church with Two Campuses

northvewThe auditorium of the Northview campus of BHBC was completely renovated.Blythefield Hills Baptist Church in Rockford and Northland Baptist Church in the Northview area are coming together in a partnership in which Northland becomes the Northview campus of Blythefield Hills (BHBC).

"We've been in the process of extending ourselves to befriend and partner with a number of churches, particularly smaller churches that don't have as many resources," said lead pastor Matt Zania. "We opened the door to a relationship with Northland; Ben Phebus, the pastor, open the door to a multisite partnership."

Sunday, September 17, is the official kickoff of the new partnership, with long-time BHBC pastor Don Pearson taking on the role of Northview campus pastor.

Mission India’s New Location Signals ‘God is in This Whole Project’

Mission India No. 1Mission India’s new address is 1142 44th St. SE, Kentwood.Next year will mark a milestone for Mission India when it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Another high point arrived sooner when the nonprofit recently relocated from its Grandville location to a 9,500-square foot building in Kentwood at 1142 44th St. SE.

Its new digs equate to about 500-square more space where a staff of 42 work at what is Mission India's world headquarters; another nine regional directors work off-site.

"We could have renewed the lease (in Grandville) but we wanted to see what was available," said Mike Jackson, Mission India's vice president of finance and administration. "This one came up here and in the right price range for us."

Eerdmans Announces Fall Warehouse Sale

erd25Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company opens the warehouse doors for its first Fall Warehouse Sale on Sept. 8-9, inviting buyers to take advantage of deep discounts on many Eerdmans titles.

"We invite people to shop in our warehouse and see what's in there, and also visit the bookstore to see the specials there," said Scott Watson, bookstore manager.

Hundreds of titles will be 60-80 percent off, and all Eerdmans titles will be at least 50 percent off, Watson said. The bookstore's usual discount of 20 percent will apply to books by other publishers.

Diagnosis: In-Law Syndrome

dan seabornOnce again, cold and flu season is again about to be overcome by a mysterious disease. This new disorder is caused from marriages that have occurred over the summer. It is typically the busiest bridal season.

All of this means one key thing: there's a whole new batch of parents out there who are going to be newly exposed to the life-threatening grips of In-law Syndrome.

In-law Syndrome (ILS) is a unique disease that appears in parents whose children are married. Parents whose children are unmarried seem to be largely unaffected by ILS; however, in some instances the onset of the disease is premature, brought on when a child gets engaged, begins dating, or (in most severe cases) develops a crush on that other kid in the playpen.

Roosevelt Park Ministries Offers Labyrinth of Services

roosBree Bode is RPM’s program director and Steven Drewry is its executive director. There are some very good reasons why Roosevelt Park Ministries' moniker is in the plural.

Since it's founding 21 years ago by the former Roosevelt Park Community Christian Reformed Church in partnership with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, RPM has grown to include 25 programs. Services range from employment help, to counseling and legal services, to youth development, community enrichment and tax services, as well as support services, such as translation of documents.

Baker Book House Sees Huge Growth in Popular Summer Reading Program

bakersummerThe Baker Book House children's summer reading program grew by nearly 30 percent over last year. The 1,168 children participated in the Adventures in Michigan program, which encouraged learning about the state and included a good number of local authors reading at story times throughout the summer.

"We've never had a summer reading program quite this large before," said Becca Niswonger, hospitality coordinator for the store.

One of the most popular events was the Cars party, where kids could build and decorate "cars" from boxes and sit in them while they watched the movie Cars. Susie Finkbeiner, mother of three summer reading program participants, said, "It tapped into their creativity. They got to make the cars into their own personality by adding bumper stickers!"

New Music Review: Kenneth Henderson

Kenneth Henderson - Everything I Got - CD coverArtist: Kenneth Henderson Album: “Everything I Got”Local worship leader/music artist Kenneth Henderson has some new songs to share in his latest effort, "Everything I Got."

The three-song EP is highlighted by the anthem "Worship 'til Heaven." With its crisp background vocals and instrumental flourishes, it's a masterfully-arranged and performed invitation to praise.

The title song "Everything I Got" begins as a slower ballad, but builds as the lyrics echo the scriptural challenge to give "my life as a living sacrifice."

New Music Review: Ty Gonzalez

GonzArtist: Ty Gonzalez (Gonz) Album: “Big League Dreaming”Baseball references abound in the latest project from West Michigan-based hip-hop/rap artist Ty Gonzalez (Gonz).

"Big League Dreaming" takes listeners on a tour through his youthful goal of sports heroism to his newer pursuit of musically communicating gospel truth.

The title track's music video (online) visually tells the story. Raps such as "Triple Crown" and "No Shame" carry the baseball metaphor. But "Bottom of the Ninth" actually reveals his new passion: "...It's time to rap, ain't nobody stop me....walk and not be faint, like an eagle I soar..."
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