Mount Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania to be exact. At 19,340-feet high, it's the world's 7th highest mountain.
Lanting, 29, scaled the inactive volcano in early August to financially support Carol Springs, Ill.-based Growing Hope Globally's ongoing agricultural training for struggling farmers in Kenya, Africa. She was joined by a small cadre of climbers.
Now in its 26th year, BOTS is a confluence of students of all ages, clergy, school administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, community leaders, elected officials, bus drives and whoever else may come, to join in the unity of prayer, said Veruynca Williams, who founded BOTS.
Live music, dance and encouraging words are also in the mix.
"I remembered the experience of having my first son, Steven, back in England in 1984. I was overwhelmed but also full of joy," she said. "I went to sleep with Steven in the cot by my bed, and had a dream that I was flying through air in the dark. I flew to the top of a roof and sat there swinging my feet with joy. The moon and stars were twinkling and full of joy too. I felt as if all creation rejoiced with me."
The veteran Christian pop-rock band faced a mountain of uncertainty in 2015 when co-founder, lead singer and chief songwriter Matt Hammitt announced he was leaving the group.
"We had seen it coming, but we really didn't talk about it," recalled drummer Mark Graalman during a recent interview. "For myself, I just assumed it would all be done. Matt was such a major part and the signature of the band," he said of the group's history from its mid 1990s start.
But now it's 2019 and Sanctus Real is very much alive. The band has built on its previous catalog, releasing its second full album with new lead singer Dustin Lolli.
The revamped group visits Michigan several times in the coming days- July 27 at a one-day festival in Leonidas and Aug. 9 at the Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon
"It's not a matter of 'if,'" Toby would say each time this reporter asked him about getting back together.
"It's just a matter of 'when.'"
The trio of artists – Toby McKeehan, Kevin Max and Michael Tait – had a terrific run through the decade of the 1990s: Four Grammy Awards, more than a dozen Dove Awards, and sales of more than 7 million albums.
"They can expect to be equipped, educated and inspired by their biblical calling," said VandePol, whose husband of 22 years, Los Angeles firefighter Bob Ortega, died in 2005.
Finding their calling
"I start Friday night and close the weekend on Sunday morning on what God's Word says about widows and their place," said VandePol. "Their (widows) stories are so painful to hear but when widows find out they have a calling and take that protocol to their church. They grab onto that."
Since her husband's duty-related death, VandePol is helping families whose first-responder family members died cope with their loss.
Someone recently approached us and said, "Every time I turn on my computer, I see your ads." What an encouragement that was to us, and just a confirmation that our digital media campaign is working.
We are sending out our newsletter a little earlier than usual because the news is just too good not to share. Our Manna Media digital campaign launched on May 7, 2019, and today we are excited to report that our ads have appeared on over one million devices. And that means that over one million people have had an opportunity to be confronted with the gospel.
"They have just about any board game you can think of," said Szocinski, a 2016 graduate of Kelloggsville High School. "Uno; that's the one I played the most with friends."
Szocinski stayed involved with The DOCK after high school, volunteering for a year where he says it helped him hone a work ethic. He also ran The DOCK's candy store for a time.
"Yeah, I was the candy man, that's basically what they called me," said Szocinski, who's a dishwasher/busser at a Mr. Burger Restaurant in Wyoming. "I had kids daily ask, 'When are you going to open it?'"
"Due to all my upcoming traveling, we gatta find a new home for our dog," he posted to his social media followers in late June. "If anyone is interested in a 2 yr-old pitbull (fully trained, neutered and gentle) HMU (hit me up)."
No doubt by now Malcolm, 28, and his wife Teaira have found a caretaker for their pet at their Kentwood home. But the national Christian recording artist is also readying his on-stage program as headliner for the "Tag Team Tour" with his longtime performing partner Mark (the Baddguy) Evans II and special guest Maddie Rey.
"If I don't lose my voice every single night or wake up sore the next day...this tour wasn't lit enough," Malcolm noted of his performing enthusiasm.
More than 1,500 youngsters have already signed up for Read. Set. Explore!, with the store forecasting 2,000 registrants by mid-July. This is up from 1,500 last year, 1,200 the year before, and 800 the year before that.
"We want to have the best summer reading program in town," said Josh Mosey, Children's Product Buyer and director of Ready. Set. Explore! and the adult program. "We want to reward kids and adults for reading. If we can help kids develop a love for reading, they'll read their whole lives."
"I have a picture of the Lord reaching down and hauling somebody out of the mire and that was what He was doing all along (for her)," said Veenkamp. "There's no doubt in my mind the Lord was walking with me. I sit down in the morning and invite Him in mind, body and spirit."
Veenkamp's world was stretched to the hilt when her husband of 48 years, Nick, died in June 2017 due to prostate cancer and a heart-related condition. The anguish didn't stop there. A week later, her brother and sister-in-law were killed in a traffic accident. Then in January 2018, Veenkamp's mother died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease complications.
"It's a great production and (Hillsong) has a great team and it looks amazing," said Mack Brock, one of the guest artists on the tour. "In fact, if you were just observing it, you'd think it's an amazing show. But in the moment, it feels like worship."
The Hillsong Church, begun in Australia and now with campuses around the world, has a musical arm which is perhaps the leading source for modern worship music used in many contemporary churches.
Anthems such as "What A Beautiful Name" and "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" are standards in the modern worship catalog.
The tour, which includes Brock and Bethel Music lead singer/soloist Amanda Lindsey Cook, comes to Van Andel Arena on June 25 (see details below).
Jennings was in Grand Rapids recently for several events and to visit the offices of Zondervan, publisher of his new series. In the first book, Arcade is given a golden arcade token necklace that grants him the ability to time travel into the past and even into his future. He and his sister Zoe and a few friends have a lot of problems to solve!
Yes, the expected products and related accoutrements inhabit 317 Coffee, 3424 Chicago Dr., Suite 101 in Hudsonville: coffee, expressos, hot chocolate, teas, sodas and smoothies are available for sale, as well as some goodies to munch on for good measure.
The shop is populated with tables and chairs, a padded church pew and a sofa where people can chat with one another, relax or surf the internet inside this cozy 1,000-square foot building where sunlight bathes its interior.
In a rush? A drive through window awaits.
The 2019 festival (Fri. June 7 through Sun. June 9) is the 50th year for the event, which has grown from two stages and a handful of food selections to a multi-faceted arts celebration. In years of favorable weather it's drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors over its three-day weekend. (Official lists of artists, food booths, activities and a map are available at www.festivalgr.org. All musical performances are free).
The diversity and curiosity of the casual listeners is noted by the performers – even from the stage. "It's an amazing feeling to see people intent on walking by, and to watch as your music captures them," said Lisa Barry, who with husband Scott comprises a Christian folk/rock/Americana duo called The Growing Roots. "You can see them perk up, stop walking and turn in your direction," she said of new connections to be made with audiences.
The Growing Roots performs at noon Sunday on the "Backdoor Pop Up" stage, just to the south of the Kent County Building on Calder Plaza.
For example, there's the story of beloved hymn-writer Fanny Crosby.
"I think most people knew that she was blind," he said of Crosby, who wrote the lyrics for "To God Be The Glory" and hundreds of other stately hymns.
"But she memorized huge chunks of scripture by the time she was 15, wasn't saved 'til she was 30, and didn't start writing hymns until age 40."
Brainard included three of Crosby's hymns in his new book, which features more than 60 songs grouped by theme into 10 categories.
All of the hymns are in the public domain (thus the title of the book), which means they are old enough to no longer have copyrights. The most recent hymn in the collection is Thomas Dorsey's, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," written in the early 1930s.
"That song was Dr. Martin Luther King's favorite," Brainard noted. "It was performed at his memorial service in 1968."
The oldest song in the book? "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" which dates to the 16th Century.
Let's look at the summer's arena-sized tour: Hillsong UNITED, with special guests Amanda Cook (from Bethel Music) and Mack Brock (formerly with Elevation Worship) lead a worship-based evening at 7pm Tues. June 25 in Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids. Hillsong has just released a new album ("People"). Tickets begin at around $25. Available via Ticketmaster, Here's a video preview
The Big Ticket Festival (June 26-29 in Gaylord, MI) features top name headliners, including Chris Tomlin, For King & Country and Danny Gokey: 60 artists over four days. And there are extras such as "experience tents," comedy, films and a strength team. For tickets online. Visit www.bigticketfestival.com
And with the combined talents of the artists from Hark Up and Master Arts Theater (MAT), you might as well call it a "Variety Show."
And as the official title implies – the variety includes everything from "shabby to chic" and will be on display in a program Sat. May 18 (details below).
"Actually, the phrase 'variety show' kind of dates it – we're more contemporary than that," offered Hark Up executive director Chris Hansen. "It's more like the Jimmy Fallon 'Tonight Show.'"
Indeed: included are vocal and instrumental music, sketch comedy, and interview segments led by comedic emcee Chris Knobloch.
Vanderwell is executive director of Camp Roger in Rockford and Camp Scottie in Howard City. Both are nonprofit independent Christian camps not affiliated with a church or denomination.
"They're open to whoever would like to enjoy the camps," said Vanderwell.
The Hark Up Horns and the Hark Up Choir (featuring outstanding soloists Angie Royce, Colin Tobin, Breighanna Minnema and others) place their spin on both modern day and classic musical expressions of faith.
"A New Hallelujah," a Michael W. Smith anthem, includes vocals from both Tobin and Hark Up executive director Chris Hansen. The assembled artists also cover the David Crowder tune, "All My Hope."
Baby Boomers: Remember the haunting beat of "Spirit of the Sky," that late 60s-early '70s, psychedelic-sounding mantra? It also gets the Hark Up treatment.
Using the message of each of the new songs, the inspirational-pop band is releasing 11 video segments to tell a through-the-generations story covering five decades in a family's life.
"We thought, let's create a movie that builds around the songs," said lead singer-songwriter Mark Hall. "Not a music video, but about people just living their lives with the songs simply in the background."
The tunes on their "Only Jesus" release offer backdrops for the video segments.
One recently issued video features the song "In the Hands of the Potter." In the storyline, a granddaughter follows in her ill grandmother's footsteps by taking up pottery and art (watch online). It continues the family story established in the previous six episodes.
"Unrelenting" - the title of the production - describes the love of God, pursuing his people through the lives of Old Testament figures right into the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.
"It's a modern version of (the Old Testament prophet) Hosea," said director Vicki Modert, Blythefield's head of worship ministries. Modert and her writing team fashioned the original script.
A contemporary couple's marriage is strained with rumors of the wife's infidelity. Even when the truth comes to light, the college professor forgives her and "buys her back," exactly as God told Hosea to do for his unfaithful wife.
They also experience respect from the cadre of volunteers and two-person staff who keep this Christian nonprofit humming with purpose.
"Most importantly, we try to treat everybody with a little dignity and respect so they leave feeling good," said Sandy Jenkinson, an assistant to executive director Dale Echavarria.
But the Andrew Peterson composition "God Rested" does exactly that. And the song provides a hinge-point in the artist's resurrection series showcase, which he brings to Byron Center on Sat. April 13.
"God Rested" refers to the literal internment of a dead Christ, and is the last song in a musical prologue. It's the jumping off point to his collection "Resurrection Letters Vol. 1," full of joyful songs of Christ's victory over the tomb.
But a listener is left hanging with anticipation on that final note.
"We are living in a time of that suspended chord," said Peterson, 44. "We know we have a promise of Christ's return but we're in a tension of expectation and longing."
The very next song is "His Heart Beats." Its poignant resurrection depiction opens with the line "His heart beats, his blood begins to flow; waking up what was dead a moment ago."
Readers looking for Christian fiction to delve into need look no further than our great state of Michigan. Authors from around the state have new releases this spring and summer that offer a wide range of genres and styles for eager readers. The month in parenthesis is the month of the book's release; all books are available at Baker Book House or online retailers.
Shannon Popkin, author of “Control Girls: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible” (Kregel), and Kate Motaung, author of “A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging” (Discovery House), faced those struggles like many authors do. They join forces to take a deep look at platform and following Jesus in their new book “Influence: Building a Platform that Elevates Jesus (Not Me),” which released in January.
“The tension is that if you want to pursue an agent or book contract or get accepted as a speaker at a conference, you have to already have a following,” said Motaung, host of Five Minute Friday, an online community for Christian writers. “But as Christians called to elevate Christ and humble ourselves, how can we be true to our convictions yet put ourselves out there?”
"Underdog" is largely the story of his life. From his upbringing ("Grand Rapids Made") to his busy schedule ("I Don't Sleep") and his life's musical mission ("Passion"), Gonzalez reveals his heart as he lays out his faith-based journey to serve his Savior.
There are tell-tale local references. A radio clip of the West Michigan Whitecaps baseball championship broadcast opens one of the tracks. Baseball was a large part of life for the Comstock Park native, who played the sport in high school and college and spent a chunk of his youth around Fifth Third Ballpark.
One of those artists is KB (Kevin Burgess, pictured), who says the roster comes together under a cohesive theme.
"It's about the eternal aspects of our existence and what we do that impacts that," said KB, 30, from Nashville. "There's a universal message about being unashamed, and I think every artist in their unique way is beating that drum."
There will be plenty of on-stage collaborations as well as some solo time. "We've put together something special that a lot of folks will enjoy," he promised.
They're off to a good start – the first two weeks worth of shows were sold out in major markets such as Houston and Atlanta.
"A lot of things were hitting us, but this has been like the Lord saying we've turned the corner," said the lead singer of the inspirational-pop group Big Daddy Weave.
It's been nearly four years since the band issued its last album. But after a stretch of life challenges, their new ballad "Alive" has been released and will be followed by an entire new collection later this year.
"This is a season of rest, even as we're touring," said Weaver, 43, on the phone from Nashville.
Big Daddy Weave comes to Hudsonville for a performance on March 29.
Degage Ministries is moving forward with plans to expand services to the area's homeless and low-income families, made possible by a $6 million construction project.
"We feel strongly that God is calling us to this bigger role and now is the time," said Marge Palmerlee, Degage's executive director. "We need to be able to address those immediate needs and not have people sleeping in their cars, on the street and under bridges. We're excited to be able to address those needs that have been identified in our community that is vital for health and welfare."
Construction will start in the spring and take about a year to complete. The goal is to keep serving people during construction, Palmerlee said.
"The plan is to not have to shut down," she said.
"I loved that it caused them to think...where is she going with this?" she said of the anthem on her latest album.
No, it's not the story of a past relationship or any kind of romantic entanglement. Instead, it's a musical statement rejecting fear and its undue influence in a determined believer's life.
The song's music video with more than 10 million views, depicts a phone call in which the artist tells fear that "you don't own me" and "the no vacancy sign on my heart is lit up."
The New York native showcases the song on her tour which comes to Holland, Mich. on March 24.
That's the humorous premise of "Rise Up, O Men," the sixth installment of the popular stage musical-comedy series "Church Basement Ladies."
"The roosters have invaded the henhouse," smiled executive producer Curt Wollan from a stop in Palm Springs, CA.
The production comes to Byron Center's Van Singel Fine Arts Center on March 26.
The setting is familiar to long time fans: East Cornucopia Lutheran Church in rural Minnesota back in the 1950s and 60s when church basement kitchens were a social hub with their own pecking order.
It was the death of their son that birthed in 2009 the Hudsonville-based Starlight Ministries, a Christ-centered peer-to-peer support nonprofit that meets people where they are in their pain without judgement. Starlight also has an outreach in the Muskegon area. Meetings are held at area churches in both locales.
Starlight initially started as a balm solely for grieving kids, but its focus soon expanded to other ages, said Bev Thiel, Starlight's executive director.
"It started for just kids but within a few short weeks the parents were all waiting in the other room supporting each other while the kids were in group so they added the adult group right away," said Thiel.
He's returning to West Michigan March 10 with his "Hits Deep" tour at Van Andel Arena (details below). That's barely a year after performing there to a sold-out crowd. Plus his visit last September during the Luis/Andres Palau CityFest. "We love us some Grand Rapids," Toby grinned.
But this time he's coming with a new album, "The Elements," released last fall. His previous project, "This Is Not A Test," came in 2015.
Here are three highlights for March:
Meeting weekly at different times and locations in the Grand Rapids area, COG affords pregnant woman and single mothers an opportunity to realize the strength that comes with being a member of a community of like-minded people.
Gatherings start with sharing a provided meal while their children are taken care of, followed by Bible studies, goal-setting strategies, and encouragement for healthy life choices.
The "normal" response pattern to any and all of these circumstances might include disbelief, hurt, anger, bitterness, and maybe vengeance. Some people might even argue that such emotions are justifiable and understandable.
People expect a certain amount of "righteous anger." It's a part of our American code of individualistic ethics. Kill or be killed. Hallowed self-defense. John Wayne rides again.
"I get to come to my hometown – my brother and sisters are all around the area and it's gonna be great," said the Grand Rapids native from his home near Dallas, TX.
Michael brings his "In The Moment" comedy tour to Grand Rapids First Church on Sunday March 3 (details below).
It's right here in West Michigan where the Ottawa Hills H.S. grad honed his comedy chops – his second ever "club" date was in the old Comedy Den in Cascade Township.
I was raised in a Christian home—in the best sense of that phrase. I was regularly taken to church before I was born, and much more after that, so thanks to my parents I've been attending Bible-believing churches for over sixty years. This doesn't make me an expert on all things ecclesiastical, and certainly does not mean I always choose well and wisely. Far from it. But maybe like some of you it makes me "experienced," and thus reasonably adept at detecting changes over time.
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