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Featured Articles

Terry’s Picks for April 2021

EVENTSThis is the column in which West Michigan Christian News writer Terry DeBoer surveys the landscape for the area's faith-inspired arts/entertainment/enrichment events over the coming month.

Already this month, slowly but surely, concerts and other events are opening up around West Michigan. Later spring and summer look even more promising. Here are a few to consider for April.

Coats That Transform into Sleeping Bags Handed Out

nbMel Trotter Ministries recently teamed up with Empowerment Plan and Chevrolet to hand out to homeless people 150 coats made from upcycled materials that transform into sleeping bags.

The coats are manufactured by parents experiencing homelessness in an effort to help these individuals achieve financial stability and independence for their whole family.

The initiative is part of a larger eight-city road trip, where Chevy and EP will deliver more than 700 coats to cities across the Midwest and Northeast.

Parent company General Motors is Empowerment Plan's longest standing corporate partner and has provided more than $1 million in funding as well as in-kind materials such as plastics and insulation to recycle into the coats

Jenison Pastor to Serve as Director of Candidacy

susanRev. Susan LaClear, discipleship and care pastor at Alive Ministries CRC in Jenison, has been tapped by the Council of Delegates of the Christian Reformed Church in North America to serve as director of Candidacy. LaClear has served on the Christian Reformed Candidacy Committee for the past six years. This synodically appointed standing committee sets ministry standards and oversees the nurture and training of persons preparing for ordained ministry in the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

LaClear says she has appreciated her time serving on this committee and has learned many valuable lessons under the leadership of the current director, Rev. David Koll, who is planning to retire at the end of June 2021.

Seminary President: Veer From ‘Either Or’ Thinking

veerCalvin Theological Seminary President Jul Medenblik cautioned pastors and church members in a recent email to veer from "either or" or" thinking during the ongoing days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Every church needs to develop their ministry in ways that fit their context and follow the unique calling that God has given them," wrote Medenblik, who served as a pastor for 16 years. "As I have listened to churches and pastors who are stressed by the challenges of ministry in a pandemic, I am concerned that many are confronting 'either/or' thinking.

"For example, those who are not ready to fully return to in-person church gatherings are sometimes labeled by others as "not trusting God enough" or letting the government tell us how and when we worship.

Hand2Hand Purchases Former Grocery Store

handtohandCheri Honderd, founder and executive director of Hand2Hand, a Christian nonprofit that has provided food to children on weekends since 2008, announced it has purchased a former Aldi grocery store in Jenison. The 15,600-square foot building at 306 Chicago Drive will house its headquarters, training and packing space and warehouse. Building renovations are projected to be completed by midsummer.

Area Ministers Receive ‘Shot of Love.’ Vaccine Will be Offered to all Michiganders Age 16 and Up Starting April 5

nbLeaders from 50 Kent County congregations volunteered to roll up their sleeves recently and received a "shot of love." Their solidarity was intended to show their communities they are walking the talk by receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at the West Michigan Vaccination Clinic at DeVos Place, which is a collaborative effort of Kent County, Spectrum Health, Mercy Health and Vaccinate West Michigan.

Staff from the Kent County Health Department, Spectrum Health, and Mercy Health Saint Mary's administered 100 vaccines to faith leaders who are leading volunteer efforts to vaccinate the socially vulnerable in Kent County.

Faith leaders likewise are committed to registering their members and community residents for vaccination. Over the next eight weeks, they will expand this work to include canvassing vulnerable neighborhoods across Kent County to register community residents for vaccination at local clinics.

Dramatic Turns on the Easter Message

Magnify Olympi surrenderThis year’s Magnify Church’s drama highlights an Olympic heroTwo of West Michigan's largest churches are offering some drama in their Easter weekend programs.

Both Central Wesleyan in Holland and Magnify Church in Rockford have added theatrical elements to several presentations, with fresh looks and deeper insights into the meaning of the season.

At Magnify (the former Blythefield Hills Baptist), worship arts director Vicki Modert says the script for the musical/drama "Olympic Surrender" continues the story of sprinter Eric Liddell following his victory at the 1924 Olympics. Liddell's true-to-life triumph was popularized in the 1981 feature film "Chariots of Fire."

Sus Manos Gleaners CEO: ‘We Want People to Know the Food is Not Coming From Americans’

san2The barrels of dehydrated produce Sus Manos Gleaners sends to countries where hunger is widespread always arrive with labels affixed to them. It's the Georgetown Township's Christian nonprofit way of communicating its deepest priority.

"We have labels that say 'in Christ name,'" says Jim Paauw, Sus Manos' board president and CEO. "We want people to know the food is not coming from Americans. We want people to know this is what Christians do in Christ's name."

Exploring the “Heart’s Wasteland”

Guerra Joe on stoolJoe GuerraWhen Joe Guerra read Isaiah 43:19, something clicked.

"It struck me that a lot of time we miss the things God is trying to teach us because we focus so much on the problem at hand rather than trusting His solution," said Guerra, a local Christian singer-songwriter and worship leader.

The biblical verse begins, "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"

Women of Influence: Beth Fisher

BFisherBeth FisherJob Title: Chief Growth Officer at Mel Trotter Ministries

Calling: Helping those who are undervalued, underserved, and under-resourced

Beth Fisher worked for 25 years in corporate sales, helping organizations automate their business processes. She loved it, but always felt a little pull elsewhere. Part of that pull pushed her to write her first book, "Remorseless: Learning to Lose Labels, Expectations, and Assumptions Without Losing Yourself," which came out in March 2020.

Creative Gifts Refreshed at “The Well”

Bruins Kathy preferred image“The Well” founder and conference co-director Kathy Bruins "Christian creatives" can look forward to the quenching streams of learning and inspiration at an upcoming spring conference in Byron Center, MI.

"A 'Christian creative' is a person who has been given a talent or gift to use for Kingdom purposes to glorify God," said conference co-director Kathy Bruins.

The April 23-24 conference with its "Quench" theme may be just the catalyst needed to take a creative leap.

Three years ago Victoria Chapin attended her first ever arts conference. "Not only did I learn valuable information for my creative journey, but I was moved spiritually," she said. The Zeeland, MI woman was so enthused she volunteered to be on the planning team for this year's event.

Losing a Language of the Christian Faith

rex99Dr. Rex M. RogersChristians are losing the language of our Christian faith.

This is happening in the public square and one could argue it's happening within the Church.

What I mean is, easily recognized and often used words and phrases that express Christian values are rapidly disappearing from everyday life. Vocabulary or analogies drawn from Scripture that were once common currency in American culture are at the edge of extinction.

Why does this matter? Well, if language is lost, our ability to communicate our ideas, values, and theology are lost. Our influence is lost. Our capacity for sharing and our ability to perpetuate the faith are lost.

GL Secures New Iron House

glm99Kentwood, Michigan, March 1, 2021 – In response to increased demand for its addiction recovery services, Guiding Light has secured a new Iron House in the City of Kentwood – its sixth sober-living apartment building.

The four-unit apartment building will increase the nonprofit's capacity to house men as they transition back into the mainstream of society after successfully completing the Foundation phase of Guiding Light's Recovery program. Remodeling work will soon begin on the newest Iron House, which will accommodate seven men.

The purchase was made possible by a generous gift of nearly $260,000 from a longtime donor who strongly believes in the Iron House model of supportive living as key to long-term recovery success.

40 Years and Counting: ‘God has kept us continually dependent on Him and expanded our vision.’ Elementary Teacher to Retire Full of Gratitude

pot2From left: Superintendent John Booy and 4th-5th-grade teacher Mark Van Zanten. “God went beyond what we could have imaged,” Booy says.After four decades of teaching hundreds of students, 4th-5th grade educator and co-founder of The Potter's House school, Mark Van Zanten, has decided the 2020-21 school year is his last. He's made his decision with heart full of gratitude.

"So many mornings I would get up and say, 'I love my job. I love my job,'" says Van Zanten, known throughout school as "Mr. Van" who turned 70 years old earlier this year. "I've got this fire in my belly. I can't wait to be here. I view myself as a rabbi. I'm learning myself. I just show them Jesus. There's so much to understand about His love, His compassion."

Another of the school's co-founders, Superintendent John Booy, isn't ready to call it quits.

Hinton Joins Guiding Light’s Board

hiltonKyle Hinton, a licensed marriage and family therapist addressing trauma, substance abuse, behavioral health and mental health, has joined Guiding Light's board of directors.

Hinton brings 30 years of experience working in mental health services and serving in leadership roles in higher education, nonprofit work and community involvement. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Hinton helps individuals work through a wide range of issues and create a new lifestyle of hope, health and life-changing opportunities.

Homeless Shelter, Degage’s Featured Life-size Photos of Homelessness

nbDowntown Grand Rapids homeless shelter Dégagé Ministries and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.'s World of Winter event recently offered Project Hope, a public exhibition at nine sites around the downtown Grand Rapids area that featured life-size photos and stories of homelessness and hope from Dégagé patrons.

Dégagé hopes to educate more of the Grand Rapids community on issues related to homelessness, as well as provide stories of hope from those the organization serves. Project Hope was on display through Friday, Feb. 26.

CRC Church Denounced as White Nationalist Congregation

crcThe Christian Reformed Church in North America Synod in 2019 decided Christ the King Reformed Church in Charlotte, Mich. should be deemed a heresy for being a white nationalist group that teaches Kinism.

Kinism opposes interracial marriage and teaches that races should be kept separate in racially pure "religio-ethnostates," supporting white supremacy. The CRC pastor in Charlotte has been dismissed from the denomination for espousing Kinism for many years while he and his congregation were part of the CRC.

Wedgwood Hosts Discussion on Pandemic’s Effects on Families

wedgeWedgwood Christian Services hosts an online panel discussion on March 23 at 4 p.m. that discusses the ongoing challenges local kids and their families face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel includes: Dr. Heidi Cate, Superintendent of Integrity Educational Services; Nicole Hansen, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids’ District Executive Director of Community Engagement & Youth Development; Eric Payne, Grand Rapids Chief of Police; Chris Rivera, Director of Wedgwood’s Substance Use Treatment Services; and Dr. Joel Sanchez, Wedgwood Christian Services’ Psychiatrist. Maranda of WOOD TV8/WOTV 4 will moderate the discussion. For more information and to register, visit wedgwood.org/sot.

Music Ministry Behind The Walls

WJ  ChuckWayburn Dean (l.) and wife Janae with Chuck Colson of Prison FellowshipA focus on prison ministry provided the inspiration for a new album by West Michigan singer-songwriter Wayburn Dean.

"The theme and the message of the songs is directed toward the prison population," said Dean from his Cascade-area home.

"We're addressing their needs, hurts and challenges to encourage them and hopefully bring them peace."

"Faithful" is the title of the new collection, released in January. Dean self-produced the project and co-wrote the songs with his wife Janae. They've been ministering to prisons and correctional facilities regularly for the past five years.

A Cross-Cultural Worship Journey

Simpson Jeremy studio shotRev. Jeremy Simpson was a guest preacher recently at Maple Ave. Ministries in Holland.Jeremy Simpson is a perfect advocate for multi-ethnic and cross-cultural worship ministry.

He's lived that role nearly his entire life.

Simpson, 35, is co-director of the Wesley Foundation, a student-based ministry which reaches persons of all faith backgrounds at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

But he has influence in hundreds of churches in his part-time role as a denomination-wide "worship catalyzer" for the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC).

Local Pastor Still “Igniting” Radio Airwaves

JR Kishen abnd Sherita EdwardsPictured are “Ignite Radio” co-hosts JR Pittman (center) and Kishen Newton (left) with on-air guest, Grace Christian University professor Sherita EdwardsGrand Rapids pastor JR Pittman has a multi-faceted ministry. At least one of them includes a hot beverage: "Coffee with Pastor JR."

"I just want to be accessible...to meet people and hear them out," said the pastor of Ignite Fellowship Church on Alpine Ave. NW. "I love conversation."

Conversation is a main ingredient in the most public of his ministries. Pittman is founder and co-host of "Ignite Radio," an on-air broadcast with a 10-year history of making community connections as well as spiritual ones.

The two-hour program (heard 3-5pm Sundays on the R&B-formatted 102.5FM "The Ride") continues its mixture of interviews, scripture, and gospel music
"The goal is live radio that's relevant with real people telling their real stories," said Pittman, who co-hosts with Kishen Newton.

"While people share their stories and their journeys, I'm able to sense where it is that the Holy Spirit wants to convey the gospel."

Let the Spirit Move You, Along with All That “Stuff”

Stocks. Bonds. Home. Cottage. Valuables.

If you're being thorough in planning for your eventual death, you're careful to include it all – right down to which nieces and nephews receive those treasured knick-knacks.

But will your final wishes recognize and reflect the religious or spiritual components that helped define your life?

"It's valuable to have a conversation not only about your stuff, but about the importance of your religion or your spirituality when it comes to end-of-life decisions," Carol Robinson stresses.

MTM Unveils Mobile Shower Unit

nbMel Trotter Ministries recently unveiled its new three-stall mobile shower unit, which will allow those experiencing homelessness to receive not only a hot shower, but dignity and compassion as well.

The mobile shower unit will be placed at strategic locations throughout the city where hygiene services are most needed. Mel Trotter Ministries, along with community partners including The Other Way Ministries, The Homeless Outreach Team and others feel strongly that being builders of relationships in the West Michigan community is paramount to helping unsheltered individuals with tangible needs such as hygiene.

Dégagé Ministries Names New Executive Director

degDowntown Grand Rapids homeless shelter Dégagé Ministries has named Thelma Ensink as executive director following the retirement of longtime executive director Marge Palmerlee.

Ensink brings a wealth of leadership experience with her to the executive role, most recently in positions with Grandville Calvin Christian Schools. Ensink is familiar with walking alongside the marginalized, which began when she was a young girl growing up in South Africa during apartheid and continued when she immigrated to the United States and worked as a paramedic in Grand Rapids for American Medical Response. It was her work as a paramedic that first introduced her to the patrons at Dégagé.

Terry's Picks February 2021

EVENTSThis is the column in which West Michigan Christian New writer Terry DeBoer surveys the landscape for the area's faith-inspired arts/entertainment/enrichment events over the coming month. This one goes beyond February to some events set for later this year...

Dignity Dwells at Homes Giving Hope for Special Needs Persons

rock1Homes Giving Hope is in Northeast Rockford.Nestled in a copse of trees in Northeast Rockford is a 4,000-square foot home where dignity resides.

This is where Homes Giving Hope (HGH) dwells, a Christian nonprofit Sara and Brian Boven and Kay Wood co-founded following the Bovens' purchase of the 23-acre property in December 2019 for persons with special needs. The woodsy area includes a former chapel whose downstairs now serves as office space.

Local Ties to New Film on Trafficking Plight

Trafficked movie posterThe new movie filmed in Michigan highlights the issue of human traffickingIt doesn't take long for actress Sophie Bolden to recall her most challenging scene in the film "Trafficked: A Parent's Worst Nightmare." It was the very first day of shooting for the movie, which was completed here in Michigan.

"My character (teenager Allison Riley) had just been kidnapped and she's in this new place and was being dragged down a stairway," said Bolden. "I was totally unprepared for how uncomfortable this story would be to put on film."

The trip down the stairway was the easy part. Much more difficult was the uncomfortable weight of the script based on actual true stories of young girls forced into the sex trade.

"Normally, a movie is all pretend," said Bolden, 21. "So even in scary or emotional scenes you can take yourself out of it 'cuz you tell yourself it's not real. But this scene was so many young girls' stories...I wasn't playing pretend anymore."

Two Profound Questions: What Think Ye of Christ? How Should We Then Live?

rex99Dr. Rex M. RogersWe ask, or we are asked, many questions in life. Among the most important questions we engage might be, “Will you marry me?”

In a traditional sense, ladies wait for men to “pop the question,” and guys think her first thought was, “Yes,” when actually, it probably was, “Well, it’s about time!”

Or maybe the guy is a cautious one, so he sneaks up on the issue, asking, “If I ask you to marry me, will you?” He dips his toe in the water to see what her reaction might be before committing.

But either way, we probably agree these are more important, life-changing questions than “What do you want for dinner tonight?”

There are at least two other questions in Scripture that demand our response.

Behind the Closing Doors: (part 2)

Rev Andrew DeBraber at frinal serviceRev. Andrew De Braber addresses an empty sanctuary at the final service at Comstock Park Cong-UCCRev. Andrew DeBraber had a calm and rather solemn look as he rose to begin this special church worship service.

"Hear and believe this good news," he said. "Our help is in the name of our God who is continually making and re-making heaven and earth."

It was the opening of the closing service of Comstock Park Congregational-United Church of Christ.

Sunday November 22, 2020 was the official end date for this historic church on Lamoreaux Dr. NE whose roots go back more than a century.

Two Area Pastors Offer Readers New Books

Mike Head ShotRev. Michael WittmerOne retired pastor and one newly-minted pastor have each written new books that offer readers both information and inspiration.

Rev. Michael Wittmer, newly named as pastor of Cedar Springs Baptist Church, has recently released "The Bible Explainer: Questions and Answers on Origins, The Old Testament, Jesus, the End Time, and More," published by Barbour.

The full-color volume is packed with 250 questions that answer just about every question possible about the Bible, from "When did God create the world?" to "What is the Abrahamic Covenant?" from "What do we know about Jesus' early years?" to "What is faith?"

Where Does Your Spiritual TripTik Take You?

vernbCouples spend decades doing everything together until declining health prompts a move into an assisted living facility. They take turns caring for one another as their health ebbs and they prepare for their final journeys.

As a spiritual caregiver for Emmanuel Hospice, Pastor Vern Bareman regularly visits couples in this situation. His conversations with spouses of patients who have recently died can swing from profound grief to gratitude that the struggles have ended.

"Some of our patients are ready to go, while others are fighting to hang on to life," Bareman says. "Coming to terms with letting go can be hard for both patients and their families."

Multiply222 Takes its Cue From 2 Timothy 2:2: Entrusting Qualified Teachers to Disciple Others

Bob-New Bob Crow: “If you’re not passing it on, you’re missing the point.”The statistics reveal what's at stake. Up to 85 percent of churches in North America have plateaued or are in decline while about 23 percent of the nation's population say they are not affiliated with any religion, otherwise known as the "nones." This is sobering news, but instead of waving the white flag, the Multiply222 Network has a plan.

Correction: the Word of God has a plan that the ministry seeks to birth in others, says Bob Crow, Multiply222's chief development officer.

Behind the Closing Doors

Comstock Park Cong uccThe Comstock Park church before its closing last November.There are many factors involved in a church closing. Similar threads wind their way around the tales of those which find themselves coming to an end.

But each church has its own story.

So it is with Comstock Park Congregational-United Church of Christ on Lamoreaux Dr. NE, just up the hill a bit from West River Dr. The church closed its doors last November, the final chapter in a 110-year lifetime.

Paul Sommer, the church's historian, can fill you in on details. But the meandering story takes a while to tell.

Benckhuysen appointed director of CRC Safe Church Ministry

safechurchThe executive committee of the Council of Delegates voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Amanda Benckhuysen to the position of director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Benckhuysen previously served as professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary. She also taught at the University of Dubuque (Iowa) Theological Seminary and was a campus minister at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Coalition transforms former Purple East into warming center, overnight shelter

warmA coalition of community, nonprofit and business leaders has joined forces to provide safe emergency shelter for residents of the Heartside neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness.

An alliance led by Mel Trotter Ministries and Guiding Light, the city of Grand Rapids and Kris Elliott of Evergreen Companies, has leased space at 250 Ionia Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids to accommodate what experts are saying could be as many as 100 adults nightly seeking housing in the coming months.

Work has begun to transform the space, which is the former Purple East tobacco shop, into a warming center and overnight shelter for those experiencing homelessness, many of whom are currently staying in tents in Heartside Park and other locations around the city.

Back to Work program receives $20,000 grant

glmbackGuiding Light recently received for the third consecutive year a $20,000 grant from the SpartanNash Foundation that will help support the nonprofit's Back to Work program.

The SpartanNash Foundation has provided a total of $70,000 to the nonprofit since 2016. Back to Work provides a short-term stay for men who are experiencing homeless and seeking full-time employment, along with support for their job searches.

Love is the Way

loveBishop Michael Curry is an Episcopal Pastor from N. Carolina. His name may be familiar to you because he performed the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Since that time, he has spent his time preaching and writing. In his new book, Love is the Way: Holding on to the Hope in Troubling Times, he stresses the importance of relationships and community. He is culturally literate, and many of the people he refers in to his book are other writers. I would love to see his library.

Acton Institute: new walls being erected

actonConservative think tank the Acton Institute recently marked its 30th anniversary by reflecting on the significance of the Berlin Wall falling in 1989. These days, new walls are being erected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, wrote Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico in a letter to supporters.

"Thirty years hence, the most momentous thing seared into our memoires may well be the pandemic, not only in terms of the scores who have succumbed to the virus and the attendant misery and suffering of loved ones, but also the unintended consequences of political leaders in their actions and policies to combat it," wrote Sirico.

Terry's Picks January 2021

EVENTSThis is the column in which West Michigan Christian web writer Terry DeBoer surveys the landscape for the area's faith-inspired arts/entertainment/enrichment events over the coming month. It looks like we're still going virtual......

Diversity In Culture and the Church

rex99Dr. Rex M. RogersDiversity and inclusiveness are mantras of the new religion of political correctness. Not that these values are necessarily bad or wrong in themselves. Diversity can be a good thing. So can inclusiveness, if you aren't tossing aside morality when you use the term.

Certainly, diversity is a watchword of our culture today. One's demography is now destiny. News stories of appointments to government offices lead with the gender, race or ethnicity, maybe sexual orientation of the appointee before they report the professional credentials and accomplishments that hopefully justify the appointment. Identity politics, as it's called, has become a part of the "acceptable narrative" of currently ascendant ideology.

Long before the present-day, actually some two thousand years ago, God ordained something called the church, understood in lower case as a local body of believers (and usually non-believers as well), and capitalized as, the Church, the trans-cultural, trans-country, trans-time Body of Christ, the universal Church, the Family of God.

Merry Christmas

christmassign2editedI don't know how many times over the last year I have heard someone say, "This has been a year like none other". We agree, and we are excited because there are opportunities to lead eyes upwards like never before.

The faces of many people show the discouragement, frustration, anger and the deep sense of questioning that is in their lives. This makes for good soil to sow seed into during these uncertain times.

Those We Lost in 2020

2020This is the time of year we see news-feature lists of celebrities and other notables who passed away during the last 12 months. We thought it might be appropriate to remember some Christian music artists and others who entered eternity during this year who might not have made those other lists.

*Dr. Rance Allen – The gospel music singer-songwriter was a founding pastor at a Toledo, OH church, yet had a decades-long recording and performing ministry. His first album with his Rance Allen group came in 1972.

One of his long time friends was Grand Rapids-native pastor/music artist Marvin Sapp. Upon learning of Allen's death, Sapp noted that Allen was present at many of Sapp's milestone moments. "From the Stellar Awards giving me an award for (Sapp's song) "Best in Me" to my Inaugural Bishop's Banquet (in Grand Rapids). Every year I came to your church just to celebrate you as bishop, pastor and (your) musically anointed gift." Allen died Oct. 31 at age 71.
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