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Featured Articles

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.

Pastor: Need is Great to Bring Gospel to the Forefront of Native Americans

petersIn a recent talk sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church Office of Race Relations, Mike Peters, director of the local 4 Fires Ministries, said too many people remain unaware of the Native Americans who live in their communities.

"There is next to no knowledge of native life," said Peters, an ordained non-denominational Christian pastor. "The vast majority of Americans never think about Native American issues. Even today, there are several states that have history books that have no mention of Native American history."

Seminary President Celebrates 25th Ordination Anniversary

julCalvin Theological Seminary President Jul Medenblik recently marked his 25th anniversary of ordination into ministry. He was ordained at Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois which was the mother church for a new church plant just beginning in New Lenox, Ill.

Wedgwood Christian Services Receives $10,000 Grant

nbFor the second year in a row, Wedgwood Christian Services is the recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Perrigo Foundation. The grant will help fund Wedgwood's Transforming Services, which includes its Wellness and Activity Therapy, Employment Training, Prevention, Manasseh Project Outreach, and Chaplaincy and Young Life – which is voluntary. These services enable Wedgwood to offer holistic treatment, and help youth and families heal from the trauma of abuse & neglect, exploitation, and substance use.

2020 – A Year to Remember…. And Forget

cancelledWe saw this notice much too often during 2020The COVID-19 pandemic was the big deal during 2020. Its tentacles stretched over so much of our lives in ways we couldn't have realized early this year.

No one could list all the events, trips, concerts, gatherings, and other activities both indoors and outdoors which were affected.

Among the casualties were numerous faith-based artistic endeavors. Michigan's two major Christian music multi-day events - Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon and Big Ticket Festival in Gaylord - both were forced off the books until 2021.

More Than a Thank-you Call: How Guiding Light’s Donor Relations Team Supports its Community as the Pandemic Rages On

glm90In a time when the world is convulsing with one crisis after another, the team at Guiding Light is focusing on gratitude for those who support the nonprofit.

What starts as a simple thank-you call from the donor relations team often leads to a deeper conversation, especially during this time when so many are isolated. Donors, it turns out, appreciate the support and the ability to connect meaningfully.

As donor relations officers, Bob Evans, Brad Myers and Steve Pratt are continually engaging with those who give their time, money, resources or advocacy to help Guiding Light achieve its mission of partnering with individuals to fulfill their God-given potential.

Guiding Light’s The Job Post Relocates

job postThe Job Post, a full-service hiring firm and social enterprise of Guiding Light, has moved to a new office in Grand Rapids at 401 Hall St. SW, located in suite 425.

The new office offers easier and more convenient access to both job seekers and companies looking to hire them. Located just south of downtown Grand Rapids with access to US 131 and near I-196, the new office has ample free parking.

Good Samaritan Ministries Comes Alongside Homeless in Ottawa County. Pandemic Heightens Need for Housing

Cutline No. 111Good Samaritan Ministries executive director Drew Peirce: “We sort of swim upstream and help as many people as we can from becoming homeless.” The parable of the Good Samaritan implores people to grant mercy to the neighbors among us. More and more, those attempting to eke out a living in Ottawa County need this unprecedented compassion Jesus instructed His followers to accomplish.

Homelessness in Ottawa County has experienced an uptick due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making Holland-based Good Samaritan Ministries (GSM) all the more vital.

"We'll intake about 6,000 calls this year and help from 1,110 to 1,200 people through a combination of our programs," says Drew Peirce, executive director of GSM. "All of last year, we helped about 20 families that were at risk of becoming homeless. The last 12-13 weeks, we've helped about 230 families from becoming homeless, and that work continues to grow. We sort of swim upstream and help as many people as we can from becoming homeless."

Terry's Picks December 2020

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.

In the spirit of 2020, let's go virtual for December! Here are a few online possibilities:

New Film Confronts Challenges of Faith

Joel paul ReisigJoel Paul Reisig, director of “Faith Under Fire”The new film "Faith Under Fire" has already faced one unexpected roadblock.

The faith-based movie directed by Hope College alum Joel Paul Reisig was supposed to debut in theatres for a run on Thanksgiving weekend.

Then came the Nov. 17 pandemic-induced edict that closed film houses and similar venues for three consecutive weeks statewide.

"It's extremely disappointing," noted Reisig of the lost opportunity. "But it's an important movie. Please consider bringing it into your homes this season."

The film – shot entirely in southeast Michigan – stars veteran actors Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain. But the main character is a firefighter portrayed by Detroit-born actor Nick Vlassospoulos. After losing his wife to cancer and then learning of his young daughter's carcinoma diagnosis, his life descends into hopelessness until a persistent pastor reaches out to help.

The Role of a Hospice Spiritual Caregiver: Putting Others Ahead of Self

vernbPastor Vern BaremanWhen Pastor Vern Bareman attends to his patients, he's not toting a blood pressure cuff or sporting a stethoscope about his neck.

Instead, he ministers mostly in a spiritual way, embracing the special role that a spiritual caregiver provides as part of the Emmanuel Hospice team.

Rather than leaning on a medical degree, Bareman and others like him rely on key qualities that spiritual caregivers bring to the table – what he says includes "compassion, empathy, a servant's heart, the ability to wrestle with life's biggest questions and the ability to listen."

A Hark Up Twist For a Virtual Christmas

Hark Up virtual logoIn this crazy, pandemic year of 2020, it actually makes sense.

In order to proceed with its annual Christmas music production, "Hark Up" is going virtual.

"We've been recording and filming over the last month and everything should be ready to go soon," said Hark Up executive director Chris Hansen.

"A Virtual Hark Up Christmas" will be a combination of studio and on-location video, with narration and even snippets from performances of past years.
It's set to debut at 7:30pm Sat. Dec. 5 .

The opening segment is new. It's a parody version of "You Can't Stop the Beat," borrowed from the musical "Hairspray." "It ends up as 'You can't stop Hark Up,'" Hansen noted of its "continuous shot" video style with dancers and singers.

Bellamy appointed CEO of Catholic Charities West Michigan

nbDavid Bellamy has been appointed CEO of Catholic Charities West Michigan.

"Catholic Charities West Michigan's mission is to offer hope and compassion through innovative, collaborative programs. Particularly now, individuals in our community need to know they are recognized as children of God worthy of dignity and respect," said David Walkowiak, bishop of the Grand Rapids Diocese. "I am confident that David is the right person to lead the organization in its important mission."

Local Pastors Stand With Healthcare Workers and Kent County Community

(GRAND RAPIDS, MI) - In response to catastrophic capacity shortages in hospitals and health systems across the state, local churches across Grand Rapids and Kent County will further limit in person gatherings beginning Wednesday, Nov. 18, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Participating churches will discontinue large gatherings such as worship services, weddings, and meetings of more than five individuals until Dec. 8.

"Pastors have been moved by the pleas of front-line healthcare workers, as well as the ongoing suffering and loss of life of Kent County residents as a result of this virus," said Rev. Khary Bridgewater on behalf of the Kent County COVID-19 Church Task Force. "Our physicians and nurses are risking their lives, working double shifts, suffering through physical, mental, and emotional hardship to care for patients. We want to give them a fighting chance."

GEMS Adjust to Pandemic

gems5GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) is adapting its ministry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit has created a resource called "GEMS on the Go." It's an activity box that counselors can bring to their girls, and includes a badge and a craft.
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