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A Blessing in Disguise

(From RCA Today)

A cancelled flight led to a “God encounter” for Luis Ruiz.

In an airport in Honduras he met a woman whose life had been saved at the very medical clinic he was on his way to visit.

Bad weather had grounded his plane, and Ruiz was queued up with a number of passengers to arrange other transportation. Ruiz’s travel companion, Valdir França, struck up a conversation with a woman in line.

It was November 2012, and França, supervisor of RCA mission in the Americas, was leading Ruiz and Kevin Kremer on a trip to Honduras. Ruiz is pastor of community and global engagement at Christ Memorial Church (RCA) in Holland, Michigan, where Kremer is a deacon and a member of the diaconal ministries board. They were on their way to see the outreach ministries of the Evangelical Moravian Church, the RCA’s mission partner in Honduras. On their itinerary were trips to the remote villages of Ahuas and Cauquira to visit medical clinics and a mission aviation operation, and to Puerto Lempira to visit the Moravian Church’s headquarters and Bible Institute.

They soon discovered that the woman in line was from Ahuas, and the medical clinic they would be visiting there had saved her life.

“She then proceeded to tell us her incredible story of the delivery of her baby at the medical clinic in Ahuas,” says Ruiz. “She should have lost her life, but the doctors and nurses saved her life.

“She was eternally grateful for the clinic and the support to continue keeping the clinic up and running for the poor people of that area.”

A Sanctuary for Refugees

(From RCA Today)

Visitors to New York Harbor often gaze at the Emma Lazarus quote “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But to see these words put into action, these tourists should find their way to Des Moines, Iowa, where the Meredith Drive Reformed Church has been serving recent arrivals for decades.

Meredith Drive currently counts roughly 100 refugees—including natives of Burma, Eritrea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Vietnam—among its members. In fact, the foreign-born population is so big that the church promoted Isaiah Nengean to the full-time position of director of multicultural ministries this past summer.

Day-to-day ministry
Currently, Nengean, who started part-time, spends countless hours in the field, evangelizing from door to door. But he also gets involved in housing and education issues and works hard at comforting parishioners as they integrate themselves into a new culture and deal with a new climate. Plus, he provides counseling and a personal touch, as many of them are still reeling from life in their war-torn home countries.

Some parishioners were born in refugee camps, and many parishioners lost family members in the conflicts, he says, while still more witnessed mass violence. One man even confessed to having blood on his hands.

“He knows that he’s redeemed. He was carrying it for a long time,” says Nengean, a Nigeria native who moved to the United States to study. “The greatest gift you can give to anyone is the gift of the gospel. It changes their focus when they walk with Christ daily.”

Saying Yes to Water Wells

(From RCA Today)

A rest stop at sunrise. A feeling of God’s presence. A 180-degree change of opinion.

As Barbara Oliviera looked out over a farmer’s field that had just been harvested, she knew what God was calling her to.

And she said yes. Even though she’d been protesting strongly hours before.

She’d been driving on the freeway when she sensed God saying: Wells. I want you to do two water wells. Earlier, in her hotel room, Barbara had watched a Christian TV program about raising money to supply water wells in Africa. “Seeing the filthy water the children were drinking and the way they were dying from water-borne diseases, I didn’t have to think twice about sending in money,” says Barbara.

But now God was calling her personally to find a way to provide water wells in Africa. Her immediate response was, What?! I have too much going on. I can’t! Not now!

Advocating for Education: Community's Efforts Lead to a New School

(From RCA Today)

Since the 1960s, the neighborhood of Highbridge in the Bronx, New York, has been without a middle school. That changed when Highbridge Community Church and its pastor, Cora Taitt, joined with other churches and organizations in the neighborhood to convince New York City’s Board of Education of the need for a new school.

Middle school students have had long commutes to school, sometimes involving multiple bus changes or subway transit. Parents were worried about their kids’ safety as they traveled so far every day by themselves. That changed last fall with the opening of Highbridge Green School, a 390-seat school for sixth through eighth graders. In September, 130 sixth graders started at the new school. The school will add one grade each year until it reaches its capacity during the 2015-2016 school year.

Parents had been asking the Board of Education for a new school in Highbridge for years, but it wasn’t until they joined with local community organizations and churches that they began to gain ground.

Finding a Fresh Start

(From RCA Today)

In Fresno, California, there’s a place where troubled teens can go to get their lives and their family relationships back on track. It’s a place where they find love, understanding, and hope for the future.

It all started in 2007, when a teenage girl named Stephanie came to live with pastor Gabriel Carvajal and his wife, Mimi. Stephanie was having issues with her parents and her home situation wasn’t healthy, so the Carvajals offered her a place to stay while she got her life straightened out. She ended up living with them for two years, until she got married.

Stephanie’s time with the Carvajals made such a difference in her life that after she married, she and her new husband, Tou Yang, felt called to pass it on. “They started doing the same thing,” says Mimi Carvajal, “taking in kids who were having issues, whose parents had no control over them.”

For the first year of their marriage, the Yangs shared their apartment with troubled kids who needed a place to stay, supporting them and helping them work through issues. Then their church, Koinonia Christian Fellowship (RCA) in Fresno, where Gabriel Carvajal serves as pastor, stepped in to help the Yangs expand their ministry.

The church rented a house where the Yangs could live, which helped take financial pressure off them. It also enabled them to take in more kids. Koinonia members donate food and other supplies to keep Manna Home running; the church also holds fundraisers to help with other expenses.

Now, seven to eight teens live at Manna Home full-time.

Help Whoever Is in Need: Migrant Center Comes alongside Women in South Korea

(From RCA Today)

Jezelyn moved from the Philippines to South Korea seeking a better life—and thought she had found one, falling in love and marrying a South Korean.

But then it all went wrong. Jezelyn’s husband passed away when she was six months pregnant, and her Korean in-laws couldn’t assume the obligations associated with a newborn, let alone a widowed daughter-in-law. They urged her to return to the Philippines, to her family there. But this would mean she would have to abandon her dream and lose Korean citizenship for her child.

That’s where Pastor Jones Galang came in. Galang works with migrants through the Osan Migrant Mission Center, a partner of RCA Global Mission. The center, a part of the Presbyterian Church of Korea’s ministry, provides extensive social services to migrant workers in Osan and the surrounding area.

“We have made much progress on immigrant issues,” says Galang, “and have lately been shifting our focus to married migrants, especially those who marry a Korean.”

Friends of Jezelyn who had received help from the center urged her to do the same. 

"Hope and Prayer" Gatherings Will Address Community Needs

(From RCA Communications)

First Reformed Church of Saddle Brook, New Jersey, is offering a series of "Hope and Prayer Gatherings" to encourage people who are struggling in the surrounding community.

"People in the community have been experiencing extended unemployment, sickness, crime and violence, struggling marriages, and more," says Christopher Wolf, pastor of First Reformed. "It's easy to be overwhelmed. The time is now to turn things around, and it starts with prayer.<

"These Hope and Prayer Gatherings are the fruit of a prayer of confession and repentance regarding a lack of compassion and outreach we lifted up nearly two years ago combined with the pursuit of our new vision to be a ‘house of prayer.'" Wolf points to relationships with community leaders and an increase in church members' compassion for the community as key elements of the prayer outreach effort.

The gatherings will be held on several weekday evenings in March and April, and each will focus on a particular topic: "Youth and Schools," "Service Personnel: Military, Fire, Police, Ambulance," "Economy and Jobs," "Physical and Mental Health," and "Families." A brief overview of issues and insights related to the evening's topic will be followed by time for discussion and group and individual prayer.

The gatherings are open to all, including people of different faith traditions as well as people who haven't attended church in a while or who have never attended church.

For more information, email frcsbpraying4u@gmail.com or call (201) 843 6672.

Short Trips with Big Impact: Project Timothy Formative for Teen

(From RCA Today)

When George Lundberg set out for his first Project Timothy mission trip, he expected to help people. He didn’t expect to get so much out of it himself.  George Lundberg still prays for Michael, a boy he met while on a Project Timothy mission trip in Ecuador several years ago.

George Lundberg still prays for Michael, a boy he met while on a Project Timothy mission trip in Ecuador several years ago.“Missions are beneficial to both parties,” says Lundberg, who came back for three more years of Project Timothy, a “next-level” mission leadership experience for high school and college-age participants.

“PT sparked my faith, and without that I would not be where I am today.

“Before PT I was just another kid caught up in the times, with no real care for church and God,” says Lundberg, who is a part of First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains in New Jersey. “But after my first year of PT, I realized that there is a whole big world out there that needs help and needs to be seen.

“Since that first trip I have taken every opportunity to go help others, from right in my backyard to different states and countries.”

Project Timothy is a two-week mission experience: a few days of orientation with all participants, a week-long mission trip with a smaller group, and a two-day debrief with the larger group to process the experience.

“During Project Timothy you will be given practical opportunities to develop skills in leadership and ministry all within the context of serving in another culture,” says Kristin Van Kampen, the RCA’s coordinator for volunteer engagement. “The goal is that through this experience you would have a greater sense of God’s call on your life and can clearly see how you can be missionally engaged, wherever God leads you.”

For Lundberg, that call did become clear. 

Focus on Friendship

(From RCA Today)

A church/community partnership is about mission, but mostly it’s about relationships.

Delmar Reformed Church’s covenantal relationship with a Nicaraguan village enables both congregants and villagers to develop deep relationships through which they can learn from each other—from deep life lessons to the joys of making s’mores.

Every February for the past nine years, a team from Delmar Reformed Church in New York has traveled to Nicaragua. They stay for one week and do some work, but mostly they work on friendships. For the past four years, they have stayed in the same village, a community with which they have a special connection.

Delmar’s first team, a group of 11, went to Nicaragua in 2005 through a Nicaraguan organization called CEPAD. The organization partners with rural villages in Nicaragua to increase self-sufficiency and sustainability through community organization, agricultural development, and education, and by strengthening pastoral leadership. CEPAD also helps overseas mission groups connect with Nicaraguan villages to build relationships.

“We went down with the idea that we were really going to be changing the world, and the world changed us,” says Peggy Becker, co-chair of Delmar’s mission committee. 

New Church’s Daycare Center Reaches Families and Supports Ministry

(From RCA Today)

A new Hispanic ministry has given a daycare center a fresh start, and its leaders hope the center will become a model for sustainable ministry for churches in low-income communities.

A little over a year ago, the daycare center was in the process of shutting down. At that time it was run by First Lutheran Church out of their building in inner-city Tulare, California. First Lutheran was having a hard time connecting with its neighbors in ways that would lead them to enroll their children in the church’s daycare program.

Most neighborhood families are first-generation Hispanics, born outside of the U.S., and there are also many second- and third-generation Hispanic families.

A ministry opportunity
At the time First Lutheran was closing its daycare center, Jose Camilo, an RCA church planting pastor, contacted them about renting worship space for a new Hispanic church. They agreed, and now the new church, Casa de Adoracion Tulare, not only worships in First Lutheran’s building, it runs the daycare center too.

“With valuable support from Tulare Community Church, we began to administrate the center January 1, 2013,” says Camilo.

To get the word out to the community about the daycare center, Casa Adoracion leaders visited the area’s popular flea markets to share the gospel and promote the center. “At the same time brothers and sisters from the church are talking to others about the services we are offering,” Camilo says.

Outreach through the daycare center
“Currently we have four families from Casa Adoracion that have kids in the center."

Blessing Children in Need

(From RCA Communication)
This past November, members of Grace Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York, packed and wrapped 60 shoeboxes filled with gifts for children in need around the world. The filled shoeboxes were then sent to Samaritan’s Purse for its Operation Christmas Child program.

Grace Reformed’s young adult group has spearheaded the effort every year since 2005, but the project was started by longtime member Urtha Grasty more than 10 years earlier. Each year, Grasty would use donations from congregation members to purchase enough gifts to fill five to ten shoeboxes, then host a few friends at her house to help her pack and wrap the boxes. As she got older, Grasty asked the young adult group to step in and take charge. From there, the project grew into a congregation-wide effort.

Each year, the young adult group begins collecting donations from congregation members in October. Some members purchase gifts to donate, while others prefer to make a cash donation and have the young adults purchase gifts on their behalf.

Shoebox gifts include practical items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, washcloths, underwear, and socks. They also include small toys like dolls, toy cars, yo-yos, purses, art supplies, jump ropes, and hair accessories. Boxes are labeled to indicate the age group and gender they are intended for.

On the Saturday of Operation Christmas Child’s collection week, usually the week before Thanksgiving, the church hosts a packing party. The entire church community is invited to help pack and wrap the shoeboxes, which are dropped off at a collection center after worship the next day.

Feeding Hungry Children One Weekend at a Time

(From RCA Today)

Thanks to one woman's response to God's calling, thousands of school kids in West Michigan no longer go hungry on the weekend.

"I was the Kids Hope director at Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan, when the recession of 2008 hit," says Cheri Honderd. "I began to learn about kids who were coming to school hungry and were unable to learn due to their hunger.

"God placed a huge burden on my heart for the children, and I began praying for a solution to this problem. I have always desired God to be glorified in our community through our church, so Ephesians 3:20-21 are verses I pray regularly. I heard about a backpack food program that began in Texas, and I knew that it was God's answer to my prayer."

Honderd researched the program, altered it to fit the needs of the local community, and talked to the principal of the school that partnered with Fair Haven for Kids Hope. (Kids Hope is a mentoring program that pairs church volunteers with students who need help.) Out of that process, Hand2Hand was conceived.

Through Hand2Hand, children in need receive a backpack full of food each weekend. (Though food assistance programs help during the school day, children are especially vulnerable to hunger on weekends.) A church connects with a school and provides backpacks, food, and volunteers. Each week, the volunteers load backpacks with healthy food, and on Fridays they get them to students who need them. The volunteers do this in a way that doesn't draw attention to the needs of the students.

"The vision of feeding kids brought our church together as we realized that our community--a middle to upper middle class community--was struggling due to the recession," says Honderd. 

Creative Outreach Focuses on Health, Students

(From RCA Today)

Creative outreach by a vibrant black congregation in Paterson, New Jersey, is having great results.

Pastor Darryl Redmond says Faith Chapel is “taking off, growing” and it’s because “people want to know we care.”

Promoting Health

The Medical, Health, and Wellness Fair that Faith Chapel Reformed Church offered last summer featured more than 20 health professionals including pediatricians, dentists, and mental health professionals. More than 250 people attended and were offered free fruits and veggies donated by a local grocery store chain and lots of free health information.

The Brooklyn Mets sent autographed photos and tickets for door prizes, and the Yankees and Jets gave items as well. “It was a great day,” says Redmond.

Redmond, whose wife Geraldine is a pediatrician, says Faith Chapel gathers lots of people who work in the medical field professionally or administratively—people from both the community and from the church. “They do a great job of using the church as a source of awareness for cancer screening, blood pressure screening awareness, exams, and many other health-related activities.”

Supporting Students

Faith Chapel’s Academic Leadership Uplift Committee (ALUC) provides encouragement and resources for students from kindergarten through college.

120 Years of Ministry in NYC

(From RCA Communication)
Japanese American United Church (JAUC) in New York City celebrated its 120th anniversary with a community open house on November 9. The service began with a photo exhibit that highlighted each decade of the congregation’s ministry in Manhattan. Witnessing withOut Words dancers

During the celebration service, a slide show recounted how a Japanese evangelist walked from Oregon to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1893 to share the gospel with Japanese shipyard workers. The ministry he founded was the roots of JAUC. Gospel singer Reiko Yuge sang with the JAUC choir, accompanied by Kaz Takahashi, pastor of JAUC, on the saxophone. The WOW (Witnessing withOut Words) Dancers performed a jazzy rendition of “Joyful, Joyful.” Thomas Song, synod area minister from the Regional Synod of New York, presented a plaque commemorating the occasion.

After the service, church members and visitors from the community enjoyed a tea ceremony demonstration, an origami workshop, and a reception with Japanese food.

The event was funded by a Faithful Renaissance grant from the RCA’s Classis of New York.

New York Church Awards College Scholarships

(From RCA Communications)
Bay Ridge United Church, a joint congregation of the RCA and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Brooklyn, New York, awarded its first annual Jim Gillies memorial scholarships last October.BRUC scholarship recipients Gabriel Benitez and Anthony Maguire with their awards

The two scholarship recipients are both ordained elders at Bay Ridge. Gabriel Benitez is studying nursing at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, and Anthony Maguire is studying special education at Brooklyn College.

The scholarship fund is named after a longtime member of the congregation who passed away in 2011 and is funded by memorial donations in his name. Bay Ridge’s Sunday school leaders choose the award recipients.

Arts-Driven Outreach

(From RCA Today)

From modern jazz to horror movies, one church reaches its neighborhood through a performance series.

Sunnyside Reformed Church in Long Island City, New York, has become well-known in its community for inviting the neighborhood in to enjoy professional performances by local artists—free of charge.

The performances have run the gamut from a big band and a modern jazz fusion group that included Sunnyside's former organist to a flute player and several one-woman plays. Well-known composer and performer David Amram has performed at the church twice, and a local artist named Carol Sudhalter plays a concert each year.

For Halloween the past two years, they've projected an old silent horror movie that was accompanied live by the church's organist and his band.

Neil Margetson, Sunnyside’s pastor, says the idea to host performances at the church began very organically.

Connection Point: New church explores intersection of community values and Christian faith

(From RCA Today)

Christianity is a hard sell in Collingswood, a borough 10 minutes outside Philadelphia. “People are hostile to Christianity but open to spirituality,” says Jim Angehr, pastor of a new RCA church called liberti collingswood. 

It’s one of a network of liberti churches, the other five of which are located in Philadelphia. “Collingswood’s affinity with Philadelphia made it a good fit for the liberti model,” says Angehr. That model, he says, is “ministry that witnesses to Jesus, but welcomes people of any or no church background and invites them into dialogue.”

Angehr describes Collingswood residents as mixed income and highly educated, with many employed in government or the non-profit sector. He adds that the church also welcomes people from areas in South Jersey.

“This is a community that’s experienced a renaissance over the past years, Collingswood especially, which is a walking community with lots of community activism, artists, shops. It’s active and dynamic, open to newcomers, which makes it an ideal location for planting a church.”

To connect with people, says Angehr, “We show ourselves to be good neighbors, interested in the common good, attaching ourselves to activism in the community. We offer a connection point for service and cultural activities.”

One example is Parents Night Out.

The RCA Mourns the Loss of James Seawood

(From RCA Communications)

James Seawood, who long served the RCA and the wider world as a prominent leader and social and civil rights activist, died Sunday, January 12, at age 66.

Most recently, Seawood served as pastor of Brighton Heights Reformed Church in Staten Island, New York.

Terry Troia, executive director of Project Hospitality, a ministry to people who are homeless on Staten Island, worked closely with Seawood, who was a member of the ministry's board of directors. She writes: "I ask your prayer[s] for his family and for the people of Brighton Heights Reformed Church as they mourn the loss of their pastor. He was a champion for social justice, a brave and kind, insightful, and gentle God fearing Christian leader."

When Seawood came to Brighton Heights Reformed in 2002, the congregation numbered about 35. With Seawood's leadership, it has grown into a vibrant gathering of about 140 believers who serve each other and their community.

In 2008 Seawood was elected vice president of General Synod, and the following year he became president of that body. He was the second black person to serve the RCA in those offices. His election coincided with the RCA's emphasis on becoming more multiracial in the context of revitalizing congregations and planting new churches.

Serving Newburgh: Classis churches commit to support a Habitat house

(From RCA Today)

Pastors of churches in Orange Classis gathered at Meadow Hill Reformed Church last November and boarded a Habitat for Humanity bus. They were on their way to tour downtown Newburgh, which is about five miles from the church. 

Located a little more than an hour north of New York City, "Newburgh is an economically depressed city with a lot of challenges: drugs, gangs—a rough city," says Irving Rivera, pastor of Meadow Hill Reformed and one of the tour participants.

Rivera calls Newburgh "a city of contrasts," with burned houses and blighted neighborhoods just a few blocks from its Hudson River waterfront, which is lined with upscale cafés and restaurants.

Habitat needs $110,000 to entirely repair one home, so the Presbyterian churches of the Mid-Hudson Valley are partnering with the classis churches to make that happen. "The Presbyterian Church has been adopting houses and paying for the repairs for many years," says Rivera. "This is the first time for the RCA classis joining in these efforts."

Do or Die: A dying 104-year-old church makes a bold move to become a thriving new ministry

(From RCA Today)

A thriving new campus of Faith Church (RCA) has sprouted from Faith's "enfolding" of a 104-year-old congregation of the Christian Reformed Church.

In the winter of 2011-2012, council members of First Christian Reformed Church in Highland, Indiana, saw three possibilities for their future: They could continue to shrink in numbers and eventually cease to exist. They could try to turn things around on their own, which would take at least seven years. Or they could ask an outside group to join them and serve as a catalyst to revitalize the church.

"Their council voted almost unanimously for option three because they saw it as the fastest way to see results," says Jason DeVries, who is pastor of Faith-Highland, the new congregation that has emerged from the enfolding process.

The process began in 2012, when First CRC approached Faith Church (an RCA congregation whose main campus is in Dyer, Indiana) with the idea of a new ministry. Faith then sent leaders to meet with First's council to answer questions. Following that meeting the churches continued discussions and got to know each other.

In December 2012, Faith's senior pastor, Bob Bouwer, preached at First CRC and held a Q&A time. Another weekend in December, people from First worshiped at various Faith campuses. At a subsequent congregational meeting, 80 percent of First's members voted to affirm "folding" First CRC into a new Faith Church campus.

Jason DeVries was chosen to lead the ministry, and a transition team made up of leaders from both First and Faith was formed to provide leadership during the new church's first year. Faith-Highland was officially launched on September 15, 2013.

In just a few weeks about 450 people were attending each weekend. "The Faith-Highland launch has truly been blessed by God," says DeVries. 

Conference Addresses Educational Inequality

(From RCA Communication)

On November 23, the Eastern Region of the RCA's African American Black Council (AABC) hosted a conference to address and act on some of the pressing educational issues facing the black community. "Crisis in Education" drew about 70 participants. Speakers included Tony Campbell, RCA director of missional engagement and coordinator for African American/Black Ministries; Suzanne Carothers, professor of education at New York University; and Bernard Gassaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School in New York City.

One of the main objectives of the conference was to name and understand the issues. "We wished to inform participants of the current status of academic achievement in our communities, with particular attention to the significant role of families, schools, and churches," says Oliver Patterson, director of Covenanting for Educational Justice, the education committee of the Eastern Region of the AABC.

150 Years, 150 Psalms

(From RCA Communication)
As part of its 150th anniversary celebration this year, Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, held a “Psalm-Fest,” sharing one Psalm for each year of the church’s life. The Psalm-Fest began on the afternoon of Sunday, August 18, and lasted a little more than six hours.

“All 150 psalms were shared consecutively in some manner,” says Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell, who copastors Second Reformed with his wife, Sophie. “Many were sung by a choir or soloists. Most were read in English, although several other languages were also used. Most readers read two to three psalms. Some families memorized a psalm to share together.”

The Psalm-Fest was held openhouse-style; participants were free to attend whatever portion of the event worked for them. About 30 people stayed for the entire six hours. Mathonnet-VanderWell says participants commented that the time went much more quickly than they expected. 

“It was like a cross-cultural immersion experience, living among the ancient Hebrews,” said one participant. Others described it as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” and “an inspiration and a joy.”

Nelson Mandela and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

by Marlin Vis, regional coordinator of development

On several occasions, one of which was his 1999 visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial near Jerusalem, Nelson Mandela commented on the immensity of Jewish suffering. It seemed as though he felt he could identify with their suffering, although he was wise not to try to make that comparison.

While instances of human suffering often have much in common, each circumstance is nuanced differently. It is impossible to say that one group has suffered the same as another—to make the comparison tends to inadvertently put distance between parties that ought to be sympathetic to one another.

Mandela had a warm affection for the Jewish people. It was a South African Jewish man who afforded young Nelson Mandela a job as a clerk in the face of apartheid restrictions. Jewish anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, visited Mandela in prison. On the eve of Passover 1992, Mandela publicly acknowledged South African Jewry's "particularly outstanding contribution" to his people's "struggle for freedom and social justice" for the first time.

However, Mandela was able to separate his feelings for the Jewish people from his feelings about the actions of the State of Israel. He clearly understood and supported the yearning of the Jewish people to have a place of their own. He was supportive of the State of Israel to the extent that in October 1999, during his first visit to Israel, Mandela appealed to the surrounding Arab states to recognize Israel's right to exist within secure borders.

A Legacy of Justice and Reconciliation

(From RCA Communication)
The RCA joins its ecumenical partner the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, who died December 5 at age 95. Mandela dedicated his life to ending the unjust system of apartheid entrenched in South Africa, and then pursued healing and reconciliation rather than revenge as South Africa’s first post-apartheid president.

“Mandela was a global witness to the power of forgiveness,” says RCA general secretary emeritus Wes Granberg-Michaelson, who met Mandela in 1990. He calls it “an unforgettable moment.”

“His unflinching courage to fight for freedom and equality amid the giant of South African apartheid, his passion for truth and justice, and his undaunted belief in the power of love and reconciliation is a model for not only his generation and nation but all of humanity,” says Derrick Jones, supervisor of RCA mission in Africa.

A Word on the Life of Nelson Mandela

By Gregg Mast, president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary

The first time I heard his name, it was whispered to me in the streets of Johannesburg: “Nelson Mandela.”
It was July 1976. My wife, Vicki, and I had just arrived in South Africa. Six weeks earlier, Soweto's schoolchildren had rioted against apartheid. There was a sense of awe in the whispers. Mandela had already spent more than a decade in the prison on Robben Island. Among the oppressed, his messianic role strengthened with each year that passed.
But his name was also whispered in fear, for it was literally illegal to display his photograph, which gives one a sense of how much the white apartheid government feared him.
Our arrival in South Africa in 1976 began my one-year commitment to serve as an assistant pastor of a multinational congregation in Johannesburg. I learned much in that year, but perhaps the most profound lesson was the palpable fear on the part of the whole population that apartheid would someday end in a bloodbath of epic proportions.  
Fast-forward 14 years and I am sitting in a side-aisle pew of New York City's Riverside Church. Mandela has come to the United States to thank everyone who supported the struggle.
It is June 21, 1990. The sanctuary is electric! Finally, around noon, two hours late, African drums beat a rhythm for the entrance of a king. Nelson Mandela walks down the center aisle as royalty. The man whose name was whispered on the streets of Soweto and Johannesburg now commands the global stage.
Apartheid was dismantled, not with the blood of many, but through the wisdom and courage of a single man who spent 27 years in an island prison.
Nelson Mandela was one of the most remarkable people of the 20th century. His vision for a new day inspired a nation. His dream of post-apartheid South Africa led his country to become a more just and reconciled place. His commitment to non-violent change made him a hero to the world.
I mourn his passing and celebrate his life.
We all commend him into the heart of a God who has whispered his name and called him home.

URCSA Pays Tribute to Nelson Mandela

The Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA), the RCA’s ecumenical partner, has shared this statement in honor of Nelson Mandela, whose dedication to justice and reconciliation freed South Africa from the chains of apartheid.

While Mandela fought apartheid in the political arena, the URCSA was engaged in a struggle against apartheid within the South African church. It was out of that struggle that the Belhar Confession emerged. Its powerful call to unity, justice, and reconciliation transcends the context for which it was written, urging the church everywhere to stand against injustice. The RCA adopted the Belhar as a standard of unity in 2010.

Living the Love: New church connects in Kalamazoo

(From RCA Today

Fabulous. That's the word pastor Wes Tillett uses to describe the launch of Voyage Church in September.

"There was an overall spirit of love and joy--a spirit that persists to this day," Tillett says.

The launch included lots of people, lots of smiles, and lots of support from parent churches Haven Reformed Church and the Bridge, both RCA congregations in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Voyage is located in adjacent Oshtemo, in a building vacated by the disbanding of Fourth Reformed Church in December 2012.

"We sense God has specifically called us to minister to our neighbors right around us," says Tillett. "There's a surprising pocket of suburban poverty here--almost half are young, single, poor, often with kids, without much education."

A few people from Voyage have been meeting weekly to prayer walk a modular home neighborhood next to the church. Over the last nine months, they've built relationships, prayed with people, hosted a block party, and delivered homemade pies and cookies.

"In the summer one family we connect with told us their first-grade son was really looking forward to the start of Voyage Church [in September]. Sure enough, as Voyage has gotten started, that family has been attending more and more faithfully, with the first-grade boy usually dressed in his Sunday best and leading the way.

Meeting Nelson Mandela

by Ed Mulder, general secretary emeritus

I remember it well. It was July 4, 1990. The place was a small conference room in a New York City hotel. I had been invited, along with six other church leaders, to meet with Nelson Mandela.

To say the least, I was impressed with the man. I remembered vividly the Sunday he had been released from prison after spending 27 years there. He had the appearance of a gentle and gracious man. He wore a winsome smile and talked about the need for peace and reconciliation.

Earlier in the week, Mandela had arrived in the United States to express appreciation to the churches for the support they had given in dismantling apartheid through advocating for divestments and sanctions.

A massive service was scheduled at Riverside Church. People gathered from around the country. The service was electrifying, and the music was magnificent. There were drums and dancers, and clergy outfitted in colorful garb. It was a festive occasion.

We were humbled by the words this man spoke. He was the representative of a people who had suffered so much.

Thoughts on Nelson Mandela

In honor of the passing of Nelson Mandela, who died December 5 at age 95, RCA director of missional engagement and coordinator for African American/Black Ministries Tony Campbell says:


Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Nelson Mandela’s life bears witness to the truth of this belief. After more than 20 years in prison, his release was a catalyst that not only led him to the presidency, but also furthered the moral arc in South Africa to peace and justice.


It is a long-term testimony to his life that the road to justice he paved was not with the bricks and mortar of vengeance and retribution, but instead he laid brick by brick, and stone by stone, a road of love, mercy, hope, reconciliation, and forgiveness.


This legacy is a light for South Africa and for all humanity. Nelson Mandela said that it is not our darkness that we are afraid of, but instead we are afraid of our light. He was not afraid of his light. And if we are to truly honor his life, we will let the light of hope, peace, and reconciliation shine through our lives, our ministry, and our work.


Additional memories and reflections about Nelson Mandela will be posted over the coming week.

RCA Chaplain Ministers in Afghanistan

(From Rutgers' Social Work magazine)

Reverend Wilfredo Rodriguez is often asked, “Why did this happen?” and “Where was God?”

As a Lieutenant Commander and chaplain in the United States Navy, he ministers to soldiers grappling with death and dying and admits that there are no easy answers.

“I try not to think that religion should answer questions,” said Rodriguez, who is currently serving his third tour and is stationed at a hospital run by U.S. and NATO forces in Kandihar, Afghanistan. “Instead of bringing answers, chaplains help people ask questions that maybe they weren’t able to ask. I let them raise the questions about their anger and guilt so they can look at themselves without feeling shame.”

After graduating from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Rodriguez was working as a chaplain at Bellevue Hospital Center when he was encouraged by a supervisor to volunteer for the Navy Reserve. He spent one weekend each month conducting religious services until, in the wake of the events of September 11, he was called to active duty in 2003.

Audio Bibles Bring Light to Blind People in India

(From RCA Today)

A huge ministry opportunity has recently come to light--people in India who are visually impaired need audio Bibles.

At a recent audio Bible distribution in the state of Tamil Nadu in India, a blind man came with his elderly mother. The man had lost his eyesight a year earlier during an operation on his eyes. The doctor hit a nerve during the procedure, and when the man came out of surgery, he was completely blind.

Although literate, he found himself suddenly unable to read or write. His mother, who also had failing eyesight, had to read and write things for him.

The man said that it was difficult for him to accept the fact that he could no longer see. He longed for someone to read the Bible to him when he was feeling hopeless, but his mother's failing eyesight made it very difficult for her to read to him.

The audio Bible he received at the distribution brought him new hope; he had a way to listen God's Word without having to rely on others to read to him.

Sundararajan says that there aren't a whole lot of resources for people in India who are blind, but the design of the audio Bibles makes them well-suited. The unit has raised buttons that are easy to navigate by touch alone.

New Internship Opportunity at Central Focuses on Social Justice

(From Central College)

Central College announced a new partnership with the Collegiate Church in New York City to offer an internship focused on social justice in an urban context.

A pilot program, supported by a grant from the Collegiate Church, will provide for up to 10 summer internships for students from Central College and cooperating schools from the college’s study abroad programs.


Two Central faculty members will teach the program’s inaugural course in New York City next summer. Students will explore a variety of perspectives related to peace and social justice while learning about the dynamics of social change. Guest speakers involved in social justice work will be featured and students will also take advantage of learning opportunities throughout the city.


Praising God behind Bars

In Springfield, South Dakota, inmates at Mike Durfee State Prison find their place in the family of God at Living Stone Prison Church.

Super Typhoon Haiyan Relief

(From the RCA CARE Network)

Super Typhoon Haiyan, which experts are saying may be the largest tropical storm ever to hit land, slammed into the Philippines, and as reports continue to come in it appears that damage and loss of life are extensive.

It's believed that 10,000 people have died, and in some remote places that were hit people were still recovering from an earthquake last month. Emergency response in these areas will be challenging.

The RCA CARE Network is preparing a response through its partners, World Vision and Food for the Hungry. RCA CARE Network is sending an initial $3,000 to World Vision and an initial $3,000 to Food for the Hungry.

World Vision is planning to target 1.2 million people with food, non-food items, hygiene kits, emergency shelter, and child protection. The financial request from the World Vision National Office in the Philippines is $6 million.

What you can do:

  • Please pray for the people whose lives have been torn apart by this typhoon--for people who have lost loved ones, suffered injury, or sustained damage to their homes or businesses. Pray too for the rescue workers, first responders, and early response coordinators.
  • To support disaster response efforts, donate at www.rca.org/haiyan or send a check to Reformed Church in America, Attn: Finance Department, 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 or, in Canada, to Regional Synod of Canada, 201 Paradise Rd. N., Hamilton, ON L8S 3T3. Checks should be designated "Haiyan."
Getting to the Heart of the Civil Rights Movement

(From RCA Today)

On a recent Sankofa journey--a bus trip through the Deep South focused on racial reconciliation--Marisol Ferrer Malloy and her husband Paul's knowledge of the civil rights movement moved from their heads to their hearts.

"My husband and I brought to the Sankofa experience our own experiences of racism in our own lives," says Marisol. "I am from Puerto Rico and Paul's family is from Ireland."

The couple led the Sankofa journey for a multicultural group that included people of various ages and races from the Synod of the Mid-Atlantics, Classis of Brooklyn, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and Marble Collegiate Church in New York City.

'God's Gift' Becomes Community's Gain

(From St. Croix Source, U.S. Virgin Islands)

Renewable-energy advocates often say we must use the gift of natural resources -- wind and sun. St. Croix Reformed Church took the gift idea to the ultimate, using the wind to give a gift to local students.

"We were impressed with the wind as a gift from God which we were able to utilize, thus, investing in renewable energy was good stewardship. For the last six months or so, we have had a credit on our electric bill," the Rev. Rod Koopmans said.

When in 2012 the church installed a wind turbine with funding from the V.I. Energy Office, it made a commitment to use the savings for the island's benefit. After a year of operation and accumulation of savings, the church reached out this fall to the nearby Alfredo Andrews Elementary School to determine its needs and how the church could assist.

De Vries Elected to WCC Central Committee

(From RCA Communications)

Known to be both ecumenical and evangelical, the RCA has often been more influential in the worldwide church than might be expected for a denomination of its size.

The latest evidence of this is the election of Tom De Vries, the RCA's general secretary, to the World Council of Churches' Central Committee, its governing board. De Vries's election continues a long tradition of RCA leadership in the WCC.

"The ecumenical movement is a recognition that we are a family, and we are called to love and care for one another, but it also means the unity we share is the impetus for mission," says De Vries. "We are unified to take the gospel to the whole world, knowing that Jesus Christ offers us the greatest hope and the best opportunity to move beyond despair."

The RCA's involvement in the WCC began as a founding member of the organization in 1948. Subsequently, a string of RCA general secretaries served in various WCC leadership positions. While general secretary, Marion ("Mert") de Velder served on the WCC Central Committee. His successor, Arie Brouwer, served on both the Central Committee and the staff of the WCC. Ed Mulder also served on the Central Committee while he was the RCA's general secretary.

Stewards Bring Hard Work and Hope to Assembly

(From RCA Communications)

This wasn't something she ever expected to be doing. But a week into her stint as a steward at the WCC's 10th Assembly, Adrianne Charles wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"This is an amazing experience being in South Korea, meeting new people, learning new perspectives," she says. She admits that without her pastor, James Seawood, strongly encouraging her to apply to become a steward she wouldn't be here.

Charles--a 19-year-old member of Brighton Heights Reformed Church in Staten Island, New York, and a sophomore at SUNY Plattsburgh--is one of the 120 stewards selected by the World Council of Churches to help run the Assembly.

The WCC brings the stewards in a week before the Assembly for orientation, training, and fellowship. They also participate in part of the Youth Pre-Assembly.

"In the first week we got to know each other. We learned about our differences, but that we were also unified under one God," says Charles. "I made some good friends, too, with bonds that will last a long time."

WCC Brings Unity Through Diversity

(From RCA Communications)

The diversity of the body of Christ is readily apparent at the World Council of Church's (WCC) 10th Assembly, currently being held in Busan, South Korea. And that's a strength, according to leaders and participants at the event.

"We are called to discover and rediscover again and again how this diversity enriches us as a Christian family," says Walter Altmann, the moderator of the WCC's central committee. "This is why we are here today. In the search for a better expression of the unity of the church, we have to acknowledge our neighbors' gifts, experiences, and convictions.

"They can make us more authentic and more faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ."

Those gifts, experiences, and convictions are being shared through presentations, reports, Bible studies, formal discussions, and personal conversations.

"It has been very meaningful for me to gather together with Christians from so many countries around the world and to hear stories of how God is at work in their lives and in their churches," says Kristin VanKampen, the RCA's coordinator for volunteer engagement and a delegate to the assembly.

"I'm the co-leader of a Bible study group at the assembly," says Wes Granberg-Michaelson, RCA general secretary emeritus and associate for ecumenical relations. "My co-leader is Wedad Tawfik, a professor in the Coptic Church in Egypt.

"Always, the Bible becomes freshly alive when those from diverse backgrounds from around the world reflect together on what they hear. I love these times."

General Secretary Emeritus Urges Deep Change for WCC

(From RCA Communication)
As the tenth assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) gets underway in Busan, South Korea, RCA general secretary emeritus Wes Granberg-Michaelson has challenged the 65-year-old organization to consider deep changes for the sake of the unity of the global church.

Granberg-Michaelson’s latest book, From Times Square to Timbuktu, lays out the dramatic shifts in world Christianity over the past century: the church in the Global South is growing exponentially, and much of that growth is within the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions.

In order to preserve the unity of the church, says Granberg-Michaelson, established church institutions like the WCC need to focus their energy on building relationships with the growing church bodies in the Global South. If they don’t, they risk growing more and more isolated from the dynamic and growing parts of the global church.

  • Read more about the shifting gravity of world Christianity. (From Ecumenical News


China's Rapid Growth Creates Challenges, Opportunities

(From RCA Communications)

The rapid changes in China over the last three decades have opened up opportunities for Christians--but these changes also present increasing challenges.

The sheer scale of the economic growth (gross domestic product has risen 536 percent since 1990) has triggered seismic changes in society. Rapid urbanization and a growing disparity between rich and poor are just two of the outcomes.

Tom De Vries, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, learned firsthand how societal changes are impacting the church in a week-long visit to China.

"The church is learning how to minister in this rapidly changing environment with economic disparities, and with relational and family connections that are shifting greatly as the younger generation moves to cities for greater opportunity," says De Vries.

"Pink Out Sunday" Supports People with Cancer

(From Mlive.com)

Many things turned pink in October to call attention to the ongoing fight against breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As part of their Pink Out Sunday event--honoring and supporting people struggling with cancer--members of North Park Reformed Church at 1316 Barney Road in Kalamazoo had a special offering and raised a total of $4,177.

The money is expected to support Journey Beads, a partnership between the Bronson Health Foundation and the West Michigan Glass Art Center.

Innovative Initiatives Grow the Church in Myanmar

(From RCA Communications)

An overwhelmingly Buddhist majority. Extreme poverty. The first tentative steps into a free and open society. Discrimination against ethnic minorities.

These are just a few of the challenges that ministers and elders of the Reformed Evangelical Church in Myanmar (RECM) face as they spread the gospel in this nation of nearly 60 million people.

In a two-day visit to Myanmar, RCA general secretary Tom De Vries learned firsthand how the RECM conquers these challenges in innovative ways.

Sometimes it's as simple as a installing a solar panel. An RECM pastor who oversees and ministers in one RECM district says that villages in the area go dark at sunset due to a lack of electricity. He's had solar panels installed on churches, providing places to gather after dark for Bible studies and other events.

In two other RECM districts, preschools have been a means to enter into the lives of families in poor areas. Up to thirty students, ages three to five, attend the all-day schools, freeing their parents to seek work without worrying about their children. Most of the children are not Christian, giving the evangelists who run the schools an opening to speak and teach the gospel.

RCA-funded wells in another district have opened up nearly 30 communities to Christianity. "This gives a good witness to the community," says an RECM pastor in the district. "It shows the people that Christians care for their well-being and gives our ministers standing to speak to a wider audience."

Update on Schoharie Creek Basin Recovery Process

(From RCA Today)

It has been two years since the Schoharie Creek Basin was engulfed by muddy rushing floodwaters flowing at twice the cubic feet per second of Niagara Falls. Recovery efforts remain constant on multiple fronts, and will for several years. I am proud to say most of you already know this, because you have been active all along the way--working out in the community, collecting supplies, making food, serving food, volunteering in the volunteer center, or hosting a fundraiser. The RCA presence and impact has been significant!

More than 33,000 volunteers have worked on more than 650 properties, and more than 28,000 meals have been served. Through coordination, $1.5 million in donations has been leveraged with donated and discounted materials and labor, providing over $9 million in goods and services. More than 45 Reformed churches have sent volunteer groups.

These numbers speak to great accomplishments in the work of recovery of the Schoharie Creek Basin, but they also speak to the sharing of God's love, grace, and the re-forming of community.

Ministry with Allendale's Hispanic Community Is Growing

(From RCA Today)

Iglesia Alas de Aguila (Eagle's Wings Church) has taken flight in Allendale, Michigan, and is soaring to new heights.

It's the third church planted by Beechwood Reformed Church in Holland out of a commitment to reach the Hispanic population in West Michigan. Iglesia Alas de Aguila ministries have also been planted in Holland and Wyoming.

The Allendale campus is under way because Beechwood's demographic study of that small city showed more than 1,200 people there spoke Spanish either primarily or exclusively, and there were no churches for Spanish speakers in the area.

Commissioned pastor Enrique Cuevas leads Iglesia Alas de Aguila in Allendale. Since he planted the church in 2011, 25 people have become Christians and there have been 18 adult baptisms.

Mandarin Translation of The Reformed Church in China

The importance and impact of the Reformed Church's mission work in China was evidenced at the General Synod Council meeting in Grand Rapids on Friday, October 11, as Donald J. Bruggink presented a Mandarin Chinese translation of The Reformed Church in China to Tom De Vries.

Bruggink, general editor of the Historical Series of the RCA, had just received a copy of the translated volume which was published in China. Dr. Gerald De Jong wrote, The Reformed Church in China, 1842-1951, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the mission in Amoy. De Vries, general secretary of the RCA, will be visiting China with a delegation of RCA leaders in conjunction with the World Council of Churches General Assembly gathering in South Korea.

De Jong's history recounts the story of the RCA's work in China from the arrival of David Abeel in 1842 through the expulsion of the missionaries in 1951. The church established in Amoy remains and flourishes to this day—with standing room only for many worship services. The missionaries significantly impacted the entire world mission effort in the mid-nineteenth century with their staunch refusal to establish a classis of the Reformed Church in America and, instead, insisted on the creation of an autonomous Christian Church in China. At that time it was a bold move that led to the development of the Church of Christ as an indigenous effort run and supported by the local population.

The translation was completed with the sanction of the Communist government. Now, the story has been made increasingly accessible to non-English speaking Chinese people. The English volume may be ordered from Eerdmans for $25.

Or, from Amazon at a discount.

This is now the third language that the Historical Series in which volumes of the Historical Series are available. Doctors of the Kingdom by Dr. Paul Armerding was translated into Arabic by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to make it more widely accessible in Arabian Gulf countries.

General Synod Council, Meeting alongside Commissions, Focuses on Denominational Vision for Transformed and Transforming

(From RCA Communications)

The General Synod Council (GSC) met October 10 to 13, 2013, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The GSC serves the General Synod and assemblies of the RCA as the program agent for mission and ministry and as the General Synod's executive committee.

The General Synod Commissions on Christian Unity, Women, History, Christian Action, Theology, Christian Discipleship and Education, Race and Ethnicity, Church Order, Nominations, and Christian Worship also met at this time, a practice begun several years ago to encourage collaboration among commissions and between the commissions and the GSC.

Cooperation and interaction between the commissions and the GSC continue to be valuable, both as a community-building element of the fall meetings and as the commissions and GSC look toward the reports and recommendations that will be brought to the General Synod in June.

Video Games Help Teens Connect

(From RCA Today)

The idea started out simply--provide a place for the teenagers of Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns to spend time together.

It's become a Friday night tradition that the teens look forward to all week.

Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns doesn't have a traditional youth group program; it's a small congregation with only 13 teens. Moira Gargano, the church's Sunday school director, saw a need to help teens in the congregation connect with each other and with the church. "This came out of finding something for my son [now a ninth-grader] to do with other kids in the church," she says.

Gargano says she proposed a Wii night as a starting point because there are a lot of family-friendly, group-oriented games available for the popular Nintendo game system. When she asked the kids if they'd be interested in getting together to play Wii games, she says, only a few hands went up--but the few who did were enthusiastic about the idea.

So Gargano set a date for the first gathering. On a Friday night from 7:00 to 9:00, she and another parent from the church, Rob Wingate, would host a video game party.

What came to be called Wii Believe started out as a two-hour gathering to play Wii games and quickly began to snowball.

Iowa Ministry Builds Relationships

Cana, a ministry in Fort Dodge, Iowa, is making connections and touching lives by welcoming members of its community from all walks of life.

Coffee Shop Provides an Oasis

(From RCA Today)

An unshakeable sense of calling led pastor Jerry Hekhuis to open a coffee shop with an old friend.
It began when Hekhuis woke up in the middle of the night with what he describes as a word from God: oasis.

His church, Good News Christian Fellowship (RCA) in New Port Richey, Florida, had recently started describing its territory as desert—a hard place for outreach. Hekhuis was feeling the call to provide an oasis in that desert, a coffee shop where people would be refreshed. "Through the products, through the service, through the atmosphere, through the relational networks, we would seek to be an oasis and connect with people we would never be able to connect with through Sunday services," Hekhuis says.

"I didn't tell anyone about it for quite a while, because all I could see were obstacles. I kept praying about it, and all I got was confirmation. And I started sharing it with a few people who were close prayer partners. Every time I shared it, I just got wild confirmation that yes, it was of the Lord."

Today is 40th Anniversary of Women's Ordination in the RCA

(From RCA Communications)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Joyce Stedge's 1973 ordination as the first woman minister of Word and sacrament in the RCA.

Stedge's ordination was contested at the time, and General Synod did not decide the issue of women's ordination to the Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament until 1979, six years later.

Stedge was a member of United Church of Spring Valley in New York, and this past Sunday the congregation celebrated her ordination, which took place there.

At the morning worship service Mary Kansfield, a recent member of the RCA Commission on History, presented a brief overview of the women's ordination process. Bob Jones, Rockland-Westchester Classis's delegate to General Synod in 1973, offered a reflection, as did Debby Stedge, Joyce's daughter, who reflected on what she recalls of those tumultuous days.

Just this year, General Synod ratified removal of the "conscience clauses" from the Book of Church Order. The conscience clauses were statements that spelled out how RCA members could and could not conscientiously object to the ordination process of women.

Boat Capsizes off Italy, Drowning Migrants from North Africa

(From RCA Communications)

RCA mission partner helps address the underlying immigration crisis

People fleeing North Africa for Europe have once again experienced tragedy at sea. CNN reports that at least 94 people died yesterday after a boat loaded with people from Somalia, Eritrea, and Ghana capsized and caught fire off Lampedusa, a tiny island near Sicily in Italy.

Lampedusa has become a destination for tens of thousands of refugees seeking to enter Europe.

Eugenio Bernardini, the moderator of the Waldensian Church, the RCA's mission partner in Italy, expressed great appreciation for the concerns of many for the refugees and their desire to help.

"Sadly, the events of yesterday have repeated themselves with a dramatic frequency," he says. "I want to underline that the situation is even more dramatic in Naples than in Sicily. There are the additional problems of human trafficking, exploitation, and even human bondage, in short the destruction of the hopes of thousands of refugees.

"The situation in Naples is an absolute priority for the Waldensian Church. For the work in Naples we have asked the RCA to send a missionary in the field of social work."

Duncan Hanson, RCA supervisor of mission in Europe, says, "Waldensians are doing their best to provide ministry, including where possible, housing, for as many refugees as they can."

RCA Global Mission is exploring a potential position in Naples to extend the social justice work of RCA mission personnel Paolo Naso in that city.

Worshiping Creatively: Children Explore Faith and the Arts

(From RCA Today)

Paints dripping, steel drums sounding, clay being formed in the hands of first graders—through the STARS after-school program, children are discovering creativity and worship in new ways.

STARS is a new ministry at First Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa. It's an effort to reach out to the community, develop the creative talents of worship in young people, revitalize a struggling Wednesday evening program, and enlarge a vision of discipleship.

"The church began the new ministry in the fall of 2012 in an effort to help young people understand their importance in the role of worship and to encourage the creative arts as part of their ministry outreach opportunities," says Diana Scandridge, youth and education director at First Reformed.

On Wednesday afternoons, helpers meet the children at school and walk them to the church. 

From Survive to Thrive: A Learning Center in Watts Delivers

(From RCA Today)

Gene and Sandra Fisher have done amazing work to improve educational success for kids who live in L.A.'s inner-city Watts neighborhood.

In 1997 the Fishers co-founded Watts Learning Center, a charter school, and today test scores of the students rival those of kids in the nearby Beverly Hills school system.

The center began with just a kindergarten and now includes grades K-8. In 2011 the school earned a state academic performance ranking of 852 out of a possible 1,000. In 2012 their score was 870--"far beyond expectations for a low-income community and a school population of 92 percent African American and 8 percent Latino students," says Gene. Since race riots in the 1960s, Watts has been synonymous with racial tension and gang violence. It has the highest percentage of families headed by single parents in Los Angeles.

A committed learning community

Gene Fisher is an elder at Park Hills Community Church (RCA) in View Park, a municipality in L.A. County that is one of the wealthiest areas in the United States and has a high percentage of African-American residents (about 85 percent).

One of his many gifts is raising money for the center. But while funding the center is critical, the real driving force behind its success is the deep commitment of the members of its learning community. 

Chicago Church Celebrates 100 Years

(From RCA Communication)

Mount Greenwood Reformed Church in Chicago, Illinois, celebrated its 100th anniversary this past July with a dinner and celebration service. The theme of the anniversary celebration was “Connecting: Past, Present, and Future.”

On Friday, July 26, more than 160 people attended a celebration dinner held at Trinity Christian College. They shared stories from the congregation’s history and enjoyed presentations by Mount Greenwood’s praise choir and chalk artist Randy Davis.

A service of celebration held on Sunday, July 28, drew more than 250 people, including both present and past members of the congregation. Mount Greenwood’s current pastor, Bill Crowder, and four of its previous pastors (Don MacDonald, Jacob Dykstra, Kevin Schutt, and Harris Verkaik) took part in the service, which ended with the Hallelujah Chorus. After the service, worshipers were invited to enjoy a dessert bar.

Churches Team Up to Fight Hunger

(From RCA Communication)

CrossroadsMembers of Crossroads and Norwalk UMC packaged 100,006 meals. Church (RCA) in Norwalk, Iowa, teamed up with Norwalk United Methodist Church to host a meal-packing event through the nonprofit Meals from the Heartland. They raised enough money to pack 100,006 meals, exceeding their goal of 75,000.

Some of the meals packaged were shipped to Haiti and some were distributed to hungry families in the United States.

The meal-packing event was such a success that the two churches have scheduled another joint packaging event for April 5, 2014. They are also inviting other Norwalk churches to join them and help make next year’s event even bigger.

Pedaling to Fight Poverty

(From RCA Today)

This summer, more than 200 cyclists from the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church took a stand against poverty by pedaling across North America.

The Sea to Sea 2013 bike tour raised awareness and funds to help people living in poverty, both at home and around the world.

Cyclists dipped their tires in the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach, California, on June 21 and arrived in New York City on August 24, after covering nearly 3,900 miles and traveling through both the U.S. and Canada.

"Sea to Sea brings together people who are passionate about ending the cycle of poverty," says Roland Ratmeyer, a retired RCA pastor who rode the entire nine-week journey. "The cycling is really secondary to the cause, but it is a way to create interest and the involvement of a lot of people.

"Sea to Sea is a way to engage people in the issue," Ratmeyer says. "And it helps to have an opening line: 'Hi, I'm going to ride my bike from coast to coast this summer, with about a hundred other cyclists, to lift up the issue of poverty in the world, and raise some funds to help lift people out of poverty.'

"The initial response is often something like this: 'You're doing what? Tell me about it. Is there any way I can support you?'"

WCC and Global Christian Forum seek Christian unity together

(From the World Council of Churches)

A World Council of Churches (WCC) seminar has marked the strengthening of relationships between the WCC and the Global Christian Forum (GCF), affirming their distinctive and complementary roles in the quest for Christian unity.

Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, member of the GCF committee and general secretary emeritus of the Reformed Church in America focussed in his presentation on the new developments in World Christianity: “We are living in the most significant times of change in Christian history, depicting a shift in the presence of the world’s Christians,”

“This shift is not only visible to the South, but also to the East. We are observing a spiritual resurgence of non-Western Christianity throughout the world,” said Granberg-Michaelson, who is author of a book titled From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church.

He stressed the significance of councils and forums in seeking Christian unity, especially as part of preparations for the WCC’s upcoming assembly, to be held from 30 October through 8 November in Busan, Republic of Korea.

“On our way to Busan, we need to ask ourselves what is the scope of these changes and what does this mean for our common search towards Christian unity,” added Granberg-Michaelson.

NBTS sells part of historic campus to Rutgers for a fresh start

(From NJ.com)

After more than 150 years of training Christian ministers on a rise over the Raritan River, New Brunswick Theological Seminary is coming down off "Holy Hill."

In a complex deal that will transform part of downtown New Brunswick, the nation’s oldest Protestant seminary is selling most of its hilltop campus to neighboring Rutgers University. The seminary is using the cash to build a new state-of-the-art building at the base of the hill on the corner of College Avenue.

New Brunswick Theological Seminary officials say the radical decision to sell and demolish 10 buildings on one of New Jersey’s most historic campuses is an answer to their prayers. The $30 million deal will help stabilize the seminary’s shaky finances and provide a fresh start for one of the nation’s oldest education institutions, said Gregg Mast, the seminary’s president.

From Ashes to Action: Church aims to provide sanctuary to abused women

(From RCA Today)

A mostly empty sanctuary on Sunday mornings is not usually met with enthusiasm, but at First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, it spelled opportunity.

The congregation of 70 gathers for worship in a sanctuary that seats 600--and soon, much of that space will be repurposed as permanent, affordable housing for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

Next spring, the church hopes to begin renovations to the sanctuary, adding a second and third floor in the soaring space to create 10 apartments. A new, smaller worship space will house the congregation and be available as a performing arts space for local theater and musical groups.

"We have a lot of groups using the facility and our education building--two other churches worshiping with us, a nursery school upstairs in our education building, and various other community groups using some of the spaces. But we realized that we could actually use more for the community if we could redesign the interior of the sanctuary space--that makes it more economical and more efficient," says Susan Kramer-Mills. Kramer-Mills was copastor of First Reformed Church until she stepped down in order to manage the Town Clock Community Development Corporation, which was established to facilitate the renovations.

Heidelberg Q&A 1 cuts across age boundaries

From CRC Communications

“What is your only comfort in life and death?”

This is the first and very familiar question in the much-beloved Heidelberg Catechism.

But even more familiar is the answer, one that Reformed Christians have been reciting through much joy and sorrow for 450 years now.

The answer begins: “That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

It ends with: “Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Both the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and Reformed Church in America (RCA) synods this summer urged members of their denominations to recite Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism during worship services on Sunday, Sept. 15.

The synods made this request as a way of collectively marking the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg and chose Q&A 1 because of how familiar church members are with it.

New Brunswick to Present Esther Award

(From RCA Communication)

Members of Shin Kwang Church participate in a medical mission tripOn Wednesday, September 4, New Brunswick Theological Seminary will confer its annual Esther Award on Shin Kwang Church of New York (RCA) in Bayside for its pursuit of Christ-like medical mission both locally and globally.

Shin Kwang helps connect people to health services both in its own neighborhood and internationally. The church opens its doors for people in Queens without medical insurance, hosting free diagnostic services, preventive screenings, and health seminars. It also hosts blood drives.

Every year a short-term mission team from Shin Kwang travels to Haiti to provide a medical clinic, eye exams, and free eyeglasses, and to lead a vacation Bible school. Other members have participated in mission trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Kazakhstan.

New Brunswick established the Esther Award in 2008 as part of its commitment to public theology. The award is given annually to an organization whose actions in the public sphere give witness to a strong foundation in Christian faith and ethics.

As part of the Esther Award, New Brunswick will also name seminarian Lateya Foxx as the Esther Award Scholar for 2013-2014, recognizing her faith commitment and academic excellence at the seminary. She will receive a full-tuition scholarship for the 2013-2014 year.

Calvary Church Heavily Involved in Community

(From the Chicago Tribune)

A member of Calvary Church recently came to the aid of a panic-stricken customer in line at a local food store who had forgotten his wallet, paying for the man’s groceries.

That was only one of the numerous church blessings from parishioners of the Orland Park church, who are on a mission to help their neighbors.

The church hopes to bless 10,000 people by Oct. 1. Blessings include driving a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment, helping with errands, taking someone out for a meal, or sitting and talking to an individual who feels lonely.

“We’re very mission-minded,” said Rich Schuler, executive administrator of the church and a longtime member. “We believe we’re called to reach out to our neighbors.”

Despite Detroit's problems, Michigan isn't Michigan without Motown

(From Mlive.com)

What [does] Detroit’s revival have to do with religion? Plenty, if you ask the Rev. Larry Doornbos. As church planting development leader for the Grand Rapids-based Christian Reformed Church, he’s heading an effort to start new churches and aid community development in the Motor City. Along with the Reformed Church in America, the CRC is working to plant perhaps four to eight congregations in what’s called a Detroit Kingdom Enterprise Zone.

“The truth is we care deeply about Detroit and the people of Detroit,” said Doornbos, former pastor of EverGreen Ministries in Hudsonville. “We just feel it would be wrong for us to ignore the needs of the city.”

The Detroit Kingdom Enterprise Zone is part of the joint church-planting initiative of the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Responding to Refugees: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me"

The RCA CARE Network responds to suffering caused by human actions such as war, terrorism, and persecution. Aid to refugees is an example; of the 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world today, 10.5 million are "refugees of concern"--refugees who need protection and assistance. The RCA CARE Network helps these individuals and families as they come to the U.S. and Canada.

For example, RCA CARE partners with the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program (CWS-IRP), which helps relocate about eight thousand refugees each year. CWS-IRP works with local affiliates to accomplish this through a large grant from the United States government.

Bethany Christian Services Private, a non-profit adoption and family service agency, is a resettlement affiliate of the CWS-IRP, approved to receive and place refugees. Back in 2000, Bethany connected Faith Community Church (RCA) in Littleton, Colorado, with three refugee families from Bosnia and Serbia who needed help. Kathryn Roy, a member of Faith Community, led members of Faith Community in helping the refugees with household set up, English lessons, job searches, and other needs.

As those families became independent and after the U.S. experienced 9/11, which temporarily limited relocations, the refugee ministry at Faith Community became dormant. Then, years later, Bethany contacted Kathryn again to see if the church would consider sponsoring another family. Kathryn wasn’t sure what God would have them do, but says the ministry had "always been in my heart and on my mind."

Later, on a trip in October 2011, Kathryn and her husband, David, were at Chicago's O'Hare airport when Kathryn spotted three women who appeared to be from Africa coming down an escalator with six small children. Noting the International Office of Migration bags they carried, she instantly knew they were refugees.

"How scared they must have been," she says. "I am sure they were glad to be there, but still so scared to be alone." She vowed right then to go back to her small church's mission committee and build support to resume a refugee ministry. The church received word in July 2012 that Bethany had a family from Bhutan arriving in two weeks. With 13,000 refugees a year, Bhutan is one of four countries that accounted for more than three-quarters of the world's refugees of concern in 2011. (The others are Myanmar (21,300), Iraq (20,000), and Somalia (15,700).

Kathryn describes what happened next. "We said to ourselves, 'We aren't ready!' But then we asked ourselves, 'What are we saying?' This couple had lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 20 years, where they married and had four children. Who were we to ask them to wait any longer?" And so the task of helping another family settle and become acclimated to American life began.

bethany christian services | ref-u-gee from Bradley Productions on Vimeo.

The refugee ministry has had a positive impact on the congregation. People who have not previously been involved in missions have, by personal invitation, have stepped up. And Kathryn says it has been heartwarming to see the children in American families build relationships with and have compassion for the refugee children. In ministering to the refugee family, they have also learned not to let protecting time and convenience become dictators.

"This ministry is not about what is most convenient," Kathryn says. "It's about taking the time to build relationships and walk alongside others." Kathryn has this advice for others considering this ministry: "If there is a heart for it in anyone, then cover it in prayer, talk to Bethany, and then let God lead the way. Take steps and the doors will open."

For more information on hosting refugees, if you’re located in or near Michigan, email GRrefugee@bethany.org. To locate a CWS-IRP affiliate in another area, contact RCA CARE Network coordinator Jay Harsevoort at jharsevoort@rca.org or (616) 698-7071, ext. 1889.

Coming Home

(From RCA Today)

As members of a New York church build relationships with former prisoners and help them reenter society, the congregants' lives are being transformed too.

Reformed Church of Bronxville (RCB) is located in a one-mile-square commuter town of about 6,000 people 15 miles north of New York City. It borders two zip codes that have some of the highest incarceration rates in the state--although this was not something members knew when they started the Coming Home program in 2010.

"Coming Home is a life skills empowerment program that includes workshops, goal setting with mentoring, life skills sessions, and story sharing in a supportive environment," says Dawn Ravella, who was instrumental in setting up Coming Home. She is RCB's mission outreach director and a licensed social worker. 

Of the graduates of Coming Home's first session, Ravella says, "Richard is now in a PhD program and has opened his first bank account; Donald has relieved much of his debt; Earl has opened an email account, now has a computer, and every day is improving his literacy; Jim is working and recently received a promotion; the list goes on."

Good Ground

(From RCA Today)

For Jose Camilo, California's fertile San Joaquin Valley--producer of $20 billion in farm products each year--is a great place to grow churches.

In the past three years, Camilo has helped get five Hispanic church plants under way in cities along the 99 freeway that runs the length of the valley.

Camilo began his ministry in the Dominican Republic. In 2006 he was one of the first pastors to join the new Dominican Reformed Church (DRC) and receive training with RCA leaders and other members of the founding team. DRC was founded by Dominican church leaders in collaboration with RCA pastor Andres Serrano (originally from the Dominican Republic); Brigido Cabrera, then coordinator for Hispanic ministries; Luis Perez, then executive for the Synod of the Mid-Atlantics, and other RCA leaders.

By 2010, the year Tulare Community Church called Camilo to "catalyze" Hispanic church planting in the southern San Joaquin Valley, he already had planted or helped plant 12 churches in the Dominican Republic, including two on the border with Haiti.


Journeying toward Congregational Vitality

(From RCA Today)

In April 2012, three congregations in the Classis of Cascades embarked on a journey of revitalization to help them become healthier and more missional. They're the pilot congregations in a process the classis hopes will help many more congregations engage revitalization.

The three congregations--New Life Community in Wendell, Idaho; Faith Reformed in Lynden, Washington; and Faith Community in Edmonds, Washington--are using a process developed by the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) called the Congregational Vitality Pathway.

Phil Assink, pastor of Faith Community Church and regional strategist for the Classis of Cascades, says the ECC's process fits well into the RCA context. "The Evangelical Covenant Church is very similar size-wise to us. They have very similar goals and issues. Their emphases as a denomination are very similar to ours."

The Congregational Vitality Pathway is designed to help a congregation identify its current reality and figure out what it needs to do to become a healthy, missional body of believers.

"One of the things that really makes the Vitality Pathway such an exciting endeavor is that it's very organic as it unfolds," says Assink. "It's constantly a dialogue process, not a prescribed path like a recipe. Each step unfolds differently in each church."


New iDisciple site

(From RCA Communications)

Check out iDisciple.rca.org, a new site designed to connect you with others seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Currently you'll find resources and articles on discipleship there, but this is only the beginning. New items will be added weekly, including:

  • guest reflections
  • resource and process recommendations from your peers
  • quotes from discipleship practitioners
  • stories of people's transformation into missional living
As you spend time at iDisciple.rca.org,send your feedback to Stephanie Doeschot, coordiator of adult discipleship. Do you have something to share that would benefit others? Do you see a need to address?

Enjoy engaging one another over topics that will help all of us respond to the Great Commission: "mak[ing] disciples of all nations...and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).

New Brunswick Theological Seminary Departs "Holy Hill" to Build a New Future

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)

On the last day of July, some 200 neighbors, alumni, students, friends and family climbed 'Holy Hill' and then mounted the steps to the Gardner A. Sage Library (dedicated in 1875) to witness a moment in history.

New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS), the first seminary established in North America, broke ground for a new campus that is technologically smart and environmentally green. The seminary anticipates moving into the new building in the fall semester of 2014.

Construction includes a new 30,000 square-foot central building with a chapel, classrooms, offices, conference facilities, space for commuting students and a 100-car parking lot. The new campus will meet the needs of commuting students and innovative programs and will preserve the Sage library.

During the groundbreaking, NBTS President Gregg Mast drew sharp contrasts between the present Seminary and the Seminary he attended 40 years ago. The parcel of land the Seminary is selling, known affectionately as 'Holy Hill,' was a place of spiritual formation and refuge for two centuries. As a seminarian at NBTS, he said, "we lived on campus, our professors lived on campus, we were a community."

But when Mast returned as president seven years ago, that kind of residential community had simply disappeared. Dormitories and buildings stood empty and aging. "No longer do seminarians leave their homes and devote three solid years to ministerial formation. Most of our students are bi-vocational and second-career," he explained. "So this move comes a little late. We're no longer a residential community."

Today many seminarians remain fully employed in careers such as military service, medicine, law, criminal justice, finance, education, administration, and politics. They enroll part-time or full-time in day and evening classes on two campuses, in New Brunswick and in Queens.

"It's perfectly fitting that we come off the hill onto the main street of the city in which we work," said Mast. "We have become a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational and multi-generational community of faith and learning. Our new campus will communicate who we are."

African American-Black Council Statement on Zimmerman Acquittal

To Whom It May Concern:

The Executive Committee of the Reformed Church in America's African American-Black Council issues the following statement regarding the Zimmerman acquittal and its relationship to the ongoing climate of race relations in the U.S. We commend this document to you and ask your support of it.

To register your support, please email our staff assistant Shani Baker at sbaker@rca.org, putting "Advocacy Statement" in the email's subject line.

Thank you for considering our letter.

Yours in Christ,
Jo Anna C. Lougin, Chairperson
African American-Black Council, RCA

The Value of Powerful Questions

(From RCA Today)

For Randy Weener, it paved the way for a healing ministry when he shepherded Spring Valley Community Church in Michigan. For pastor Russ Siders, it guided a staff member at Sunrise Community Church in California's Central Valley to found a music school. And pastor Israel Camacho of Nueva Esperanza/New Hope Community Church has used it to train Spanish speakers to spread the Good Word in Arizona's immigrant communities.

It's coaching. RCA style, that is.

Put simply, RCA coaching is a process of self-exploration aimed at helping individuals discover God's agenda for their personal strengths, desires, and goals. Once this is determined, usually through one-on-one sessions, the focus turns to implementation and eventually follow-up.

"It's not like athletic coaching," says Weener, who now leads the South Grand Rapids Classis. "You may not know more than the [person] you are coaching. You're just asking powerful questions and providing space for the Holy Spirit to speak."

Two Churches, One Minister: Congregations partner but maintain their own identities

(From RCA Today)

Two New York churches are sharing a minister, but they're maintaining their autonomy as congregations.

Rochester Reformed Church in Accord and Community Church of High Falls (RCA)--located eight miles from each other--have called Aaron Schulte to pastor both churches.

Schulte began serving both congregations in December 2012. He's one of three pastors in the Classis of Mid-Hudson who serve two churches.

"Let's face it, ministers are expensive, but the gifts they provide a congregation are invaluable," says Schulte. "So what are small congregations to do? One answer is entering a shared ministry--where the pastoral presence is consistent, but the finances are split."

"Both congregations are just below that line where they could call their own minister," says Charles Stickley, who just completed several years of serving as contract pastor at Community Church of High Falls. Rochester Reformed was without a minister and had been relying on pulpit supply.

"We had both advertised for a part-time pastor, and neither of us had any response at all. That sparked sitting down and talking together. We advertised a joint ministry between the two congregations, and we were inundated with requests and profiles."

The calling process
The churches agreed to split the costs of a minister's salary and insurance; High Falls would provide a parsonage and Rochester would provide office space and a secretary.

Both churches participated in the search process. 

Pokot Church in Kenya Continues to Grow

Amos Liang'or writes that the church in Alale, a small village in northern Kenya, continues to spread the gospel to unreached people. The people of Alale themselves were introduced to the gospel just a little over 30 years ago.Hymn sing

The more than 20 congregations they've started since then are part of the Africa Inland Church (AIC), an RCA mission partner that first sent an evangelist to the Pokot people in 1981. The RCA's first missionaries in Alale, Bob and Morrie Swart, went with the evangelist. RCA missionaries Larry and Linda McAuley also served among the Pokot in Alale, from 1981 to 1997.

"We promote peace to the three warring tribes—the Pokot, Karamojong, and Turkana—by teaching and sharing God's Word," says Liang'or. "We have undertaken evangelistic crusades and opened new churches in areas that previously did not have a church—two in Uganda and one in Kenya. Many people are coming to Christ. Each church has introduced catechism classes so that the saved brothers and sisters will be baptized when they complete the catechism lessons."

Liang'or, who is partially supported by RCA Global Mission, administers a clinic in Alale started by former RCA missionaries Sharon and Emery Blanksma to minister to the Pokot people.

NBTS Honors Project Hospitality Director

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)
Terry Troia (center), executive director of Project Hospitality, with Roland Ratmeyer and his wife, Una.During its 2013 commencement exercises in May, New Brunswick Theological Seminary awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree to RCA pastor Terry Troia, executive director of Project Hospitality in Staten Island, New York.

Project Hospitality, an RCA mission partner, is a nonprofit organization that ministers to homeless and hungry people on Staten Island. Under Troia’s leadership, Project Hospitality has grown from an interfaith coalition of volunteers ministering to the homeless in church basements and soup kitchens to a full-service agency that serves thousands of people each year.
During her acceptance speech, Troia acknowledged the contributions of another RCA pastor—Roland Ratmeyer, founder of Project Hospitality. "I'm so very honored," she said. "And even more so because I can't believe that here with us today is Reverend Doctor Roland Ratmeyer, Class of 1963. It is Reverend Ratmeyer who had the vision to start Project Hospitality more than 30 years ago. He is the one who should be up here receiving this degree!"
Troia's history with Project Hospitality began in 1982, when she and several members of her family volunteered to serve dinner to people spending the night in the basement of Brighton Heights Reformed Church in Staten Island. Troia then volunteered to stay all night. A few months later, Ratmeyer hired her as Project Hospitality’s outreach director; she has been faithfully serving people in need in Staten Island ever since.

NBTS Receives $1.6 Million Gift

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)

A former New Brunswick Theological Seminary board member has committed $1.6 million to the seminary over the next four years. $1 million of this gift will be placed in an endowment for the seminary’s new campus and $600,000 will go into the Seminary Fund, which covers student scholarships and operational expenses.
The gift comes just as construction begins on a new, 30,000-square-foot building that will better support New Brunswick’s commuter students and non-traditional programs. The new campus will preserve the historic Gardner A. Sage Library, dedicated in 1875.
The endowment provides an annual source of income for ongoing improvements like enriched common areas in the new building for commuter students, WiFi- and multimedia-enabled classrooms, and enhanced information resources.
"This extraordinary gift provides a strong foundation for building a new future at New Brunswick Theological Seminary," says NBTS president Gregg Mast. "These are committed seminary donors and friends. As we enter this time of great change, their gift ensures we have the resources to further develop a truly exceptional seminary education."
The gift, along with significant gifts from the Schregardus family, donors in Korea, and the Henry Luce Foundation to the new Underwood Chair in Global Christianity, will provide momentum for the fundraising campaign the seminary will launch later this year.

Community Partnership Benefits Youth Ministry

(From RCA Communications)

A summer program for kids in Holland, Michigan, has a brand new playground this year.Playground assembly

CAMP ROCK, an evangelism and discipleship program through Holland Rescue Mission, is hosted at Trinity Reformed Church, where the playground was built in May.

Every summer, Trinity hosts 75 to 100 kids from the mission five days a week for 10 weeks.

The playground was built in a day with the help of 247 volunteers from all over Holland. Most of the playground's cost and 75 of the volunteers came from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group through a grant partnership with KaBOOM, a national nonprofit dedicated to "giving kids the childhood they deserve by bringing play to those who need it."

Hearts Connect in Haiti

(From RCA Today)

The hearts and lives of RCA folks from Iowa have been changed as they've brought hope and healing to people of the Central Plateau of Haiti.

It started in 1983 when Steve Ross, a member of Second Reformed Church in Pella, traveled to Pignon, Haiti, as a volunteer. Ross met Guy Theodore, a Haitian who had served as a surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and returned to Haiti in 1981 to start Christian Mission of Pignon.

Christian Mission of Pignon has become Promise for Haiti (PFH). It operates 65-bed Hospital Bienfaisance, nine Christian schools, and a farming operation and has established more than 2,500 clean water wells.

In 1984 Joanne Schafer, another member of Second Reformed, went to Haiti with her husband, Charles, a doctor who had organized the first surgical team to work at Hospital Bienfaisance. Today Joanne coordinates a scholarship program she created to help underserved children attend school in the Pignon area.  

Faith Alive Continues to Offer Ministry Resources

Faith Alive Christian Resources will continue to market, sell, and distribute Sunday school curriculum, worship resources, and other faith formation materials.

While the Christian Reformed Church's publishing ministry has gone through substantial changes in recent months, Faith Alive director Mark Rice wants people to know that its "essential functions are continuing, and publishing and distributing our products will continue."

He says, "I think there is the perception out there among some people that Faith Alive was closing on June 30 and that they couldn't order products from us anymore." In reality, he says, the CRC's Synod 2013 agreed to dissolve the board of Faith Alive on June 30 as one of the structural changes needed as Faith Alive adapts to a changing publishing marketplace.

"We had been acting like a small commercial publisher, but that financial model wasn't working," says Rice.

Rice wants customers to know materials will continue to be available and that in its last financial quarter Faith Alive's revenue was up substantially over last year.

Looking to the future, he says, "Faith Alive will be working as a more focused, engaged ministry, making sure that our product is coming from and addressing the real needs of churches."

Faith Alive Christian Resources are available online, or by calling (800) 333-8300 to talk with a customer service representative.

Video Update: Tuesday, June 25

Having problems viewing? Watch it on the Vimeo video page.

Alderman Elected Synod VP

General Synod on Tuesday morning elected Greg Alderman, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Carmichael, California, as its new vice president. Alderman, who served for five years on General Synod Council, is the current vice president of Central California Classis as well.

Alderman will serve as vice president over the coming year.

"I am deeply humbled," Alderman said following his election. "I heard someone say they feel a debt of love and gratitude to the RCA and that's why they feel called to serve it.

"I'm thankful for my home church, New Life Community Church in Artesia, California. They kept the light on and had a vision to be a light in the city.

"I have a deep debt of love to the first church I served, First Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa. They often say in northwest Iowa, 'Please step on our toes.' My desire is to do that, always pointing to Jesus as the one rule for faith and life.

"I ask for prayers for Christ Community Church in Carmichael. They've been down this road before, having had David Schutt elected to this position, so they know what they're getting into.

"I also ask for prayers for my family. In talking with my wife, we noted that there was no irony at all that this synod passed resolutions calling forth our youth to be the very presence of Christ in the world. And I told the Lord, if you have truly called me to this, that means you have called my family."

Alderman and his wife, Veronica, have four children. He is a 1994 graduate of UCLA who received his master of divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1998.

The other candidates standing for vice president were Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell, copastor of Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, and Michael Van Buren, pastor of Fellowship Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.

Synod Votes on "Way Forward" Recommendations

After considerable deliberation and discussion, synod on Monday denied a recommendation that would have explored "fundamental policy changes" regarding the weight of General Synod statements, papers, policies, and resolutions, but delegates adopted a recommendation to appoint a working group to identify and/or develop "resources that will encourage grace-filled conversations among those holding varying understandings" with regard to homosexuality.

In all, synod dealt with three recommendations from the "Way Forward Task Force." The eight-member task force, recommended by General Synod 2012, consisted of a representative appointed by each of the RCA's regional synods to work and pray together with the goal of presenting a way forward for the RCA, given the disagreement within the denomination relative to homosexuality.

The first task force recommendation was adopted, instructing the Commission on Church Order to provide a brief statement to clarify the authority and scope of General Synod statements and resolutions that have not been written into the Book of Church Order (BCO).

The third recommendation--to identify resources for "grace-filled conversations among those holding varying understandings" and to help the RCA develop "strategies to preserve unity, purity, and peace" regarding homosexuality--was also approved.

A second recommendation--made up of three parts--dealt with the authority of General Synod statements as well as constitutional changes that would enable congregations and ministers to separate from the RCA "without recriminations such as forfeiture of property." The advice of the Advisory Committee on Church Order and Governance was to deny the second recommendation, noting that the BCO already provides a means for leaving the RCA and preferring a focus on dialogue rather than an exit strategy. After several failed amendments during an hour of debate, the recommendation was denied.

"Church history shows that battles over difficult issues like this have taken much longer than 20 or 30 years," said General Synod professor Dennis Voskuil in reference to frustrations of delegates who want the issue resolved. "I have not given up on the ability of the church to find a way through this issue."

In introducing their recommendations, members of the Way Forward Task Force asked that synod's conversation be guided by the three agreements that guided the task force:

  • To live life consistent with God's Word as set forth in Scripture and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
  • To humbly seek the truth in love (1 Cor. 13) as we acknowledge our differences in attempting to interpret God's Word faithfully.
  • To have grace-filled, non-punitive conversations moving to loving action.

Marilyn Paarlberg, a member of the task force, told delegates that the effect of the agreement was that "positions weren't changed, but hearts were" through their conversations. She said they stumbled on a grace-filled community in spite of themselves by centering their conversation in the Word. "Our experience as a task force indicates that there may be a way forward, a way forward together," she added.

Read about the surprising unity found by members of the Way Forward Task Force.

Video Update: Monday, June 24

Having problems viewing? Watch it on the Vimeo video page.

General Synod 2013: Vice Presidental Nominees

Three delegates have been nominated for General Synod vice president:

Greg Alderman

Greg Alderman is senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Carmichael, California. He is a graduate of UCLA and Fuller Theological Seminary. Previously, he served First Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa.

What three core values would you bring to this leadership position? How might someone see them lived out in your life and work?

I believe in love, acceptance, and forgiveness as a great expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The love of God (1 John 4:19), the knowledge that I am accepted by God in spite of my shortcomings and sin (Romans 5:8), and the forgiveness (1 John 1:9-10) I experience in Jesus Christ lead me to treat others the same way.

Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell

Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell is copastor of Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. She is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Previously, she served Owasco Reformed Church in Owasco, New York, and First Reformed Church in Wynantskill, New York.

What three core values would you bring to this leadership position? How might someone see them lived out in your life and work?

As an oblate of St. Benedict (an associate of a Benedictine monastery) I would think of three Benedictine values:

  1. The value of stability--the promise to serve Jesus Christ in the place where I have been called and not seek to run away from my community or commitments.
  2. The value of continual conversion--the promise to always be open to the Spirit of God, who calls us to turn toward God continually.
  3. The value of obedience--the root of the word "obedience" is to listen--I will "listen" to God as God speaks in Scripture and community, and submit myself to God.

Michael Van Buren

Michael Van Buren is pastor of Fellowship Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. He is a graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary. He previously served Glen Lake Community Reformed Church in Glen Arbor, Michigan, and Ottawa Reformed Church in West Olive, Michigan.

What three core values would you bring to this leadership position? How might someone see them lived out in your life and work?

"Sola Scriptura"--constant obedience to Scripture as my only rule of faith and practice. The focus of all of my preaching/small groups/parenthood and social events.

Leadership training--of my 20(+) employees, the last 11 hires have been raised up within our own church. We have three commissioned pastors presently being raised up within the church. We have raised up the last four missionaries sent out by our congregation.

Missional--this example will be clear to the whole: if our general fund (in FRC) goes up 5 percent…our mission budget rises 5+1 percent…it must go up faster than the funds we use for ourselves. We (I) am fully committed to church starts/revitalization/foreign/local/regional missions. We have started a food pantry and help stock other local food pantries.

General Synod Adopts New Strategic Goal

For the second time in a decade, General Synod has made history by approving a strategic direction for the RCA's future. Following the completion of a 10-year goal known as Our Call that was celebrated on Sunday evening, delegates on Monday morning adopted a new statement of direction for RCA mission and ministry called "Transformed and Transforming: Radically Following Christ in Mission Together."

Culminating a years-long process of discernment, prayer, and discussion that began in 2010, "Transformed and Transforming" calls on the RCA to focus on three strategic priorities during the next fifteen years:

  • cultivating transformation in Christ,
  • equipping emerging leaders of today and tomorrow, and
  • engaging in Christ's kingdom mission.

Delegates invested several hours on Saturday in all-synod advisory committees, discussing the "Transformed and Transforming" document that had been recommended by General Synod Council (GSC). Feedback from those twenty advisory committees was sent to a seven-person summarizing team, which carefully modified and expanded on the themes in the original document.

Many delegates commended members of the summarizing team for their 15 hours of synthesizing work on Saturday evening and Sunday.

"As a first-time attendee it's encouraging to see how our opinions were added to end result," said Frank Claus of Delaware-Raritan Classis.

"Your work has strengthened the recommendation," said Jim Knol of Passaic Valley Classis.

"I want to say thanks for the thought and care that went into the entire 15-year goal process," added Debbra Yurk of City Classis.

After a variety of proposed amendments were dealt with on the floor, General Synod professor Allan Janssen motioned to refer the proposed document to GSC for one year, saying the new statement isn't costly enough.

"I appreciate what's in it," Janssen said. "However, transformation means mortification, a calling forward to die. There's very little of that in this. I would like to see something added to tell us what it costs us to follow Jesus."

Rick DeBruyne of California Classis was one of several delegates who spoke against Janssen's motion to refer. "I consider this a living document. It's not a change to the [RCA] constitution, but a guide to the church that future General Synods can add to or reverse, if that's their pleasure." "To remain silent would be huge mistake," said Greg Alderman of Central California Classis. "I am concerned what [referring this to GSC] does to staff, since it demands that staff respond by making goals in response to what General Synod has said."

The motion to refer the statement to GSC for one year failed by a vote of 188-27. The "Transformed and Transforming" document then was approved 201-18, culminating 75 minutes of discussion and debate.

Finally, a new recommendation from the summarizing team, instructing GSC to develop an implementation plan with measurable ends and goals, was approved 211-4.

"I had reservations about this from the get go. It felt like bucket list with bunch of ideas," said Charles Shoemaker of Schoharie Classis. "But I'm strongly in favor of it now."

"I give thanks for God's work in this," said Erin Beckerink of Rochester Classis. "As one who also was at the Conversations event, I give thanks to God for the entire process. The power of prayer on Saturday was amazing."

"I've never seen consensus come as quickly as this did in the advisory group," said James Vellenga of Ontario Classis. "When we went into this I was supportive but not enthusiastic. Now I'd say I am somewhat excited--and I will be more excited when GSC comes back with tangible ways we're moving toward this, and I as a pastor can say, 'Here's someplace we can go.'"

The years-long discernment process began in 2010 with congregational discovery workshops. Since then, more than a thousand RCA members added their voices--at the February 2012 Conversations event, at General Synod 2012, and at twenty-four half-day Discovery events that took place around the U.S. and Canada from September 2012 to February 2013.

Synod Affirms Partnership with Christian Reformed Church

Monday morning, delegates heard about the growing collaboration between the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC).

CRC executive director Joel Boot attributed the partnership to "the power and influence and presence of God through his Holy Spirit."

"While there has been collaboration and corroboration and conversations for decades between us, it is going at a pace and with an intensity that we haven't seen before," he said. "It is rising from the grassroots level up, and not just from the top down. And it is our conviction, our deepening conviction, that this is a matter of obedience. This is a matter of the Holy Spirit pushing sometimes, pulling sometimes, and just patting us on the back sometimes, and saying keep going together."

RCA general secretary Tom De Vries highlighted many ways the denominations are already working together and urged continued partnership. "We invite you to think, to pray, to dream, to ask who might be able to gather with you to look at how you might catalyze collaboration in order to multiply mission where you're engaged," he said.

Delegates voted to appoint representatives to an RCA/CRC committee that will develop a joint statement to express the two denominations' ecumenical understandings and commitments toward each other. The committee will report back to both synods next year, when they will be meeting together at Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Delegates also voted to affirm the denominations' collaborative missional partnership and to lay the groundwork for a joint RCA/CRC leadership team focused on catalyzing collaboration in order to multiply mission together.

Delegates Pack School Supplies to At-Risk Kids

This afternoon, General Synod delegates and guests participated in a World Vision kit build, where they packed 500 SchoolTools backpacks and 500 Promise Packs.

The SchoolTools backpacks will be distributed to kids who receive free and reduced lunches at four elementary schools in Newton, Iowa. Many families in Newton have been hit hard by factory closings.

The Promise Packs will be distributed in Nicaragua. Promise Packs are distributed around the world to children who have been orphaned and to other at-risk kids. The packs contain basic school and hygiene supplies.

The kit build is an extension of a new RCA–World Vision partnership. The partnership is focused on five pilot projects: volunteer engagement, local missional engagement, advocacy, Palestinian church engagement, and disaster relief.

Several of the pilot projects are new or renewed initiatives for the RCA; World Vision will help the RCA launch these initiatives more rapidly by providing training and equipping resources.

General secretary Tom De Vries says he’s excited about what the new partnership will bring to the table. “Our relationship with World Vision will help us catalyze collaboration in order to maximize mission. We have the same core convictions and the same desire to be engaged in our world in redemptive ways that make a difference.”

Learn how to host a kit build in your congregation.

RCA Partners with World Renew for Disaster Response

RCA Global Mission has entered a partnership agreement with World Renew Disaster Response Services (formerly Christian Reformed World Relief Committee Disaster Response Services) to coordinate disaster relief volunteers in the United States and Canada.

"Tonight we are signing a memorandum of understanding to say together we want to be engaged with compassion in our changing world in ways that make a difference," said RCA general secretary Tom De Vries as he invited World Renew director Andy Ryskamp and CRC executive director Joel Boot to sign the memorandum.

World Renew will now act as the RCA's primary partner for compassion ministry focused on domestic disaster response. The RCA will also partner with World Renew for international disaster response and international development. The aim is to expand the compassion ministry capacity of both the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

"Our board asks us to make sure we are in the business of transforming communities in ways that are sustainable, whether in disaster response or long-term community development," Ryskamp explained. "I'm proud of the fact we've been working together in Oklahoma and Superstorm Sandy. We are looking forward to new levels of partnership with you."

RCWS has undergone a name change, and is now called the Reformed Church in America CARE Network. CARE stands for Compassionate Action and Relief Efforts.

"Compassionate action and relief are the keys to success for both immediate needs and long term recovery," says CARE Network coordinator Jay Harsevoort. "Our new relationship with World Renew opens up many opportunities for RCA members as volunteers and allows us to respond [to disasters] both immediately and for the long term."

Video Update: Saturday, June 22

See what General Synod delegates were up to on day 3 of Synod.

Having problems viewing? Watch it on the Vimeo video page.

Synod Meets Hope College President To-Be

John Knapp, incoming president of Hope College, was presented to General Synod on Saturday night. Knapp will become Hope's twelfth president on July 1, succeeding James Bultman, who served as Hope's president for 14 years.

"Jim Bultman's leadership has set the table well," Knapp said during his introduction to synod. "Hope College is in an enviable position today, and we give credit to the Lord, through the leadership of Jim Bultman.

"My wife is not here tonight, but know that our family is eager to become part of the RCA family, getting to know you and the good work of this denomination."

Knapp holds degrees from Georgia State University, Columbia Theological Seminary, and the University of Wales. He worked for more than a decade in communications before founding the Southern Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, which later became the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University's Robinson College of Business. Since 2008, Knapp has served as founding director of the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and as Mann Family Professor of Ethics and Leadership.

Following a synod resolution honoring Jim and Martie Bultman for their long service to Hope College and the RCA, Jim Bultman said, "This is all very gratifying. I say with the psalmist, 'The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places,' and with the apostle Paul, 'I give thanks in every remembrance for you.'"

Hope College is a liberal arts college in Holland, Michigan; it is one of three colleges affiliated with the Reformed Church in America.

Global Mission Unveils New Focus: One for the World

On Saturday night RCA Global Mission introduced its new mission focus, One for the World. Watch the video.

Synod Commends Paper on Moral Discernment

Synod delegates engaged in respectful debate for 30 minutes on Saturday morning before voting to commend a paper on "Scripture and Moral Discernment" to RCA churches as a guide in using Scripture when wrestling with moral issues.

The Commission on Christian Unity presented the paper, which was produced during a three-year process with the three other denominations that are part of the Formula of Agreement. Starting with the affirmation that "Jesus is Lord," the paper provides principles and practices for using Scripture when wrestling with often divisive issues of morality.

"I find the paper helpful because it guides us in how we talk with each other in our differences," said Jill Russell from Holland Classis. "It serves us well in honoring each other as followers of Jesus when we disagree."

Although disagreements about human sexuality among Formula of Agreement partners occasioned this round of discussion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, and RCA, the paper does not address specific issues or interpretations of Scripture passages. Instead, it focuses on principles and practices for engaging the Bible as a guide to discerning faithful living for Christians who disagree.

"I can't recommend it to the church because it teaches there is some type of ministry of confusion that is brought by the Holy Spirit," said Tony Chapman of Central California Classis.

In voicing his opposition, Ben Falconer of South Grand Rapids Classis argued that "there is an assumption of clarity in the Scriptures, a truth to be discerned, right and wrong to walk in."

General secretary emeritus Wesley Granberg-Michaelson said the "paper is offered as a gift to those who decide its practices might be helpful in their own process of engaging Scripture. It does not sanction confusion, but affirms that the Holy Spirit guides us into truth as we engage the Word of God."

Delegates voted in favor of commending the paper to the RCA by a vote of 120-93.

Ed Stetzer challenges delegates to live as agents of change

Friday evening, Ed Stetzer, an expert on the North American church, addressed General Synod in a keynote speech.

He challenged the idea that Christianity is in freefall in the United States, presenting statistics to counter what is often reported in the media. "That is not the reality," he said. He said that 75 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and that the steep drop is actually in the number of nominal Christians. These "Nominals" account for about 25 percent of the total, and they are dropping away in large numbers because they no longer see any cultural value in being identified as a Christian.

They are becoming what Stetzer refers to as "Nones"--people who choose "none of the above" when they are surveyed to self-identify their religious affiliation.

Stetzer said the upside of this trend is that it will be very clear in the future what it means to be a Christian."What an opportunity to engage in mission, when it's clear what it means to be Christian. What an opportunity to evangelize."

Stetzer concluded by challenging delegates "to subvert this lost, broken world by showing and sharing the love of Jesus to a lost and hurting world."

He said, "What's going on right now in our world is a battle that's not going on overtly, but subversively. We should live as agents of transformation and reconciliation, agents of the kingdom."

Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research and lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, a congregation he planted in 2011. He is an author and writes a blog for Christianity Today.

Synod President Encourages Delegates to "See Jesus"

In his report to General Synod today, synod president Tom Smith told of the many places he sees Jesus transforming lives through the RCA, and he encouraged delegates to "see Jesus" as they spend time together and deliberate the issues before synod.

Smith also outlined challenges that threaten the RCA’s unity, including the costs of maintaining aging church buildings and demographic changes under way in rural areas. He said the RCA is in "danger of losing [its] ministry footprint in both cities and small towns." He proposed a task force to recommend ways to address these challenges.

Smith shared his excitement about "Transformed and Transforming," a recommendation (R-9) that the General Synod Council is bringing to this year’s synod. The recommendation’s list of strategic priorities represents the culmination of a three-year, denomination-wide process to discern God’s direction for ministry for the RCA.

"We cannot be defeated or discouraged," Smith said. "We must be determined to embrace positive change and move forward. To seek transformation and new forms of ministry. There’s an exciting world out there and it’s still God’s world. Jesus promised to be with us always, and he is."

Smith is copastor of Faith Reformed Church in Rock Valley, Iowa.

RCA and CRC Merge Insurance Plans

Today delegates heard about the merger of the RCA insurance program with the insurance program of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). The RCA’s Board of Benefits Services approved the merger in May.

The new, jointly operated Reformed Benefits Association (RBA) will allow both denominations to offer group medical and other insurance programs that are similar to the programs they currently provide. The RBA will begin providing group medical insurance and other insurance products for RCA ministers and lay staff on January 1, 2014.

Establishment of the RBA means that the denomination will continue to offer group insurance to any RCA employer that chooses to join this plan. Each RCA employer (consistory, institution, or agency) will decide whether to join the RBA group medical plan or to send their employee to a state or federal marketplace to purchase insurance.

Frequently Asked Questions and updates about the insurance transition are posted at benefits.rca.org. For additional questions, contact the Benefits Services Helpline: (866) 681-5560 or insurance@rca.org.

General Secretary Affirms Recent Shifts in RCA Ministry and Mission

General secretary Tom De Vries addressed General Synod on Friday morning, looking back on changes that have taken place in the denomination over the last 10 years.

"Our Call has created a movement within our denomination—a shifting of our understanding of how we live together as a denomination and how we exercise our values," he said. Our Call is the RCA’s 10-year goal; it concludes at this General Synod.

De Vries affirmed progress made during Our Call and acknowledged the challenges encountered. He also discussed three shifts in understanding: from institutional to institutional and missional, from Reformation to Reformation and transformation, and from structural to structural and contextual.

De Vries said the RCA has remained true to itself while expanding and shifting to a more missional, transformational, and contextual ministry. These shifts, he said, were "effects of Our Call in ways that God is teaching us, leading us, stretching us.

"We are embracing these shifts in how we see ourselves being the church of Jesus Christ, being the Reformed Church in America, being God’s missionary people sent into the world to live and love like Jesus."

Synod Delegates Encouraged to Embrace Humility

(From RCA Communication)

Delegates celebrated the opening of General Synod 2013 by gathering for worship at Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, on Thursday evening.

Together, they celebrated communion and heard a sermon from Kevin Korver, senior pastor of Third Reformed.

"What does a pastor say to such a diverse group of people who have gathered for a week to do the work of the church?" Korver asked. He encouraged delegates to reflect on and embrace humility during the coming week. "Since we are shaped by what we love, I invite you to ponder the beauty of the humble," he said.

Korver challenged delegates to take "action steps of humility" during synod, such as taking risks to embrace humility and gracefully inviting criticism.

"All this week, as you do the work of the church, be a people of humility."

Cor Kors Joins General Synod Professors of Theology

(From RCA Communication)

On Thursday, General Synod elected Cornelis Kors a General Synod professor of theology.

For 22 years, Kors has served as executive director of the RCA’s Ministerial Formation Certification Agency, formerly the Theological Education Agency, and has supervised the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry of more than 350 people who sought ordination in the RCA but attended a seminary that is not affiliated with the denomination.

Kors has also taught at Central College in Pella, Iowa, at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, and at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

General Synod professors offer the ministry of teaching within the RCA and "represent the living tradition of the church in the preparation and certification of candidates for its ministry" (Book of Church Order, 1.IV.8.1).

Kors joins 11 other General Synod professors of theology.


Removal of Conscience Clauses Ratified

(From RCA Communication)

On Thursday afternoon, General Synod officially ratified the removal of the "conscience clauses" from the Book of Church Order (BCO). Last year's General Synod voted to remove from the BCO the "conscience clauses"--statements that spell out how RCA members can and cannot conscientiously object to the ordination process of women.

In the time since General Synod 2012, the required two-thirds of RCA classes voted in support of synod's action, with 31 classes voting in favor of removing the clauses and 14 voting to keep the clauses.

Originally adopted in 1980, the "conscience clauses" were intended to maintain unity and peace despite a diversity of opinion concerning the ordination of women, which had been adopted by the RCA in 1979. (The RCA's ordained offices are deacon, elder, and minister of Word and sacrament.)

Delegates to Vote on New Ministry Goals

(From RCA Communications)

Later this month, General Synod delegates will vote on a new statement of direction for RCA mission and ministry. The proposal is called "Transformed and Transforming: Radically following Christ in mission together." The denomination's current 10-year goal, Our Call, wraps up at General Synod and will be celebrated there.

Transformed and Transforming calls the denomination to focus on three strategic priorities: cultivating transformation in Christ, equipping next generation leaders, and engaging in mission.

General Synod to Discuss Way Forward on Homosexuality

(From RCA Communications)

A task force created to tackle a divisive issue—presenting a way forward for the RCA given continued disagreement about homosexuality—has found remarkable unity.

"In our report to synod, we talk about what occurred for us as a group and personally, individually, as a result of our meeting together," says task force facilitator David VanNingen. The task force included eight people, each appointed by one of the RCA's regional synods. "The group was highly respectful, and that respect came from a desire to honor God and to reflect God's grace."

"Because we experienced it ourselves, we believe that there is a grace-filled way forward for the RCA—a way that acknowledges our different opinions, affirms our accountability to all of our brothers and sisters, encourages our grace toward each other, and confirms the wonder of God's love that never ceases to surprise and amaze," the report says.

"I think I can speak on behalf of the group that we really hope and pray that General Synod captures the miracle of God's grace that occurred at our table," VanNingen says. "It was overwhelming, and still is."

Synod to Vote on New Baptism Liturgies

(From RCA Communications)

Responding to the post-Christian missional context of the RCA, General Synod delegates will decide whether to adopt three new orders celebrating the sacrament of baptism.

"In the Christianized society of medieval Europe, infant baptism was virtually universal and adult baptism was rare. The evangelization of post-Christian North America presents a very different situation," the Commission on Christian Worship reports.

In adjusting to a missional context where more adults are being converted to the Christian faith, being baptized, and reaffirming their faith, the commission is presenting three baptismal liturgies that give greater emphasis to:

  • Biblical language and metaphors for baptism.
  • Clearer language concerning the missional implications of baptism.
  • Encouragement of the use of symbols that tell the story of redemption.

One of the proposed liturgies combines all the pastoral situations that might come together in a service—baptism of youth, adults, and children, plus occasions of profession of faith and reaffirmation of faith—and assumes adult baptism to be as normative as infant baptism.

Parachuting into Lakewood

(From RCA Today)

Aaron Klein's faith has stretched and grown with the difficulties and joys of "parachute planting"--dropping into a community and starting a church from scratch.

Klein's path to planting a church began with a January 2011 sermon he gave at Addisville Reformed Church in Richboro, Pennsylvania. The sermon, he says, was "on doing something bold for God that took complete trust."

He applied his message to his own life, asking, "What if God called me to plant a church somewhere with no guarantees? No people, no money, no building, nothing?"

And then he added, "I just want to get to the point in my life where I say, 'God, I will do whatever you ask.'"

The next day, Arlan TenClay, who at that time was the Florida Classis leader, asked Klein to plant a church in Central Florida.

Missiologist Ed Stetzer to Address 2013 General Synod

(From RCA Communications)

On Friday, June 21, missiologist and church planter Ed Stetzer will deliver a keynote address at General Synod, focusing on how churches can live missionally into the gospel message. He will also lead a workshop, "Engaging All People in Mission"; both events are open to the public.

General Synod is the RCA's annual meeting and will take place June 20-25 on the campus of Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters, and written dozens of articles and books.

Sale of Land Will Further NBTS Mission

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary

New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) is pleased to announce that its Board of Trustees voted on Monday, May 20, 2013, to sell slightly more than half its property. The purchaser is New Brunswick Development Corporation known as DEVCO. The Seminary retains almost half of its property in order to build a new campus that is technologically smart and environmentally green.

"Sale of this land enables NBTS to recommit to the City of New Brunswick, which we've called home since 1810," said President Dr. Gregg Mast. "This city is ideal for our focus on urban ministry, and as a transportation hub enables students from around the New York metropolitan area to attend seminary full or part-time." A satellite campus will continue to be located in Jamaica, Queens, on the campus of St. John's University.

The new, beautifully landscaped campus will be located on the corner of Seminary Place and College Avenue. It will include construction of a redesigned central building with a chapel, classrooms, offices, conference facilities, and space for commuting students as well asa 100-car parking lot. The new campus will preserve the Gardener A. Sage Library, an exquisitely appointed Victorian bookhall built in the style of a fourth century cathedral and dedicated in 1875.

DEVCO will develop its portion of the land to construct the first major classroom building in the last five decades on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University. NBTS anticipates its new seminary building and campus will be ready for the fall semester of 2014. NBTS is planning a public groundbreaking ceremony for mid-summer.

La Mosaic: Celebrating Diverse Cultures on Campus

(From RCA Today)

A multicultural student group is blossoming on the campus of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, in the heart of what has traditionally been a strongly Dutch community.

La Mosaic, Northwestern's multicultural student association, was founded in 2010 by two students who saw a ministry gap on campus and decided to do something about it.

As an African American student on a campus where only 12 percent of the student body is non-white, Christian Butler was having trouble finding a place to fit in. "He was on the verge of transferring because he did not feel comfortable here at Northwestern in terms of the spiritual [atmosphere]," says Rahn Franklin, a Northwestern staff member who serves as advisor for La Mosaic. "He wasn't connecting.

"He was also an athlete, and finding it odd that he could not connect with his teammates on the football team.

"Then he decided, rather than leave, he was going to do something about this." 

Ministers Experience Renewal at Monastery

(From RCA Communications)
Two RCA ministers recently attended a reunion of Women Touched by Grace, a spiritual renewal program for clergywomen serving congregations. Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell of Pella, Iowa, and Miriam Bush of Muskegon, Michigan, attended the reunion at Our Lady of Grace Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana.

Women Touched by Grace brings together 20 Protestant clergywomen for five 10-day sessions over the course of three years to focus on community and spiritual disciplines.

Since participating in the program, which takes place at Our Lady of Grace Monastery, both Mathonnet-VanderWell and Bush have gone through a multi-year process to become oblates of the monastery. Oblates commit to an active prayer life and ongoing formation in Benedictine spirituality and also spend time in community and communication with other oblates. Mathonnet-Vanderwell has been an oblate for two years, and Bush will complete the process in October.

Campbell Named as Coordinator for African American/Black Ministries

(From RCA Communications)

On May 6, Tony Campbell began his work as the RCA's new coordinator for African American/Black ministries.Tony Campbell

"What I hope for the RCA, for African American ministries, is that we bring people into a deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus Christ that can transform the world," Campbell says. That transformation, he says, will take place through strong congregations where people are nurtured in the body of Christ—a vision that has its roots in his childhood.

"I grew up in the inner city of Gary, Indiana, and there was a lot of death and pain and poverty and suffering," he says. "The kids that got out were kids that had a greater hope—and that hope was always based in the gospel.

"Since 1964, we've tried to fight the war on poverty through programs. We fought poverty and poverty won. I think we're not going to program our way out, but we're going to have to transform neighborhoods from the inside out.

"Those strong communities are only going to come through strong churches in those neighborhoods."

Gift Baskets Celebrate Homecoming after Floods

(From RCA Today)

Imagine the surprise when a homeowner displaced by flooding receives a welcome-home gift basket to help celebrate a long-awaited homecoming.

In spring 2012 the mission working group under the direction of the Synod Ministries Board of Albany Synod responded to the idea of collecting gift baskets for returning homeowners displaced by the floods caused by Hurricanes Irene and Lee.

The plea went out to synod congregations to fill laundry baskets, bins, or totes with household items like cleaning solutions, kitchen utensils, home office supplies, bath and kitchen towels, soaps, cookbooks, welcome mats, mugs, coffees, teas, and spices. Each basket included a note of celebration. Some congregations also included a special blessing of the home. 

RCA Member Journeys to Holy Land at 104

(From RCA Communications)
Eleanor Hall, a member of Addisville Reformed Church in Richboro, Pennsylvania, made her first trip to the Holy Land in early April at the age of 104. She made the trip with a group from Addisville that included her daughter, Evelyn Sellers, and two granddaughters. The 10-day trip was led by Addisville’s senior pastor, Doug Dwyer.

The trip caught the attention of Israel’s consul general in Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman, who invited the travelers to a reception at the consulate before their trip.


Billings Installed as Research Professor of Reformed Theology at WTS

(From Western Theological Seminary)

The Gordon H. Girod Chair of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary.

NBTS' Joan Marshall Shares Counseling Expertise in Kenya

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)

Earlier this January, as Kenyans braced for upcoming presidential elections, Joan Marshall (class of 2008) cleared her calendar and answered the call of church leaders and pastors seeking new ways to prepare, guide and assist their congregations.

Joan traveled to Naivasha, Nyahururu, Nakuru, Mombasa, and Nairobi over four weeks. She instructed seminar participants in crisis intervention and gave tips on how to recognize what is normal in crisis reactions.

Now back home at NBTS, Joan shares her expertise as the seminary's new coordinator of student services and chaplain. Joan seeks to strengthen the NBTS community through fellowship and learning events and advising the student leadership organizations. She also supervises the new student recruiting events and efforts, as she explains, "God is calling men and women to ministry and we are here to help them in that discernment process."

Discernment Process Nears Completion

(From RCA Communications)

A denominational discernment process that began in 2010 is likely to conclude at this year's General Synod with the adoption of a new focus for the denomination.

The General Synod Council (GSC) will be presenting a recommendation to the 2013 General Synod regarding the denomination's ministry focus following the conclusion of Our Call this year. This recommendation is the culmination of the seeking for the RCA's next call to mission and ministry, a process that has involved thousands of RCA members.

"This will define the next chapter for us in the Reformed Church in America," says General Synod president Tom Smith. "We'll use this as a foundation for moving us into the next century of ministry."

Stronger Together: Congregations merge for greater ministry

(From RCA Today)

Two congregations on Long Island are anticipating renewed vision and enthusiasm for ministry—as a new joint congregation.

Levittown Community Church and Parkway Community Church, both RCA, have been worshiping together since September 9.

"Since we started worshiping together, we have been excited and enthusiastic," says Joe Cusack, pastor of Levittown Community. "Members are participating in greater numbers in worship, Sunday school, Bible studies, and programs such as a newly formed children's orchestra."

"We have found that we are very compatible people; we share common faith and social values, and enjoy ‘being church' in similar ways," says Hank Lay, pastor of Parkway Community. "The energy level has gone up at worship due to increased numbers. Our adult vocal choir is larger, our Sunday school is larger, our youth programs are larger, our confirmation class is larger, and we are sharing ideas from each church and stimulating new ideas for ministry."

The combined congregation is continuing a ministry to military veterans and a series of 12-step programs, hallmark efforts in the individual churches.

John C. Knapp of Samford University Named President of Hope College

(From Hope College)

Dr. John C. Knapp, who is the founding director of the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, has been named the next president of Hope College.

Knapp, whose leadership experience includes higher education and business, and whose scholarship includes multiple books and articles on leadership ethics, issues in higher education, and the intersection of faith and work, was elected unanimously the 12th president of Hope by the college’s Board of Trustees on Monday, March 25. He will assume office on Monday, July 1.

Mary Bauman, chairperson of the Board of Trustees, noted that Knapp is ideally qualified to build on the strengths already present at Hope, a heritage enhanced most recently under the leadership of President James Bultman, who will be retiring at the end of the school year after serving since 1999.

"We are thankful for the outstanding contributions of President Bultman and we believe that Dr. Knapp will build on that incredible legacy," Bauman said. "Dr. Knapp is the right leader for Hope College at this time in her history. Never before has it been more important to equip our students for lives of leadership and service in a global society."

Rocky Mountains Classis overcomes mistrust with radical change

(From RCA Today)

Over the years Rocky Mountains Classis had fallen into a pattern of mistrust. "It had become fragmented to the point that even the most basic topics created divisions within the classis and between pastors, elders, and deacons," says classis president Steve Steele.

Realizing things had to change, in 2011 classis leaders asked Dr. Bill Hoyt, a ministry coach and consultant, to evaluate the classis. He recommended radical change.

A "visioning team" worked with Hoyt to develop a mission and vision statement and covenant of accountability for Rocky Mountains Classis. "They laid the foundation for how we wanted to interact with each other and what we would focus on and measure," says Steele.

Then work began on a new classis leadership structure. Hoyt and Far West Synod executive Bruce Bugbee spent months meeting with leaders throughout the classis; one outcome was the new executive team structure that Rocky Mountains Classis approved in October 2012.

Small Church has Big AIDS Ministry in South Africa

(From RCA Communications)

Efraim Oppelt serves with one of the RCA's global mission partners, the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). In a town called Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal Province, Oppelt helps members of URCSA's KwaDukuza Congregation do their utmost to alleviate challenges posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They provide food on a daily basis to children orphaned by AIDS and distribute food parcels to needy families.

"Even though national and international support for HIV and AIDS initiatives seem to be dwindling, efforts from small groups of people such as the KwaDukuza Congregation make a huge difference," says Oppelt.

Breakfast Program Helps Kids Focus

(From RCA Today)

Every morning before school starts, elementary school children in Port Alberni, British Columbia, gather for a healthy breakfast and story time with volunteers. The Read and Feed program is sponsored by Alberni Valley Neighbourlink, an organization made up of area churches.

Four years ago, Cedar Grove Reformed Church in Port Alberni held a visioning process, and that process spurred them to get more involved in outreach. "We realized that we weren't as missional as we wanted to be," says member John Bassingthwaite. "So we reached out for a program to see if we could get closer to the community, and we found the Neighbourlink Read and Feed program. It gets us out in the public so they can see who we are and what we're doing." Bassingthwaite is now chairperson of Alberni Valley Neighbourlink.

Read and Feed takes place in three Port Alberni schools. The program is held Monday through Friday in Alberni Elementary and Maquinna Elementary. This school year the program was expanded to include two days per week at another school, Gill Elementary.

Hope Students to Participate in Spring Break Service and Learning Trips

(From Hope College)

Nearly 180 students from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, will be spending their spring break serving others and learning about specific needs and issues in the locations in which they are serving.

Led by Hope faculty and staff, groups of students will be traveling to sixteen different locations during the college's spring break, which runs Friday, March 15, through Sunday, March 24.

Fifteen of the groups will be traveling within the U.S. to places like Mobile, Alabama; Washington, D.C.; Nashville, Tennessee; and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. One group will be traveling to the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf in Jamaica; this is the fifteenth year Hope students have served there over spring break.

Several groups will be working with RCA-related ministries on the East Coast and at home in Holland.

One group is traveling to Staten Island, New York, to work with Project Hospitality, an RCA mission partner that addresses hunger, poverty, HIV, homelessness, and immigration. Students will learn about the ways that Project Hospitality's work has changed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and will reflect on how the church can be a long-term presence and also address immediate needs.

Another group will travel to Newark, New Jersey, to work with North Reformed Church. These students will learn what it means to be an evangelist while engaging with ministries that reach out to segments of the urban community in need.

Students remaining in Holland will explore how area churches, other organizations, and residents are working in a spirit of restoration and healing to address issues such as poverty, racism, unemployment, and at-risk youth.

Benefits Board Authorizes RCA Medical Insurance Transition

(From RCA Communications)

At its most recent meeting, on March 6 and 7, the RCA Board of Benefits Services authorized its executive director to pursue negotiations with partners in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) to offer new, jointly self-funded voluntary medical insurance plans. Such voluntary plans would result in the discontinuation of the RCA's current mandatory (for ministers) self-funded medical insurance plans.

Benefits Services staff is committed to helping participants through this transition; they have hired additional customer service staff and will be implementing a multifaceted communication and education plan later this month. Says board president Dennis Bolling: "I'm pleased the Board of Benefits Services has a plan to navigate the complexities of the new law while not lessening our commitment to care."

Members of the board reviewed the current RCA medical plan's cost history and future cost projections, and unanimously agreed that better coverage alternatives are going to be available to most RCA plan participants as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The board's decision stemmed from a recommendation that the RCA discontinue offering medical insurance after December 31, 2013. The recommendation came out of a January roundtable meeting of RCA pastors, leaders, Board of Benefits Services (BOBS) members, and Benefits Services staff.

Afrik Named Coordinator for Local Missional Engagement

(From RCA Communications)

Robyn Afrik has joined the denominational staff as the RCA's coordinator for local missional engagement. In this role, she will work to help congregations, classes, and regional synods live out the gospel in transformational ways. Afrik began on March 4.

"I am excited for the ways in which God will teach, inspire, and equip us all to learn how to extend the church into community beyond what we may be doing or haven't thought of yet," says Afrik.

"I look forward to journeying with the RCA as we discover all of the new and current possibilities of missional engagement together."

Back on the Field

(From RCA Today)

For the first time in decades, Ross Community Reformed Church has a church softball team on its softball fields. The congregation is in the black financially for the first time in a long time too. Best of all, residents of Gary, Indiana, are coming to Christ and getting connected at Ross.

Shawn Gerbers, who came to pastor Ross Reformed in 2009, credits this turnaround to "a congregation ready to share the gospel."

Inspiration for change
In 2010, Ross Reformed celebrated its 80th anniversary. As members thought and prayed about their future they believed that God was leading the church to become more active in its neighborhood.

"The people of Ross have done a tremendous job of inviting their family, friends, and neighbors to Ross for worship," says Gerbers. "They are not afraid to share their faith and allow the Holy Spirit to work. They simply needed to be encouraged and equipped to do that, and they have responded."

Spirit Stirs New Ministries

(From RCA Today)

New ministries have breathed new life into Flatbush Reformed Church.

"We are an old, eclectic, spirited, small congregation located outside of Saugerties, New York," says Flatbush Reformed's pastor, Jennifer Bendelius. And, she adds, "The Holy Spirit is at work here."

With lots of prayer, Flatbush launched Odyssey II, a worship service with people with special needs. "Our Odyssey II services take place once a month amid our regular church service," says Bendelius. "We welcome people with special needs at all of our worship services, and in fact some of the folks with special needs do come just about every week. But once a month we gear our service toward this special population."

Seminary Rallies around Professor Battling Cancer

(From RCA Communications)

On February 22, fifteen men and one woman from Western Theological Seminary shaved their heads to support their colleague and teacher, Todd Billings, in a fundraising effort dubbed the Bald Guy (and Gal) Challenge. Presidential cuts

The Bald Guy Challenge raised $2,960 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for the purpose of cancer research, thanks to donors who offered a sum of money in exchange for shaved heads.

Last September the students, staff, and faculty at Western learned that Billings had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood cancer. Billings is associate professor of Reformed theology at Western, and he's also married with two young children. The Western community is rallying around him as he journeys in faith through his battle with cancer.

How to Make Congregational Prayer More Participatory

(From the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship)

Especially for children, listening to a congregational prayer on Sunday can feel more like blindly enduring a monologue than participating in the prayers of the people. In fact, some of us recall receiving peppermints from our parents so we’d sit quietly during “the long prayer.” But many congregations have discovered ways to help everyone consciously pray together.

Sing your prayers

Sing intercessory prayer songs from other cultures, such as the Brazilian lament “Pelas dores deste mundo/For the troubles.” Its first verse in English begins “For the troubles and the sufferings of the world, God, we call upon your mercy…”

Or sing the Lord’s Prayer as set by Greg Scheer to a tune that Arabic Christians use, “Abana Alathi Fi Ssama/ Abana in Heaven.”

"Singing prayer songs from other cultures and languages helps worshipers look forward to God’s 'on earth as it is in heaven' promise to gather people from every tribe, nation, and language," explains Scheer, who serves as minister of worship at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


(From RCA Today)

New ministry joins life and faith, church and community—and two congregations

In Holland, Michigan, two congregations have come together to form a unique new ministry to better connect with their community.

Grace Community Church, an RCA congregation, has been worshiping on the same street corner in north Holland for 50 years. When Grace began, the community was largely middle-class families of Dutch heritage. In the 1990s, the demographics of the community began to change, and today north Holland has large Hispanic and Asian American populations, and the community is largely made up of low-income families.

Crosswinds Community Church, a CRC church plant, started seven years ago with the intention of reaching the community's Hispanic and Asian members. They rented space from a local middle school across the road from Grace.

Eventually, Grace asked if Crosswinds would be interested in renting Grace's youth building for worship instead of the school. Once church leaders started talking, ideas began to flow.

Special Delivery

(From RCA Today)

Long-awaited Bibles are delivered deep in Nicaragua's rainforest

A big, black Brahma cow got to Burt Wiersma, and now people in remote villages in Nicaragua have Bibles.

Burt met the cow on a 2000 mission trip with a work team from his church. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch left a trail of devastation along the east coast of Nicaragua, and recovery was still under way. People from Alto Reformed Church in Waupun, Wisconsin, sent a work team to a Miskito Indian village called Siksayari, and Burt was a member of the team.

He was getting ready for church one Sunday morning in Siksayari when his Miskito interpreter, David Cleban, who knew he was a veterinarian, came running. "Burt, you gotta come fix cow."

"We had brought some medical supplies with us, so I grabbed those," says Burt. A Miskito man led Burt to a village where the cow was tied to a house. Men had been drinking homemade brew the night before, and someone had hacked the cow with a machete. "She had an 18-inch hole in her side," says Burt. "David, the interpreter, said, 'We can't fix cow, we gonna eat her.'

"But it was the farmer's only cow. I got some nylon suture material and some soap to clean her up with. It didn't seem like it would work, because it was fine suture, designed for people, not cows. Her legs were tied together, and we sewed her up." All the way back home to Wisconsin, Burt couldn't take his mind off the cow. "That cow convicted me to get back to those people," he says. "I have so much; I wanted to give back."

Growing Crops to Feed Hungry People

(From RCA Communications)

On a 40-acre field in Martin, Michigan, crops are grown to feed hungry people—but not in the usual way.

"We are a farming community and a farming church," says Bob Veld, who helped start the "Crops for Christ" program at Martin Reformed Church 20 years ago. Each year, the field is planted and harvested using donated labor, equipments, and materials; even seeds and herbicides are donated by local businesses. The proceeds from the sale of the crop go to support organizations that fight hunger on a global and local level.

Last year, Michigan experienced drought conditions for much of the growing season. "To the north and to the south, the farmers were all saying how dry it was—but that field seemed to be watered by God," says pastor Jim VanderRoest.

NBTS Announces New Dutch American History Book

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)

New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) announces that a new volume of historical essays, Transatlantic Pieties: Dutch Clergy in Colonial America, is now in print. Many of the book’s scholars and organizers are connected with NBTS.

The essays trace the early history of the Dutch in America through stories of Reformed Church ministers. Most of the essays began as lectures in a two-part conference held in fall 2009. The conference was cosponsored by the Reformed Church Center at NBTS and held at First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and at the Van Raalte Center in Holland, Michigan.

Transatlantic Pieties is available for $35 from Eerdmans. Soon it will also be available from Faith Alive Christian Resources.

Catholic, Reformed Churches Recognize Respective Baptisms

Both Religion News Service and the Huffington Post reported on this story coming out of last week's Christian Churches Together gathering in Austin, Texas:

Catholic, Reformed churches agree on baptism

(Religion News Service)

Leaders of Catholic and Reformed churches have signed an agreement to recognize each other's sacraments of baptism, Singing Da Ting at CCT a public step toward unity among groups that are often divided by doctrine.

"Baptism establishes the bond of unity existing among all who are part of Christ's body and is therefore the sacramental basis for our efforts to move towards visible unity," reads the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism."

U.S. Roman Catholic Church And Protestant Denominations Agree To Recognize Each Other’s Baptisms

(Huffington Post Religion)

In a monumental occasion for ecumenical relations, the U.S. Roman Catholic church and a group of Protestant denominations plan to sign a document on Tuesday evening to formally agree to recognize each other’s baptisms.

Catholic leaders will join representatives from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Christian Reformed Church in North America, Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ at the ceremony in Austin, Texas, to sign the agreement, which is called the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism." The event coincides with the national meeting of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A.

Four Chaplains Sunday

Many congregations and veterans' groups nationwide are honoring the so-called Four Chaplains of World War II around this first weekend of February.

Since 1988, by an act of the U.S. Congress, February 3 has been set aside to remember these four men who gave up their lives in World War II.

Whenever the chaplains are remembered, the focus is on selfless sacrifice and interfaith unity.

By handing over their lifejackets while aboard a sinking ship in World War II—then linking arms, praying in their own respective religious traditions, the men provided a shining example of religious unity across doctrinal boundaries. Their story has been retold in numerous documentaries, memorials, books and annual ceremonies. (Wikipedia has details.)

The Dorchester was a civilian cruise ship built in 1926 that later was converted for military service during WWII. By the time renovations and additions were finished, a ship originally built for 315 passengers could now carry more than 900. On Jan. 23, 1943, the USAT Dorchester left New York for Greenland—but it never arrived at its destination. The service ship was slammed by German submarine U-223 at 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3; three-quarters of the men aboard the Dorchester perished that night.

The one ray of hope in this great tragedy was the four chaplains. The four were a Methodist chaplain, the Rev. George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Roman Catholic Father John Washington and Reformed Church in America Minister Clark Poling. Their example calmed down the ship's men when the electrical system failed. They attempted to help organize the evacuation of the vessel. While passing out a short supply of life jackets, the chaplains took the jackets off their backs and gave them to other men.

Korean American Youth and Pastors Seek Ways to Reach New Generation

By Gerri Yoshida, facilitator of the Asian Resource Center

The RCA's Asian Resource Center (ARC) kicked off the new year on January 5, 2013, with a workshop based on the book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...And Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. Book discussion En Young Kim, coordinator of the Council for Pacific and Asian American Ministries; Paul Lee, English minister at New Hope Reformed Church in Yonkers, New York; and Gerri Yoshida, facilitator of the ARC, gathered 16 college students, seminarians, and youth pastors from New York and New Jersey to explore some of the reasons why members of the Mosaic generation drop out and disconnect from church and Christianity. ("Mosaics" is the Barna Group's generational label for people born between 1984 and 2002; they are today's teens and twenty-somethings.) The group also hoped to come up with effective strategies for churches to reach and have an impact on Mosaics in a positive, meaningful way.

In You Lost Me, Kinnaman suggests that that the older generation needs "reverse mentoring"—they need to listen and learn from Mosaics, who are better connected with a world that has changed so much that old methods of discipleship and evangelism are no longer effective. Through this workshop, the ARC attempted to do just that, bringing young people together to talk about how best to connect them with the church.

Sunday School Kids Give a Gift of Hope

(From RCA Communications)
Sunday school kids at Abbe Reformed Church in Clymer, New York, gave their offerings to the RCA’s Gift of Hope project. The 25 first through sixth graders raised $180 to purchase chickens for families living in poverty in Myanmar.


Fire Destroys Historic Reformed Church

(From the Register-Star)

A raging fire consumed a 133-year-old church at the center of Philmont Tuesday night, as congregation members and many village residents looked on.Church Fire

It was the fourth structure fire in a year for this village of 1,480 residents; all occurred within a short distance of each other, and only one building was occupied.

The Second Reformed Church of Claverack is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, but the building itself dates back to 1879.

The fire broke out, reportedly in the bell tower, about 6:25 p.m. and was still being battled three hours later. It was finally knocked down at 9:55 p.m.

Firefighters were spraying water into the flaming roof. Vinyl siding partially contained the fire and helped to make access difficult. Entrance through the front of the building was impossible because of the danger that the two-ton bell in the steeple at the front of the building would fall.

Congregation members kept returning to the same theme: That the congregation is not in the building, but in the members.

Benefits Board Considers RCA Medical Plan's Future

A group of twenty-six RCA pastors, leaders, Board of Benefits Services (BOBS) members, and Benefits Services staff met this week in Dallas, Texas, for a roundtable discussion about the implications of the Affordable Care Act ("health care reform") for the RCA's medical insurance plan.

This meeting grew out of a request from BOBS members that Benefits Services staff provide them with a recommendation with regard to whether the RCA should continue to offer the self-funded medical insurance plan after December 31, 2013.

The group that met this week in Dallas recommended that the RCA discontinue offering medical insurance after December 31, 2013. They also advised that provisions be made for Benefits Services staff to assist consistories, pastors, retirees, and other RCA insurance participants as they navigate the options available through the Affordable Care Act and insurance exchanges. The group also discussed the responsibilities the denomination should maintain to ensure care for RCA leaders and their families.

Church Kitchen in Park Slope (Brooklyn) Creates Many Meals for Sandy Victims

(From NY1.com)

Dozens of volunteers, including the owner of the popular Two Boots restaurant in Brooklyn, are joining forces in a Park Slope church to cook and deliver meals for residents in areas of the city still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

Andrew Wandzilak, the owner of Two Boots, paired up with other Park Slope entrepreneurs to create the Hurricane Sandy Relief Kitchen, which cooks meals for Sandy victims.

The volunteers first met in the patio of Two Boots, but when they needed a bigger space they asked to use the kitchen in the Old First Reformed Church on 729 Carroll Street. Church officials readily agreed.

Kalamazoo Church Gets Surprise Christmas Pageant

(From RCA Communications)
The children of Haven Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, surprised the congregation of nearby Twin Lakes Reformed Church with a flash mob Christmas pageant during their worship service on December 9. Twin Lakes is a small congregation with few children; David Mayer, children’s pastor at Haven, organized the flash mob pageant as an Advent blessing for the congregation of Twin Lakes.

A Place to Belong

(From RCA Today)

A multifaceted ministry for people with disabilities is thriving at Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan.

At the heart of His Image Ministries (HIM) is Fun Sunday, one Sunday afternoon each month when people with disabilities—known at HIM as friends—gather for two hours of worship, crafts, games, and other activities. "It's a wonderful way for friends to get social needs met that they may not get on a day to day basis," says Jeanette Mutersbaugh, director of HIM.

Each friend is matched with a host, a Fair Haven volunteer who commits to spending time with him or her each Fun Sunday. Mutersbaugh says that HIM tries to match the same friend with the same host from year to year so that their relationship deepens.

RCA Mission Personnel Receives Citizenship Award

(From RCA Communications)
Jake Moss, executive director of Annville Institute and Jackson County Ministries in Annville, Kentucky, was awarded the Jack Gabbard Citizenship Award in December 2012. The award was presented for Jake’s outstanding contributions to the people of Jackson County, Kentucky, and surrounding areas. Moss and his wife, Sharon, have served with JCM since March 2004. Under Moss’s leadership, the ministry of JCM has expanded greatly.

The award was presented by Rodney Chrisman, president of the Jackson County Development Association. “Jake Moss is a man of highest character and reliability who loves the people with whom he works,” says Chrisman. “His coworkers hold him and Sharon, his strongest supporter and constant companion, in the highest regard through bonds of care and friendship. One of Jake’s great achievements is his continual promotion of harmony and good will among these diverse groups for the benefit of our community.

“The strong support of the Reformed Church in America brings resources, including ideas and actions, into Jackson County, supporting Christian beliefs and principles [and] leading to better lives for our citizens. The economic benefit of this work to Jackson County is great.”

Moss serves JCM through RCA Global Missions. JCM administers summer Bible camps, after-school programs, thrift stores, marriage seminars, gym ministries, and the Barnabas Home shelter for boys. As executive director, Moss works with the board and JCM staff, supervises maintenance, develops financial goals, and seeks to raise funds to keep these programs effective.

The award Moss received is named in honor of Jack Gabbard, former mayor of McKee, Kentucky, and a well-loved leader in Jackson County.  

Half Million Dollar Gift Helps Expand NBTS Mission

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)

New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) announced that Darell and Mary Schregardus of Holland, Michigan, have made a commitment to the seminary of $500,000 for student scholarships and operational expenses over the next five years.

Darell Schregardus serves on the seminary's board of trustees and has many other ties to the seminary. "I know firsthand the wonderful work the seminary is doing to educate people and strengthen communities," he says. "It is our joy to support the seminary as it prepares students for public ministry."

"We are deeply grateful and inspired by their very generous and gracious commitment," says NBTS president Gregg Mast. "Their gift ensures we will continue to provide rigorous and accessible training for a diverse community of students seeking an exceptional seminary education."

The gift comes as NBTS prepares to launch a comprehensive campaign to expand its mission. Mast says the Schregardus commitment and significant gifts from donors in Korea and the Henry Luce Foundation to the new Underwood Chair in Global Christianity "will provide tremendous impetus to the campaign," which will begin later this year.

Founded in 1784, NBTS is the first seminary in North America. Its students represent many ethnicities and cultures and a variety of denominations.

"Free Store" Creates Relationships, Ministry Opportunities

(From New Life Community Church, Burnaby, British Columbia)

Have you ever been to a store where you pick up whatever you need...and then don’t have to pay anything? At New Life Community Church’s Community Free Store in Burnaby, British Columbia, everything on the shelves is free. The store offers clothing for babies, children, and teens, plus maternity clothing, shoes, books, toys, strollers, cribs, booster seats, and more. On Tuesday and Saturday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon a steady stream of customers and their children shop at the Community Free Store.

Some customers are immigrants or refugees who have come to Canada with next to nothing. Others can afford to shop elsewhere but choose New Life’s Community Free Store for environmental reasons or to save their money for luxuries like babysitting or a night out.

“Our church wanted a local outreach project that would build community and meet a practical need,” says Esther Hizsa, associate pastor of New Life and the store’s manager. “I heard about a free store on Hornby Island. That sparked the idea to have one here that offered good, quality clothing and items to families.”

New Jersey Churches Help with Sandy Relief in Union Beach

(By Imre Vitez, member of Readington Reformed Church in New Jersey)

Members from several churches in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, spent a Saturday helping people who were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. About 35 people from Readington Reformed Church, Rockaway Volunteers from Whitehouse StationReformed Church, and Whitehouse United Methodist Church met beneath a drizzly gray sky early in the morning on December 8. We filled out waiver forms, arranged carpools, obtained directions, and began our 40-mile drive to Union Beach, New Jersey.

When we arrived at the Union Beach Municipal Building, we saw pallets of donated water bottles, shelves of canned food, and boxes of clothing. After checking in, we obtained our assignment and drove another mile or so to neighboring Keansburg, where a homeowner had asked for help gutting her house. We introduced ourselves to Maria. Looking at her home and her neighbors’ homes, it was obvious that the waters of Raritan Bay had emptied into their living rooms and streets. From the water marks we could see on the sides of the houses, we estimated that there must have been four to five feet of water above street level.

The three congregations are organizing another daylong service trip to Union Beach on January 19 to help with Sandy relief. They plan to leave from Readington Reformed Church (124 Readington Road, Whitehouse Station, New Jersey) at 8:00 a.m. and return between 4:45 and 5:00 p.m. They invite anyone in the Readington Township area to join them. For more information or if you’d like to participate, contact Cathy Gumpert, pastor of Readington Reformed Church, at pastorcathy@readingtonreformed.org.

Church Mourns the Passing of Arthur Caliandro

(From Marble Collegiate Church)

The Marble Collegiate Church community mourns the passing of Arthur Caliandro. Caliandro served as senior minister of the church from 1984 to 2009. He passed away peacefully on December 30, 2012.

In the fall of 1984, Caliandro succeeded Norman Vincent Peale as senior minister of Marble Collegiate Church and was formally installed on March 8, 1985. During his time at Marble, he created many innovative initiatives including bringing women into the ministry and founding an interfaith partnership of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders.

A dynamic music ministry flourished, and a speaker series featuring renowned public figures drew audiences that might not otherwise enter a church. Through Caliandro's leadership, Marble supported a number of progressive outreach and service organizations. The annual Easter offering helped build a church in Budapest and funded a college education for a grade school class in Harlem.

Caliandro had an uncanny ability to listen intently, not only as a pastor attending the needs of an individual, but with a common-sense approach to problem-solving solutions for the greater community. As such, he became known as "the people's minister."

"Hope is Born" to Air on ABC over Christmas Holidays

(From Marble Collegiate Church)

This holiday season be sure to tune in when ABC-TV airs HOPE IS BORN!, A Marble Collegiate Church Christmas celebrating the story of Christmas through word and song.

HOPE IS BORN!, shot at our historic Marble Collegiate Church, is a dynamic, joyful program filled with beloved Christmas carols, life-changing stories of faith, and a powerful Christmas message from Marble's Senior Minister, noted author and speaker, Dr. Michael Brown.

The special features the music of the Marble Sanctuary Choir under the direction of Kenneth Dake, and a stirring version of Joy to the World by the Marble Community Gospel Choir. Other holiday favorites include Go Tell It on the Mountain, What Child Is This?, Angels We Have Heard on High, Silent Night, and many more. HOPE IS BORN! also features world-renowned singer songwriter Ken Medema who performs Watching the Sky, Bring Me a Rose and Hush Missus Teenage Mary.

As Dr. Brown says, "A humble birth in an almost unnoticed manger in a small town hardly seemed newsworthy. And yet, more than two thousand years later we are still celebrating the 'good news of great joy' that occurred there. Something that began that night has continued for twenty centuries, transforming the world and empowering us to find life worth living. Because of that long ago night, for you and me, and all who believe, HOPE IS BORN!"

Don't miss this inspiring hour airing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Please check your local listings for airtimes.

Tax Deduction Now, Decide Later

(From RCA Communications)

"As we look toward 2013, there is much uncertainty about the tax deductibility of charitable donations," says Ken Neevel, the RCA's director of development.

But, he says, donors can receive a charitable tax deduction on their 2012 taxes and wait to specify donation recipients until 2013 and 2014.

"The RCA Donor Advised Fund provides a means for you to give to one or more charitable organizations over the next several years, while you receive a tax deduction now," he says.

"With a minimum gift of at least $5,000 to the RCA Donor Advised Fund before year end, you will be able to take a charitable deduction on that gift on your 2012 income taxes. You then have up to two years to decide how to distribute that gift to your favorite 501(c)(3) charities."

New Brunswick Sem Hosting Sandy Response Teams

(From New Brunswick Theological Seminary)

The Reformed Church World Services (RCWS) has responded to immediate needs following Superstorm Sandy, and is now planning for long-term recovery efforts.

RCWS has partnered with Word Renew Disaster Response Services as the long term recovery efforts are underway. Together they are moving Rapid Response teams toward the areas most affected along the shore of New York and New Jersey. Staff from World Renew and RCWS have visited storm affected areas and are continuing the efforts to make long-term commitments to these communities.

"During major disasters volunteer housing is a big issue. Volunteers need a place to sleep, eat and shower after a long day of work," said World Renew Disaster Response Services Director, Bill Adams.

The teams have been staying in the Seminary Houses, enjoying the hospitality of the seminary community.

"The Seminary community has been privileged to house work groups which have come to NJ to assist. In the midst of the enormous destruction of Sandy, we are deeply grateful for the many glimpses of God's grace through generous sharing of so many," said NBTS President, Dr. Gregg Mast.

Churches Partner to Train Hispanic Leaders

(From RCA Today)

"An exciting new adventure has begun here in San Jose, California," says Jeff Wenke. "Four Reformed churches have united in an effort to find, train, and deploy new Hispanic pastors and leaders in our area."

Wenke pastors one of those churches, The Journey (RCA). Church of the Chimes (RCA), San Jose Christian Reformed Church, and Palo Alto Christian Reformed Church are joining The Journey in launching a training center for Hispanic church leaders, with the goal of eventually starting a new Hispanic church within each of their existing churches.

They want to reach out to San Jose's Hispanic population, which has grown tremendously in recent decades.

Open House Ignites Spirit of Renewal in New York City Church

(From RCA Communications)

The day before Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, about 125 people gathered at Japanese American United Church (JAUC), a union church of the RCA and the United Methodist Church, for a fall open house. Attendees were treated to an afternoon of Japanese food and sushi, a traditional tea ceremony, and performances by the Happy Faith Piano Jazz Trio, two koto players and a violinist, the JAUC praise choir, a visually impaired dancer who performed original choreography accompanied by a soloist and handbell choir, the Cocolo Japanese Gospel Choir, and two musicians from Korean Campus Mission Church @ Downtown. The theme for the program, "10,000 Reasons to Give Thanks," played on the song "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman, based on Psalm 103.

Kazutoshi Takahashi, who has accepted a call as the next pastor of JAUC, played the saxophone and introduced his wife and two sons. They are currently living in California, where Takahashi served several years as community developer at Buena Vista United Methodist Church. He is currently a seminarian at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. He plans to begin ministry at JAUC in July 2013.

Prison Chaplain Emphasizes Hope

(From RCA Today)

Chaplain Jon Cooper experiences a side of prison life that's very different from the scenes of violence, fights, extortion, drugs, and gangs that Hollywood showcases. "These things are still a reality, especially at the higher-security-level prisons. However, most never hear about the positive things taking place in prisons."

Cooper was drawn to prison ministry during a clinical pastoral education program in Buffalo, New York. "My supervisor, Sister Janet, required all of us as chaplains to go to a prison." Cooper volunteered at the Attica Correctional Facility and was able to interact with the inmates.

The role of a prison chaplain
"It really opened my eyes. I witnessed men sharing their lives--their joys, concerns, triumphs, and losses. I saw prison as a place where there is a desperate need for light in the darkness. It's a place where joy can happen, where men are seeking and trying to find hope."

Cooper felt God calling him to be the presence of Jesus Christ in that place, "to just stand by these men as they've bottomed out in their lives and in society."

Relational Ministry Makes an Impact

(From RCA Today)

The Other Way Ministries walks alongside families in the urban Westown neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to help them grow spiritually, relationally, and economically.

That mission takes many forms. "Relational ministry is our greatest strength," says program director Kurt Reppart. "There are weekly Bible studies, ongoing classes, goal setting and coaching, along with many family outings and activities.

"Our desire is to walk alongside the people in our neighborhood and to offer a community of support for families and individuals. These relationships are the heart of our ministry.

"Blue Christmas" Service Brings Peace

(From RCA Today)

Amid the joy of the Christmas season, North & Southampton Reformed Church hosts a "Blue Christmas" worship service.

"For individuals or families that are struggling or grieving some kind of loss, the Christmas emphasis on joy and the cultural expectations of happy and perfect family celebrations can be overwhelming," says Bethany Devos, copastor of the Churchville, Pennsylvania, congregation. "We started a 'Blue Christmas' service two years ago to create a space where people could acknowledge their loss, their grief, or their disappointments and bring them before God, even in--especially in--the Christmas season.

"Yet, in the midst of it all, the heart of Christmas remains: Jesus Christ was sent into the world by our loving God so that the world might be saved through him. In the long, dark days of winter, we remember that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

The service includes a simple liturgy and selected hymns. "What makes it especially meaningful to folks are the lighting of candles as we ask for God's help, healing, and hope, and particularly the invitation for each person present to come forward and name, either out loud or silently, the person or reason they are there. As they do so, they may light a candle on the communion table or add to a community art project, depending on that year's Advent theme."

RCA Churches Active in Sandy Recovery

(From RCA Communications)

Reformed Church in America congregations along the East Coast quickly became centers for relief and recovery activities in the days following Superstorm Sandy, and their efforts continue.

With most RCA churches in the area experiencing only minimal damage, if any, from the storm, they have been able to focus on their neighbors.

More than a dozen RCA churches, most from upstate New York, joined forces to support the efforts of Project Hospitality on Staten Island, some dispatching members in vans filled with much-needed supplies. Terry Troia, Project Hospitality's executive director, is ordained in the RCA and partially supported through RCA Global Mission.

People in Haiti Benefit from U.S. Growing Projects

(From RCA Communications)

Reformed Church World Service partners with Foods Resource Bank (FRB) to help address the lack of food in northwest Haiti—the poorest area of the Western hemisphere's poorest country.

FRB has helped develop 12 cooperatives that provide microcredit to their members, enabling them to purchase seed, tools, and fertilizer or to complement their agricultural work with small businesses.

Some cooperatives also hire veterinarians, develop nurseries, or hold literacy classes for adults and primary schools for children.

Many earthquake survivors are among the more than 4,000 people who have joined the FRB-supported cooperatives since 2005.

RCWS Plans Long-Term Sandy Response

(From RCA Communications)

As Reformed Church World Service (RCWS) continues responding to immediate needs following Superstorm Sandy, it's also planning long-term recovery efforts.

"RCWS first responds to urgent needs, enhancing what RCA churches are situated to do, and then longer-range responses of rebuilding and recovery," says RCWS coordinator Jay Harsevoort.

First-wave response efforts have included $18,000 in disbursements to assist RCA churches and ministries that are providing meals, supplies, and shelter for people in need. Donations of approximately $67,000 have been received, with funds still coming in from churches and individuals. Donate to Superstorm Sandy relief efforts.

Students Bring Fresh Voices and Viewpoints to Discovery

(From RCA Communications)

Four high school students who attended a Discovery event in Phoenix, Arizona, were pleasantly surprised by the experience. "The most surprising part was how much our say in the big picture for the RCA mattered," says Alfred Wilson.

The RCA has been holding Discovery events in locations across the United States and Canada as part of a process of determining Reformed Church ministry and mission priorities over the next 10 years.

Alfred and the other three students—JoHanna Poertner, Bronwyn Lancaster, and Sophia Palacia—all said they would encourage other young people to attend a Discovery event. "It was cool how we got to be a part of developing the future," says Sophia. "It was also good leadership training, learning a planning process."

JoHanna agrees. "It's important for us as youth to be a part a part of something bigger than ourselves and speak into the future ministries we will lead," she says.

Together, New York Churches Help Staten Island's Most Needy

(From RCA Communications)

Working together, 17 New York churches have been very effective in helping a Staten Island ministry for hungry and homeless people respond in the wake of Sandy.

Project Hospitality is located on Staten Island, one of the areas hardest hit by Sandy's storm surge. Early on, it became obvious that the people who rely on Project Hospitality would need a lot of help. It was natural for RCA folks to provide that help. Terry Troia, Project Hospitality's executive director, is ordained in the RCA and partially supported through RCA Global Mission. And the roots of the ministry itself go back to an RCA congregation's outreach in 1984.

Reformed Church World Services (RCWS) sent $5,000 to First Reformed Church in Schenectady to purchase items needed by Project Hospitality. Word got out to churches throughout the Albany and Schenectady Classes about Project Hospitality's need and donations poured in from 17 congregations. Along with the RCWS money, the donations allowed the churches to collect $15,000 in food and supplies. James Hart Brumm, pastor of Blooming Grove Reformed Church, says, "Thank you, RCWS, for the seed money that spurred our congregations to excel!"

Churches Respond to Sandy's Destruction

(From RCA Communications)

As a new storm brews off the East Coast, Reformed Church World Service representatives in New York and New Jersey report mile after mile of destruction following last week's hurricane—but also signs of hope.

"It's just a huge, huge area of devastation," says RCWS coordinator Jay Harsevoort. The storm surge demolished houses along the coast, sometimes 15 houses deep. The area is littered with debris.

"The positive thing is that there are Reformed churches who have not been affected that are close to greatly affected communities—and they are beginning to be key sites in response and recovery."

Sandy: Most RCA Churches Spared, Help Needed

(From RCA Communications)

Following Superstorm Sandy's destruction earlier this week, reports are coming in from RCA ministries in the East.

Many churches are still without power but have avoided significant damage. A number of congregations have trees down. RCWS has not yet been able to reach all churches in hard-hit areas, and reports are still coming in from churches and ministry partners.

Reformed Church World Service representatives are on the East Coast to assess needs and meet with people who have been impacted by the storm. Partners from World Renew are also in the area laying the groundwork for disaster response.

Feeding Hungry People All Year Round

(From RCA Communications)

In this season of thanksgiving, people often collect food for hungry neighbors and donate to local ministries that provide meals for people in need. Domestic hunger is a year-round focus for RCA Global Mission. Gifts to Global Mission help support scores of food pantries and other ministries that feed hungry people throughout the U.S. and Canada.

RCA Members Share Christ’s Love in Zambia

(From RCA Communications)
In August, three RCA women participated in a mission trip to Kabwe, Zambia, through the organization Women for Orphans and Widows (WOW). Marian Meyer and Jennie Vries are members of Emmanuel Reformed Church in Woodstock, Ontario, and Grace Eisen is a member of Riverside Community Church in Guelph, Ontario.

The mission team stayed in Kabwe and traveled by bus to surrounding communities each day. They helped out with a variety of projects, including painting and helping lay new floors in a local school. They visited a number of people who are sick with AIDS and interviewed them and their families to make memory books. They also prayed with each person, helped the families with laundry and other chores, and even put a new roof on one family’s house.

The group delivered shovels, rakes, seeds, and hoes for a communal garden to two of the communities they visited. “What a celebration we witnessed over those gifts,” the women say.

Two other communities celebrated Christmas in August when community children received new school uniforms and other school supplies. They also shared a dinner of nshima (a thick cornmeal paste that is a staple food in Zambia) with chicken and greens.

The group spent a significant part of their time in Zambia encouraging and supporting home-based health care workers, volunteers who visit people affected by HIV and AIDS to help with household chores, provide basic medical attention, and offer God’s comfort. “We are so inspired by them as they truly are God’s hands, feet, and heart here on earth. What a privilege to get to know them and see them in action.”

If you’d like to know more about WOW, visit www.wowmission.com.

Louise Shumaker Presented Ability Award

(From Hope College)

Louise Shumaker, director of disability services at Hope College and a member of Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, received the "Ability Award" from the Disability Network/Lakeshore last week.Terry DeYoung presenting Louise Shumaker with award.

The award honors the work of those in the community who persist in the vision of creating communities without barriers for people with disabilities.

The presentation celebrated Shumaker's pioneering service at the college on behalf of people with disabilities, noting that establishment of her position at Hope predated the creation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by three years.

The college's office of disability services offers assistance to all students with disabilities both in the classroom and in day-to-day life on campus, seeking to equip them with skills which will promote independent living after they leave Hope and pursue careers anywhere in the world. Shumaker has mentored more than 500 students with disabilities during her 25 years at Hope.

Sandy Smashes East Coast

(From RCA Communications)

Hurricane Sandy crashed ashore yesterday, causing extensive damage along the East Coast and leaving millions without power. Sixteen people in the U.S. and one in Canada have died due to the storm, which included 90-mile-per-hour winds, heavy rain, and a 13-foot storm surge that caused substantial flooding.

Just before making landfall, the hurricane was reclassified and is now widely described as a superstorm.

Early reports of flood damage are beginning to come in from RCA churches. Please contact Nancy at Reformed Church World Service, nellens@rca.org or (800) 968-3943, ext. 243, if your church has been impacted by the storm.

Reformed Church World Service (RCWS) and World Renew continue to track the storm and its impact on the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church. Please continue to pray for people and communities impacted by the hurricane.

As soon as needs have been assessed, volunteer opportunities will be announced. To sign up for a volunteer team through World Renew Disaster Response Services, contact Nancy Ellens at (800) 968-3943, ext. 243, or Becky Purdom at (800) 848-5818.

Donations are needed to help with hurricane response. Donate Donate to RCWS online, or mail a check to Reformed Church in America, 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512, or, in Canada, to Regional Synod of Canada, 201 Paradise Rd. N., Hamilton, ON L8S 3T3. All checks should be made out to Reformed Church in America and designated "U.S. Disasters/Hurricanes."

Individuals and congregations are also encouraged to assemble emergency clean-up buckets for RCWS partner Church World Service. These kits provide basic tools to begin cleanup on flood-damaged homes; they will be distributed to residents affected by the storm. Assembled buckets may be shipped to the Church World Service warehouse in Maryland or dropped off at the RCA's Michigan Regional Center in Grand Rapids. To arrange a time for drop-off or to get details for shipping directly to the warehouse in Maryland, please contact Nancy Ellens (800-968-3943, ext. 243, or nellens@rca.org).

International Students Lead Worship at Michigan Church

(From RCA Communications)
Beaverdam Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan, invited a group of international students from Hope College to help lead worship on World Communion Sunday, October 7. Participating students included Beaverdam member Michelle Menken, David Isikah Mwee from Kenya, WonWoo Chung from South Korea, Yijuin Liao from China, and Emi Hattori and Hanna Ogawa from Japan.

The worship service included songs with an international flavor. The congregation sang “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” in English and Japanese, and was introduced to a vibrant Swahili praise song, “Kwake Yesu.” In the Communion liturgy, the phrase “This is the body of Christ, given for you” was spoken in English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Swahili.

Hanna Ogawa shared her testimony during the service. Ogawa didn’t know Christ when she began attending GreenHouse, a youth center run by RCA missionaries Nathan and Nozomi Brownell in Yokohama, Japan. It was through this outreach that she came to know Christ and gave her life to him.

The students belong to the Hope College chapter of International Christian Fellowship (ICF), a Christian ministry for international students. ICF meets twice a month for Bible study and fellowship. Beaverdam took a food offering for ICF to help provide snacks for their fellowship times. The congregation collected enough snack items to supply ICF meetings for the rest of the school year.

RCWS Monitors Hurricane Sandy

(From RCA Communications)

Reformed Church World Service (RCWS), together with World Renew (formerly CRWRC), is monitoring Hurricane Sandy as it moves across the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the United States. The storm's exact path is unclear, but experts predict severe weather with wind, a storm surge, flood-producing rain, and snow in higher-altitude areas somewhere in the Northeast United States.

RCWS is also monitoring the Church World Service network and partners in Cuba, where Hurricane Sandy raged on Thursday. As more information is available in coming days, an appropriate response will be determined.

Volunteer Engagement Coordinator Named

(From RCA Communications)

Volunteer opportunities—especially chances to serve RCA churches and missionaries—will increase with the appointment of Kristin Englund as the RCA's new coordinator for volunteer engagement.

"Throughout my life, God has used mission trips and volunteer opportunities to deepen my passion and love for him and this world," says Englund. "These experiences have helped form me spiritually and helped me to discern God's call in my life. I look forward to helping provide others these types of opportunities."

As the coordinator for volunteer engagement, Englund will connect individuals and volunteer groups from RCA churches with opportunities to help missionaries, churches in need, and partner organizations around the world.

Mentoring Helps Students Make a Turn

(From RCA Today)

A new mentoring program in California's Oakland Unified School District is helping Oakland City Church transform its city in tangible ways.

"It's amazing," says Larry Austin, the church's pastor of city mission. "Out of nowhere, in one year's time, we've had a chance to make some positive influences on young people's lives."

In its first year, the Oakland 180 Project served 1,570 students in 18 middle and high schools and one elementary school. "We are helping young people make a turn in their lives, one degree at a time," Austin says.

When Oakland City Church was getting started two years ago, Austin and copastor Josh McPaul prayed about how the church could be a tangible witness in Oakland. They wrote down some goals. Three days later, they got a phone call about 180 Degrees Inc., an organization in Salem, Oregon, with a vision that coincided with theirs.

"Way Forward" Committee Begins Work

(From RCA Communications)

General Synod 2012 called for the creation of an eight-member committee "to pray and work together to present a way forward for our denomination given the disagreement in our body relative to homosexuality" (R-28, MGS 2012, pp. 149-150).

That group has been formed as the R-28 Task Force. As specified by General Synod, each regional synod appointed a representative to the task force: Peter Burrill (Canada), Ron Citlau (Mid-America), Craig Gilbert (Far West), Mark Mast (New York), Carol Mutch (Mid-Atlantics), Marilyn Paarlberg (Albany), David Van Ningen (Heartland), and Rick Veenstra (Great Lakes). Tony Vis will assist the group as a resource person.

"'A Way Forward' has been suggested as an alternate name for the R-28 Task Force," says David Van Ningen, task force facilitator. "That name aptly describes the task: to present a way forward for our denomination. To discover that way forward will require God's grace."

Michigan Church Has a New Home

(From RCA Communications)
University Reformed Church has been worshiping across the street from the Michigan State University (MSU) campus in East Lansing since 1976, but with recent growth it had outgrown its building. When an opportunity arose to purchase a larger building from East Lansing Public Schools, the congregation took it.

University Reformed was able to sell its existing facility to MSU, enabling the congregation to purchase the new building without taking on any debt. The university plans to move its music department into the former church building.

University Reformed’s new facility, located on Timberlane Road two miles from the old one, is larger with more parking and room to grow. Years ago, before the school system purchased the building, it housed a church, so it’s already structured as a worship space.

The first worship service in the Timberlane building was held Sunday, October 7, and 60 people attended a new members’ class that day. The church held a celebration welcoming the community to its new facility the next Sunday.

Even though University Reformed is now located a few more miles away from MSU, the congregation remains committed to ministry to the university community as well as to the city of East Lansing.

Teens discuss racism on bus trip

(From RCA Communications)

This summer, 22 teens participated in the RCA's first ever youth Sankofa, traveling through the Deep South to visit civil rights sites and discuss righteous responses to racism.

The teens and six adult leaders left from General Synod 2012. Before they boarded a bus, they were prayed over by delegates during closing worship. Then they traveled from Palos Heights, Illinois, to Alabama and Georgia and back again. Along the way they stopped at landmark sites and museums related to the civil rights movement. Between stops, they also watched movies related to racism and discussed what they were seeing and experiencing.

A strong community developed among the teens during the trip. "I love everyone in the group," says 18-year-old Camden Grabill from First Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan.

General Synod Council, Meeting alongside Commissions, Focuses on the Future

(From RCA Communications)

The General Synod Council (GSC) met October 12 to 15, 2012, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The GSC serves the General Synod and assemblies of the RCA as the program agent for mission and ministry and as the General Synod's executive committee.

The General Synod Commissions on Christian Unity, Women, History, Christian Action, Theology, Christian Discipleship and Education, Race and Ethnicity, Church Order, Nominations, and Christian Worship met at the same time, a practice begun several years ago to encourage collaboration among commissions and between the commissions and GSC.

The cooperation and interaction between the commissions and the GSC continue to be valuable, both as a community-building element of the fall meetings and as the commissions and GSC look toward the reports and recommendations that will be brought to the General Synod in June.

R-28 "Way Forward" Committee Formed
As approved by General Synod 2012 in R-56 (R-28), the GSC formed an eight-person committee with one representative appointed by each of the regional synods. The committee's charge is to pray and work together for a way forward for our denomination given the disagreement in our body about homosexuality. This committee will bring a report with practical recommendations to the 2013 General Synod. Committee members are Marilyn Paarlberg, Albany; Carol Mutch, Mid-Atlantics; Mark Mast, New York; Rick Veenstra, Great Lakes; Ron Citlau, Mid-America; David Van Ningen, Heartland; Craig Gilbert, Far West; and Peter Burrill, Canada. Tony Vis will serve as a resource person for the committee. The group has had an initial conference call to begin their work; please keep them in your prayers.

Gospel Transformation

(From RCA Today)

Pastor Clyde Teel is excited about the transformation he is seeing in the lives of longtime members and new people at Community Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

He says folks who were attending Community Reformed when he came 14 years ago--the "old core of 150 people"--have a new level of spiritual awareness. "Some of it was a direct result of confirming in their hearts that God was working in, around, and through them--challenging them to realize that God is a relational God and that grace is greater than they could imagine."

Teel says this older group also has witnessed the change in new people who have started to come to Community Reformed. "They watch the gospel change these lost lives. The excitement that generates cannot be overemphasized. Now the message of the church isn't just words; it really can change hearts.

Church Plant Celebrates Baptism Outdoors

(From RCA Communications)
More than 100 people attended an outdoor worship service held by Harbor Community Church of Prior Lake, Minnesota, on the morning of September 9. The service was held near Cleary Lake, a few miles south of Harbor Community.

At the end of the service, attendees walked down the path to the lake to celebrate the baptisms of seven adults and four children. Pastor Al Pruis of Peace Reformed Church in Eagan, Minnesota, administered the sacrament of baptism.

Peace Reformed Church planted Harbor Community in 2006.

Feeding Project Benefits Children in Malawi

(From RCA Communications)

According to a report from Mrs. Muhanda at Nkhoma Synod Relief and Development (an RCA mission partner), the Malawi Children's Feeding Project funded by the RCA has saved the lives of hundreds of malnourished children over the past seven years. This year the program is monitoring 117 children under the age of five in central Malawi.

Twin girls Martha and Ruth Selemani were born in February 2010 to parents who are HIV positive. The mother could not produce enough milk to feed Martha and Ruth. The girls and their mother began receiving food through the feeding project, and the mother learned how to grow soya and peanuts and use nutrition supplements. By June both girls had reached a healthy weight.

"Thanks to the RCA for their timely support," says Muhanda.

Donate to feed children in Malawi at www.rca.org/feedone.

Medical Mission Thrives on Partnerships

(From RCA Communications)

The RCA used to set up a medical institution and be involved in many aspects of its operations. Now oversight of medical facilities around the world has shifted more and more to RCA mission partner organizations. Global Mission provides funds for personnel, infrastructure, equipment, and supplies and, at a partner's request, may provide a missionary with medical training. But the partner organization supervises personnel and determines the services that will be offered and how they will be offered.

The goal is always to empower the mission partner to have responsibility for every aspect of the ministry. It's a way of doing mission that respects a partner's knowledge of how best to provide health care and demonstrate Christ's love in their particular culture.

Lessons from China: Chinese Christians Inspire RCA Women

(From RCA Today)

Missionary Ruth Estell (center) with RCA visitors

On April 16, 2012, I was blessed to be part of a group of six people who set out on an amazing adventure that would take us to places beyond our wildest imagination. The journey was filled with wonder, surprise, and excitement that would bring six traveling companions closer together in accordance with God's will.

Together we stood atop the Oriental Pearl Tower, found ourselves at the Qin Shi Huang terracotta army museum, and walked the chaotic streets of Shanghai. It was God's will that we found ourselves in the most populated country on earth, China!

My name is June Denny, and I am an elder at Mescalero Reformed Church in Mescalero, New Mexico, which is located on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. I, along with five other disciples, traveled to China to witness firsthand the amazing work God is doing in China.

First Discovery Events Held

(From RCA Communication)
The first two of 22 Discovery events across the RCA were held on Saturday, September 22—one on the East Coast and one on the West. Discovery is the latest step in the denomination-wide process to discern where God is calling the RCA to focus its resources after Our Call comes to a close in 2013.

In Yonkers, New York, 80 people gathered at New Hope Reformed Church to worship, pray, and discuss, facilitated by general secretary Tom De Vries. After a very productive time sharing ideas and future dreams for the denomination in small groups, participants enjoyed fellowship over a huge buffet lunch featuring Korean dishes.

On the other side of the continent in Lynden, Washington, 32 people gathered at First Reformed Church for a time of discernment and worship facilitated by director of congregational mission Ken Eriks. Though it was a smaller gathering, it was equally fruitful as participants shared ministry priorities that God laid on their hearts. The Washington group also closed their time together with lunch and fellowship.

Twenty people attended the third Discovery event held September 27 in Morrison, Illinois. Events were also held in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on September 29, and in Ripon, California, on September 30.

The results from the small group discernment time will be sent to the General Synod Council, which will use input from all 22 gatherings to formulate a recommendation to General Synod 2013 about future priorities for the denomination.

There’s still time to sign up for a Discovery event in your area and join the conversation. Visit the Discovery webpage to learn more or to register.

VBS Supports Tornado Recovery Efforts

(From Addisville Reformed Church)
This summer, Pennsylvania children used their vacation Bible school offerings to respond to tornado damage. Donations from the VBS at Addisville Reformed Church in Richboro benefitted Habitat for Humanity’s Disaster Response Fund, which helps fund rebuilding and repair projects in the wake of natural disasters and other humanitarian crises around the world.

Tornadoes ravaged Midwestern and Southeastern states in February and March. Indiana and Kentucky were hit especially hard, and the Red Cross estimated that more than 2,000 homes were left damaged and in need of repair.

During their week at VBS, the kids learned how to put God’s love for them into action by sharing it with others. The kids learned that part of sharing the love and truth of Jesus Christ is sharing our resources with those whose lives have been turned upside down by disaster.

Each day, when the kids arrived at VBS, they dropped coins and dollars into collection buckets. The money was counted by volunteers while the kids enjoyed VBS. At the end of each day, the total was announced—and the kids were always excited to find out how much they had donated that day.

The church continued to take offerings for Habitat for Humanity throughout July. Together, the congregation of Addisville Reformed and the kids in VBS donated $2,513 to Habitat for Humanity’s Disaster Response Fund to help with long-term recovery and rebuilding of homes damaged by tornadoes.

Connecting through Mission Circles

(From RCA Today)

As membership grows, how can a young congregation hold on to the spiritual intimacy of a smaller community? The Branch, a church planted seven years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has adopted a fresh approach through "mission circles." The Branch has grown to include nearly 100 adults. "We started to realize that we couldn't act as one big family anymore," says Branch copastor Andy Dragt.

As Dragt and copastor Chris DeBlaay searched for a way to preserve people's connectedness at The Branch, the idea of "missional communities" caught their attention at a conference for church planters they attended in 2010.

A missional community is a group of 20 to 50 believers--as Dragt describes it, "the size of an extended family." The communities emphasize creating disciples the same way Jesus did: ordinary lay people are trained to be leaders, to listen, and to respond to God's leading. These leaders then train others, and the movement spreads.

California Churches Hold Multigenerational VBS

(From RCA Communications)
This summer, Park Hills Community Church (RCA) in Los Angeles, California, and The R.O.C.K. Church in View Park, a church plant supported by Park Hills, joined forces to hold a combined multigenerational vacation Bible school. More than 80 people ages 3 through adult attended the program, which was staffed by 40 volunteer teachers and assistants.

The theme, “Adventures on Promise Island,” focused on God’s promises to his people. The VBS teachers sought to provide a safe, Christian environment where students could feel comfortable expressing any doubt or questions they might have.

One special event during the weeklong VBS was a visit from Delbert Cannon, a counselor from the California State Department of Rehabilitation. From his wheelchair, he described how his disability resulted from wrong decisions he made as a teenager. The young audience paid close attention to his story and even had a chance to ask questions.

Lawrence Dove, the recently installed pastor of Park Hills, led the adult class as well as opening and closing devotions each day with Peter Watts, pastor of The R.O.C.K.

“VBS allows us to invest in the future and destiny of kids since they represent the future leaders of our community and country,” says Dove.

The VBS program closed with a fun-filled day at Park Hills’ annual picnic and block party. VBS students’ parents were invited to the culmination program, where the kids presented what they learned about God’s promises during the week.  

Church Packs Meals for Malnourished Children

(From RCA Communications)

In December 2011, 120 volunteers gathered at Peace Community Church in Frankfort, Illinois, to pack more than 25,000 meals for malnourished children around the world. Before the event, the church raised $6,000 to cover the cost of the meals—the ingredients, specially formulated to fight malnourishment, cost just $0.22 for each meal.

Peace Community worked with other area churches and with the nonprofit organization Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) to organize the meal packing. Feed My Starving Children works with aid organizations around the world to distribute the meals to critically malnourished children.

A Church Seeks a Rescue

(From the Wall Street Journal)

By Robbie Whelan
At Brooklyn's Old First Reformed Church, one of New York City's oldest churches, the sky is falling.

Last year, on the eve of a Jewish high-holiday service—the church has in the past provided a temporary home to nearby Congregation Beth Elohim—a chunk of plaster broke off from the church's ornate ceiling and tumbled to the pews.

A parishioner called the Rev. Daniel Meeter, who was having dinner in the neighborhood, and he rushed to the scene. Services were canceled, and after more plaster shook loose the following day from the area around the church's massive, 60-foot-high chandelier, the church closed.

Now, Rev. Meeter and other church leaders are scrambling to raise approximately $700,000 to replace the ceiling. The church in the center of Park Slope has received small grants from conservation groups and will likely have to take out a sizable loan to fund the renovation.

Work Group Builds Relationships

From RCA Communications

Fourteen members of First Reformed Church in Waupun, Wisconsin, were among scores of volunteers who traveled to Prattsville, New York, this past spring. They went to help rebuild homes destroyed by the August 2011 floods in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Many buildings in Prattsville suffered severe flood damage, including Reformed Dutch Church.

One volunteer, Rose Riel, says highlights of the trip for her included meeting homeowners and hearing how God used the flood to bring residents together on a first-name basis.

"I worked on Ginny's house for most of the week, and each day she would stop in," Riel says. "You could see the excitement and the anticipation she was feeling in knowing that she would be in her home in a matter of weeks."

The volunteers worked on several homes, installing flooring, electrical wiring, and siding, putting in a picture window, renovating a porch deck and roof, mudding and sanding drywall, landscaping and picking rocks, and painting rooms. They also organized supplies at the Methodist church and cleaned and prepared meals at the retreat center where they were staying.

Sankofa Helps Students Prepare for Ministry

From RCA Communications

This fall, New Brunswick Theological Seminary took another step toward its stated goal of being an anti-racist institution: it offered M.Div. students a chance to participate in a Sankofa journey for credit. Initially, the trip was jointly sponsored by NBTS and Western Theological Seminary and was coordinated by Earl James, the RCA's coordinator for multiracial initiatives and social justice.

Sankofa is a three-day, cross-ethnic bus trip designed to help Christians move toward righteous responses to racism and grow to understand and value each other. Each participant is paired with another participant of a different race, and partners discuss and process their experiences together throughout the journey. Participants visit historic sites important to the civil rights movement, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Along the way, they watch videos and listen to the stories of people who have experienced the pain of racism firsthand. Sometimes, these stories come from participants themselves.

Realizing that not all students are equally well-acquainted with some of Sankofa's topics, NBTS assigned participants homework ahead of time to better prepare them for the experience. Students were given a reading list that included a choice of several books about the history of the civil rights movement as well as a book about the cities they'd be visiting. They were also required to spend some one-on-one time with their partners in order to begin to build a relationship before the start of the journey.

Food Ministry Helps People

(From RCA Today)

Feed My Sheep, a ministry of Hope Reformed Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, coordinates the collection and distribution of surplus food in the Vancouver area.

The food is delivered to many ministries in the area, including Wagner Farms, a residential treatment center; BC Teen Challenge, a residential support program to help young people overcome addictions; Servants of Hope Society, a transition house sponsored by Hope Reformed; and others.

John Van Den Heuvel, who's run the ministry since it began in 2000, says it allows him to help people. And he's learned that surplus food is there for the asking. 

RCA/CRC Ties Abound in Holland

From CRC Communications

Several innovative ministries linking Reformed Church in America (RCA) and Christian Reformed Church (CRC) congregations have been and continue to spring up in different forms in Holland, Mich.

Emerging from the congregations themselves, these grassroots ministries reflect a shared vision for missions as well as the broader move by the two denominations to work together in a variety of ways.

These ministries and projects in Holland have reconfigured themselves to, among other things, heal old rifts, pool resources for urban and multi-cultural ministries, build a house for people with special needs, and to offer ministry to Korean-speaking people.

Two of the newly revamped ministries will, in fact, be formally brought to life in early September.

Discovery Registration Now Open

Participants can now register for the Discovery events that make up the next step in the RCA's discernment process to seek God's future for the denomination.

Discovery is a chance for RCA members to share where they hear God calling the RCA; it lasts a few hours and includes worship, prayer, dialogue, discernment, and sharing. Together, the people at these events will continue to refine the RCA's understanding of its continuing call to mission and ministry.

Discovery events will be held at 22 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada to encourage broad participation from church members.

Not Eating Alone Tonight

(From RCA Today)

Three years ago the members of First Reformed Church of Berne, New York, decided to start a Not Eating Alone Tonight (NEAT) Dinner on the third Monday of each month. The first dinner was planned and the organizers prayed that people would attend. We were blessed to have 20 people attend, and we had 15 workers.

During the first meal we took a survey of how well the dinner went and if the residents in the community would come back next month. Some of the comments included: "Yes, I'll come back. This is so much better than eating with the cat." "Yes, I'll come back and bring a friend."

The numbers have now grown to more than 70 community members attending on a regular basis, and the dinner is supported by a freewill offering at the door. 

Twelve-Year-Old Helps Hungry Children

(From RCA Communications)

When summer vacation started this year, 12-year-old Karynna Bonestroo of Alton, Iowa, wasn’t just thinking about sunshine and freedom from school like many other kids her age. Instead, she felt God nudging her to do something meaningful with her summer.

Karynna told her parents that she wanted to do something to help other kids who don’t have as much as she does. Together, they searched the RCA website and found Global Mission’s Feed One project, through which RCA members can support feeding programs in Nicaragua, Malawi, and India. Karynna’s mom, Krista, says, “After reading about the work that RCA missionary doctor Bernardeth Kelly-Bent was doing with children in Nicaragua, Karynna’s heart went out to them and she decided to raise money to feed those children.”
Karynna’s goal was to raise $159, which would feed one child in Bluefields, Nicaragua, for a whole year. Karynna began doing chores around the house to earn money to donate. She asked her dad, Scott, pastor of Alton Reformed Church, if she could make an announcement about her project at church to see if some church members would be willing to donate. She also told her family and friends that instead of bringing her a gift for her birthday party, she would really like it if they would make a donation toward Feed One.

The Bonestroos also planned a lemonade stand to help raise money. On August 14, the Bonestroo kids and some of their friends served lemonade and cookies to about 30 customers in exchange for a donation to Feed One: Nicaragua. The lemonade stand netted $328.15 to add to the growing total.
With the help of her family and friends, Karynna raised a total of $1,749.08 for Feed One this summer—enough to feed a child for 11 years!

“Karynna’s initial goal of raising money [to feed a child] for one year has been blown out of the water!” says Krista Bonestroo. “The congregation of Alton Reformed Church, as well as the community of Alton, has been very supportive and generous.”

New Historical Series Book Published

The 72nd book of the RCA’s Historical Series, Ministry Among the Maya, was published by Eerdmans in November 2011. This missionary memoir chronicles the amazing growth of the church in Chiapas and tells the story of the RCA’s work in partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. Author Dorothy Dickens Meyerink and her husband, Paul, lived and served for 38 years among the Tzeltal people, a Mayan ethnic group from the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Meyerinks helped establish a Bible school to provide leadership training for Tzeltal believers. Paul and other RCA personnel were also involved in translating the Bible into the Tzeltal language.

To order Ministry Among the Maya, visit the Eerdmans website.

Youth Group Packs Clean-up Buckets

(From RCA Communications)

At a youth game night in March, Ocean Community Church members assembled clean-up buckets for Church World Service, an RCA mission partner. Church members had donated the supplies needed for the buckets, including scouring pads, trash bags, dust masks, work gloves, cleaning products, and more. Nineteen buckets were assembled.

The buckets were assembled in response to needs following tornados in the southern United States in late February and early March. Church World Service collects the buckets year-round and distributes them after natural disasters.

Recipe for True Transformation

(From "Futures," the newsletter of the African American/Black Council)

Vanguard Church is a church plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, located on the edge of the Edison neighborhood. Here at Vanguard we believe and desire for all people to know the value and calling of the kingdom of God. Prayer has been the center of change and transformation in this neighborhood. We just received a report from the city of Kalamazoo that says crime has gone down 40 percent in the neighborhood in the past three years. We started praying for the Edison neighborhood three years ago. I would like to say that the reduction in crime was because of good policing and neighborhood watch groups, but prayer has been the foundation for transformation since we began ministering in the neighborhood.

I believe that the ministries of house church and prayer have directly impacted the dramatic decrease in crime in the area.

Praying for Hope: Church Advocates for Immigrants

(From RCA Today)

Sanctuary. Most churches have one, but the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey is also being one. In February, the church offered sanctuary to Saul Timisela, an Indonesian immigrant in danger of deportation.


"He will be staying in the church (not hiding), just staying," copastor Seth Kaper-Dale wrote in a letter to the congregation. 

"We will spend the day, and as many days as it takes, to make sure that Saul's medical factors, which are important for an I-246 [form to stay deportation], are properly considered." Timisela has liver disease, heart disease, and hypertension.

Offering sanctuary
"Three weeks ago the consistory met in a special session to decide whether or not we would offer sanctuary to the Indonesians we have been serving in response to God's leading," the letter also said. "The decision was an emphatic yes. We do this humbly, and well aware of the ‘gray area' into which we enter, in terms of government compliance. We do this because God's higher law of love seems to trump the broken laws that have caused such anxiety and that now are leading to deportations."

In April, two more immigrants moved into the church for sanctuary. A third was denied sanctuary, since his family was living safely in Indonesia and he didn't seem to face danger if he returned. He has since been deported.

Encouraging immigrants to normalize their status
The congregation, which includes 30 Indonesian members and hosts an Indonesian service that draws an additional 60 people, has strongly advocated for the immigration status of Indonesians. Many of the immigrants are Christians who fled religious persecution in Indonesia between 1997 and 2002.

Renewal Process Receives Grant

(From RCA Today)

Ridder Church Renewal, a partnership of the RCA and Western Theological Seminary, has received an $850,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.

The grant provides funds to expand the program into all regions of the RCA over the next five years. So far, the program has been offered for congregations in the Synods of the Great Lakes and Mid-America.

Ridder Church Renewal: A Journey of Personal and Congregational Transformation gathers pastors and congregational leaders for a process that focuses on transformation in their own lives and in their churches. Since 2008, pastors and lay leaders from 34 congregations have participated in the process, which lasts 18 months.

Church in Progress

(From RCA Today)

New Life Community Church is a church in progress.

"It's a calming season, getting their footing, returning to some of the deeper good qualities they have as a congregation," says pastor Scott Rees, who's been at the church five years.

For New Life, located in Sayville on Long Island, that has meant a return to biblical foundations and a deeper sense of connectedness with each other.

In the 1980s, the church was one of the largest evangelical congregations on Long Island. With that growth, a rich biblical foundation shifted to "a mile wide and an inch deep," Rees says. Groups within the congregation also stretched and strained community ties. The church experienced two significant phases of decline—including one 10 years ago in the midst of turmoil over a pastor's departure.

"Now they're smaller, they're returning to those strengths," Rees says. 

RCWS Monitors Drought in Africa and North America

Reformed Church World Service is monitoring several crisis situations caused by drought.

Both East and West Africa are experiencing drought and face an imminent hunger crisis. RCWS responded earlier to immediate needs in East Africa with $40,000. An additional $5,000 has been sent to address child nutrition and long-term solutions by training communities to build greenhouses so that vegetable gardening is not rain dependent.

Derrick Jones, supervisor of RCA Mission in Africa, says, "We are responding to needs in East Africa through Church World Service, as they remain very active and engaged in that region. Another partner, World Renew/CRWRC, has shifted its relief efforts and focus to West Africa. With the West Africa drought situation gradually escalating, we will monitor and evaluate this developing need and determine our response via our partners in the near future."

RCWS is also monitoring the drought in the United States. Current media reports indicate the ongoing drought is the worst since 1956. This has led to predictions of rising food prices as the corn and soybean crops continue to deteriorate. As meat and other food prices rise, so will the needs in food pantries across the country. RCWS helps support food pantries with grants every fall; grant requests have increased in recent years, and that need will be heightened by the drought. Learn more about drought and rising food prices at Bread for the World.

How You Can Help

Pray: Pray for those who do not have enough food and that communities, neighbors, nations, and churches will respond. Pray that responses to the drought may be a blessing to people who are most in need.

Give: Help RCWS and RCA Global Mission respond to hunger by donating generously. Whether you can feed one or a hundred, your gift is critical. Contributions (designated "Feed One") can be sent to Reformed Church in America, Attn: Finance Office, 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 or, in Canada, to Regional Synod of Canada, 201 Paradise Rd. N., Hamilton, ON L8S 3T3. (In the U.S., please make your check payable to Reformed Church in America with "Feed One" in the memo line. In Canada, please make your check payable to Regional Synod of Canada.) To donate by credit card (U.S. only) use the RCA's secure donation page or call the RCA Michigan Regional Center at (800) 968-3943, ext. 247.

Support local food panties, community gardens, and efforts to stock pantries with fresh produce.

Roots of Revitalization

(From RCA Today)

It all began with a conversation in a Chicago airport lounge in 1996.

Newly-elected General Synod president Tony Vis began chatting with Wes Granberg-Michaelson, then general secretary, about what Vis would like to emphasize during his year-long presidency. 

"We sat down to talk about what might be the need in the RCA, what might be the theme for the year," says Vis, lead pastor of Meredith Drive Reformed Church in Des Moines, Iowa. "We agreed that one of those emphases would be on church revitalization."

To that end, Vis gathered 12 other RCA pastors who had each led a church through a turnaround or time of significant growth.

Faithwalking: Connecting Discipleship and Daily Life

(From RCA Today)

"Faithwalking" is a discipleship path that takes people back to their past so they can move forward to become more like Christ.

"Faithwalking starts with a retreat process," says Brian Stone. "We take a look at habits of disobedience that we've created out of our woundedness or out of getting a legitimate need met in an illegitimate way."

Stone is one of three pastors in West Michigan who've worked together to introduce Faithwalking to people in the congregations they lead. As part of a leadership program, they went through a Faithwalking retreat that was so powerful, they decided to bring it to their congregations. 

Discussion Shares Youth Perspective

(From RCA Communications)

About 100 people attended a youth panel in Hamilton, Ontario, in April to hear how young people view the church. Carson Culp, a pastor who moderated the panel discussion, says the goal was for the church to listen—not debate or critique, but listen—to some views of young people.

Four panelists ranged in age from 16 to 23. They discussed the role of faith and spirituality in their lives, their impressions of the church, how friends influence their views, and changes they'd like to see in the church.

Following the panel, 30 youth continued the discussion with synod executive John Kapteyn and general secretary Tom De Vries. "We need to hear youth to learn how to better help them be what God wants them to be," Kapteyn says.

"I went to the panel because I wanted to hear the opinions of other youth about the church," says 15-year-old Abbey DeGiovanni. "I also wanted to share what I thought about things, too.

"It was a cool experience. What I really liked about it is they weren't just interviewing one person. Each person had different opinions and experiences."

Those opinions included a desire for Christian unity, the importance of practical faith that's applied in everyday life, and a better balance between doctrine and relationships. Youth said they want to listen and be listened to, and they asked the church not to water things down for them.

Gumuz Congregations Grow in Ethiopia

(From RCA Communications)

Gospel seeds that an Ethiopian evangelist planted among the Gumuz people of southeastern Ethiopia just a few years ago are bearing fruit. The evangelist was sent by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), an RCA Global Mission partner.

For generations, neighboring peoples regarded the Gumuz as inferior and often enslaved them. Still marginalized today, the Gumuz traditionally hunt with bows and arrows, breed cattle for a living, and worship the "spirits" of rocks, trees, and animals.

Africa mission supervisor Derrick Jones recently visited new congregations that have sprung up among the Gumuz. At one church he joined 30 men, women, and children for a weekday morning worship. The congregation has 67 members and continues to grow. Church leaders volunteer their time and walk up to 25 miles (40 km) on outreach visits. "We hope to raise funds for bicycles and two motorcycles to support these efforts," says Jones.

In addition to providing funds to support outreach to the Gumuz, Global Mission helps the EECMY with Gumuz development projects that provide clean water, literacy training, and simple buildings for congregations, which often start out worshiping under a tree.

New Historical Series Book Focuses on Music

(From RCA Communications)

Sing to the Lord a New Song: Choirs in the Worship and Culture of the Dutch Reformed Church in America, 1785-1860, by David M. Tripold, is volume 75 in the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America. The volume, introduced at General Synod in June, is an engaging account of the early history of the RCA through the examination of its music, specifically the development of choirs. This is the first volume in the series to include an accompanying CD.

"David Tripold has written an engaging and wide-ranging book using the institutional choir as a lens through which to observe the liturgical history of the Dutch Reformed Church," says Anne B. Yardley of Drew University. "The included CD will allow readers to hear the music of the time, a rarely recorded repertoire."

James Hart Brumm, pastor of Blooming Grove Reformed Church in Rensselaer, New York, says Tripold is "like a restoration expert cleaning the grime off the portrait of Reformed worship and reveals a vivid picture of parish worship."

The volume makes an excellent gift for choir and music directors, choir members, and anyone who appreciates Reformed worship and liturgy. Tripold is chair of the Department of Music and Theater Arts and associate professor at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. He is a member of the RCA's Commission on History.

Commissioners approve new Heidelberg catechism translation

(From the Presbyterian Church (USA))

A new translation of the Heidelberg catechism was approved by voice vote on Wednesday afternoon at the 220th General Assembly. This approval now sends the catechism to the 173 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for approval. If passed by a 2/3 majority of the presbyteries, the catechism will be enacted at the 221st GA in 2014 and will replace the current translation in the denomination’s The Book of Confessions at that point, becoming part of the church constitution.

As part of the report, the Rev. David Stubbs, professor of ethics and theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., presented the process that the special committee, formed by the 218th General Assembly (2008), used to develop the new translation of the catechism. The translation was developed in partnership with the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in North America.

Stubbs detailed some of the translation issues the special committee faced, as well as issues of scriptural citations. “I hope this makes clear to you the scope of our work with the RCA and CRC, as well as the details of our work with scriptural citations,” he told the Assembly.

The committee also recommended approval of a motion to include the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions. The confession was approved by the 219th GA but failed to garner the 2/3 majority of presbyteries needed for the process to proceed further.

The Belhar Confession came out of the racially segregated Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. It was written in 1986 and first adopted by the “colored” Dutch Reformed Mission Church.

The Assembly considered a minority report from some committee members, presented to the Assembly by commissioner Sharon Brinks of Lake Michigan Presbytery. The minority report called for a pastoral letter to be sent to PC(USA) congregations encouraging education about racial issues, utilizing The Book of Confessions, Scripture, and the Belhar Confession. The minority report was disapproved.

In debating the main motion, commissioner Jim Thomas of Elizabeth Presbytery spoke in favor of the motion. “When I read Belhar I know I am reading the faith of the saints whose faith changed things…. To add this to our confessions is to add the faith of the global south to our constitution.”

In speaking against the motion, Douglas Megill of Lake Erie Presbytery noted that the church had recently considered the confession. “We ought to let some time elapse before we consider Belhar again,” he said.

The motion to approve adding the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions passed with 395 voting yes, 264 no and 6 abstentions.

Belhar Confession to be recommended for inclusion in Book of Confessions

(From the Presbyterian Church (USA))

PITTSBURGH -- The 220th Church Confessions Committee voted on Tuesday (June 3) to recommend the confession for inclusion in The Book of Confessions. This is the second round for Belhar to be considered, having narrowly failed to receive the 2/3-majority vote needed by presbyteries following the 219th GA.

The confession, which emerged from a divided Dutch Reformed Church in apartheid-era South Africa, has been a unifying force for Christians living with systemic racial strife.

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) adopted the confession in 2010. As RCA ecumenical advisory delegate Jeff Japinga told the committee, “At the end of the day, we accepted the Belhar for what it is: a full confession of the church that can guide our lives together.”

Discussion among the committee included comments from John Etheredge of New Hope Presbytery. “I speak in favor of the confession as a person of color. Belhar is a mirror, allowing us to see ourselves as we are. We need to realize there is a lot of racism in this world.”

Youth advisory delegate Mikayla Loseke of Denver Presbytery spoke against the motion, saying, “I am afraid that if we push this again right after it was defeated, it will be defeated again.”

New Access an Uplifting Change

(From Phil Assink, pastor of Faith Community Church (RCA) in Edmonds, Washington. Originally printed in the Spring 2012 issue of Breaking Barriers.)

“We’ll put it in, but who in the world will be using it?”

That question was on the minds of many at Faith Community Church (RCA) in Edmonds, WA, in the late 1990s when we installed a Limited Use Limited Access (LULA) elevator. Since that time, our question has been answered again and again.

Today, the elevator is used at least three days a week to accommodate Bible study groups as well as Sunday services. Whenever we have groups from the community use our facility, we can now say that our building is wheelchair accessible. People have used the elevator when they have experienced injuries or surgeries that have temporarily prevented them from using stairs. Others who were wondering who might ever use the thing are now weekly users.

Several in a women’s group appreciate it. One said, “It takes me so long to go down the stairs that I feel like I am holding everyone up, so now I just take the elevator.” Another who is recovering from a knee replacement said she can climb up stairs but the elevator is much easier for going down.

We’ve learned from our own experience and from other churches that the elevator provides a physical lift as well as a spiritual lift. For instance, the elevator has made it possible for one family to take a parent struggling with Alzheimer’s disease to church. They found that the continuing participation in church provided spiritual and emotional help for everyone.

One of our members has been doing rigorous rehabilitation work for a spinal injury. She fell and has not been able to walk, and had been away from church for over a year. Recently, with the assistance of a walker, she was able to use the elevator and return to worship, and the entire congregation benefited from her return.

The elevator project was made possible in part by a $15,000 grant from the RCA’s $9.8 by ’98 fundraising campaign, so we remain grateful to our denomination and all those who gave generously more than a decade ago. None of us realized then that their gifts would help so many.

These are the kinds of questions and issues that were not considered when our split-level building was constructed in the 1960s with no ground-level entrance. When exploring accessibility options many years later, we learned that a ramp, though less expensive,  would not be practical, but a LULA elevator provided a cost effective option for ground-level entry point and access to the upstairs and downstairs levels.

More than a decade later, a new question people are wondering is, “What would our church be like without an elevator?”

Children and Worship Trainers Buy Special Stole

(By Carol Hylkema, president of Pal Craftaid’s board)

Ellen Vellenga and Carol Jones met at a facilitators’ training event held by the Reformed Church in America for an interactive approach to children in worship. The approach, called “Young Children and Worship,” is based on a book of the same title by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman. Since the early part of the decade, they’ve been trainers in different regions for this approach to faith formation in young children, which includes a “wondering time” for children’s questions and a “blessing time” as each child leaves worship to be a disciple of God.

It was Jones who first saw the Pal Craftaid stole, made by women artisans in the West Bank, while she was browsing the booths at the annual meeting of the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE) last February in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jones told Vellenga she had to go see it for herself, saying, “You’re going to love it!”

Stitched into one panel of the stole were the words, “Go in peace…May the love of God surround you everywhere you go,” the same blessing that closes each “Young Children and Worship” time. On the other panel were the words to the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” As Jones said, “The words of the song, familiar from the civil rights movement, capture the spirit which lives inside both of us that, someday, we will all live as kingdom people, overcoming the evil of this world and entering into a life truly lived in agape love.”

So on the very last day of the conference, back to the booth they came. “We had to have it,” said Jones.

The stole is now shared between them. They take turns using it in their Children and Worship trainings, shipping it back and forth. Vellenga, who attends St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, does trainings in the southwestern United States, and Jones trains in California, where she is a member of Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount.

Next year at APCE the two women will lead a workshop together, taking turns wearing the stole as they lead.

Christian Churches Together Appoints New Leader

(From Christian Churches Together)

The Steering Committee of Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) has appointed the Rev. Carlos L. Malavé as Executive Director. CCT is a national organization that brings together churches from all the Christian traditions in the US. RCA general secretary emeritus Wes Granberg-Michaelson served on the search committee.

Malavé has served 11 years as Associate for Ecumenical Relations for the Presbyterian Church (USA). He previously served in the pastoral ministry in California and Puerto Rico. He has a master of divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, a master of arts from Loma Linda University, and a bachelor of arts in religion from University of the Antilles.

Malavé brings to this position a strong sense of call to the movement for Christian unity in the US and to CCT in particular. He also brings experience and relationships with a number of cultures and traditions within the CCT movement.

“I'm ready to do whatever is needed to continue to break down any walls that divide the churches in our country,” he said. He noted that one of the most important challenges for CCT is to seek deeper relationships with churches of the African American and Evangelical traditions.

At its steering committee meeting, CCT continued planning an April 2013 event that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” CCT is preparing a formal response to that historic letter.

CCT’s next annual meeting, to be held early next year in Austin, Texas, will focus on the human realities, legal implications and challenges of immigration in the US. This focus builds on previous meetings devoted to the topics of poverty, evangelism, and racism.

Created in 2001, CCT is a forum of more than 35 churches and Christian organizations that encompasses the broad diversity of Christianity in the US. The members are organized into five “families”—Catholic, Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Black, Historic Protestant, and Orthodox.

Synod Recommends Future Priorities for RCA

(From RCA Communications)

On Monday, General Synod identified six priorities to explore through the RCA’s ongoing discernment process: mission, leadership, discipleship, church health, diversity, and youth empowerment.

The priorities were recommended following a two-day all-synod advisory committee process.

"Individuals, triads, and advisory committees added their voices to information from the Conversations event, in anticipation of discerning God’s will for the next 10 years of the RCA," said a report from a writing team of advisory committee moderators. "Discernment took place—often with collegiality, sometimes with tension—but with the value that every voice be heard in every group."

Presenter Tom Goodhart said the advisory committee process left him with "tremendous hope that our church indeed is filled with grace and peace and truth."

Synod Approves Striking "Conscience Clauses"

(From RCA Communications)

On Monday evening, General Synod voted to remove the "conscience clauses" from the Book of Church Order (BCO). The RCA's Commission for Women brought the recommendation that the "conscience clauses"—statements that spell out how people can and cannot conscientiously object to the ordination process of women—be removed from the BCO.

The recommendation passed by a vote of 143-69.

The removal of the "conscience clauses" must be ratified by two-thirds of the RCA's classes before the change will take effect.

Originally adopted in 1980, the "conscience clauses" were intended to maintain unity and peace despite a diversity of opinion concerning the ordination of women, which was adopted by the RCA in 1979. (The RCA's ordained offices are deacon, elder, and minister of Word and sacrament.) The clauses are phrases of similar wording; they appear three times within the BCO.

In their report to General Synod, the Commission for Women pointed out that in their current usage, the "conscience clauses" create more division than unity and shelter those who misuse the clauses to oppose the ordination of women.

Delegates Affirm Stance on Homosexuality

(From RCA Communications)

Following more than three hours of discussion and debate, the General Synod on Monday approved a recommendation that affirmed an official position that homosexual behavior is a sin according to Scripture.

The recommendation also calls for the creation of a committee to provide practical recommendations that “present a way forward” without revisiting the RCA's official stance.

The debate, which came in response to overtures from several classes calling for officeholders who promote, celebrate, or bless homosexual behavior to be disciplined, began with discussion of a recommendation from the Special Advisory Committee on Overtures and New Business.

During subsequent discussion on the initial recommendation, several proposed amendments were defeated before Ron Opmeer, a minister delegate from Canadian Prairies Classis, made the substitute motion that ultimately was adopted.

Synod Approves Advocacy and Support for Indonesian Refugees

(From RCA Communications)

On Monday, General Synod approved a recommendation to advocate for and support Indonesian refugees in the U.S.

Many Christian Indonesians fled their native country because of religious persecution. The Indonesian Christians are reluctant to return to their native country because of persecution from the dominant Muslim majority.

Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey, is active in the fight against deportation of Indonesian Christians, providing sanctuary, advocacy, and support to many in the local Indonesian community.

Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR-3490) and soon in the U.S. Senate that would allow some Indonesians to reopen their asylum claims with the U.S. government.

Seth Kaper-Dale, co-pastor of Reformed Church of Highland Park, traveled to General Synod to address the Special Advisory Committee on Overtures and New Business, where the recommendation emerged.

"The RCA has always been concerned about the persecuted church, and sometimes that persecuted church is people who've come here to escape the persecuted church," he said.

RCA and CRC Minister Together

(From RCA Communications)

General Synod delegates heard an update about cooperative ministries of the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church in North America from general secretary Tom De Vries and CRC executive director Joel Boot.

Boot shared that he first met De Vries when they sat together at an ecumenical luncheon at the CRC's synod last summer. Following the meal, a Nigerian guest told them, "When I see the two of you, I see the heartbeat of God."

"It was a revelation how important our collaborative, cooperative ventures can be all over the world," Boot said.

The RCA and CRC work in partnership to start new churches in targeted areas called Kingdom Enterprise Zones. The denominations collaborate in other areas, including disability ministries, shared technology, and mission.

President-elect Smith: "To God be the Glory"

(From RCA Communications)

Tom Smith was elected president of General Synod on Sunday. Accompanied by his family, Smith spoke about the last of the five "sola's" of Reformed theology: Soli Deo Gloria.

Smith shared that composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote that phrase at the conclusion of his music, but that the words are important to him at the beginning of his service as General Synod president.

"As a denomination, all of our mission and vision statements, Our Call, and everything we're doing here and that we'll do in the months to come in the Discovery process—all of this distills down to one phrase: to God alone be the glory," he said.

One for the World Permeates Synod

(From RCA Communications)

"One for the World," a song written expressly for General Synod 2012 that was introduced in opening worship on Thursday, has become this assembly's theme.

Many of the words to the song were written during last February's RCA Conversations event in Orlando, Florida, by John Chisum, pastor of celebration arts at Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan.

"At Conversations I was listening to Tom De Vries's main address on the opening night," said Chisum, coordinator of General Synod's worship planning team. "When Tom used the phrase 'one for the world,' something went off in me like a cannon. I'm not sure what else he said the rest of the night because I was writing most of the chorus on a napkin or piece of paper while I was sitting there."

By the time the Conversations weekend had concluded, not only was a song mostly written, but Chisum had talked both with De Vries and General Synod president Lisa Vander Wal about his sudden inspiration and where it might lead.

"As a songwriter, when I hear a good hook or a phrase that captures my imagination, things take off," Chisum said. "My wife says I tend to be a grandiose visionary—I see big stuff. I already had known during Conversations that I would be the worship leader for this event, and I thought 'one for the world' could be wonderful phrase for this synod."

And Vander Wal agreed.

"The 'unity in diversity' theme was not on my radar initially, but by the time we got to Conversations it was," Vander Wal said. "Then, when John and I talked about unity in the midst of all our diversity, the phrase 'one for the world' helped bring shape to my theme. When I read the words they flowed into what I wanted to say.

Delegates Explore Pastoral Response

(From RCA Communications)

Delegates spent Saturday night in their all-synod advisory committees discussing "a pastoral response to homosexuality," developing 10-word "statements of hope" that will be presented to the synod before discussing the topic on Monday.

Three overtures were sent to this year's synod regarding homosexuality. The Advisory Committee on Overtures and New Business is scheduled to bring its recommendation(s) on these overtures to the synod on Monday.

Saturday night's process was designed to create a shared context where the voices of many individuals with different stories could become the voice of the assembly. Delegates heard personal stories from Ron Citlau, Fred Harrell, and Carl Ver Beek.

Synod Approves Allan Janssen as General Synod Professor

(From RCA Communications)

The Rev. Dr. Allan Janssen on Saturday became the first part-time seminary professor to be installed into the office of General Synod professor, joining ten others who make up a newly constituted corporate body called the professorate.

Janssen, who has a distinguished history on two RCA commissions—Church Order and Christian Action—and has authored three volumes in the RCA Historical Series, was recommended by the New Brunswick Theological Seminary Board of Trustees. During the past 15 years, Janssen has taught courses in Reformed polity, Reformed confessions, and systematic theology at New Brunswick, first as an adjunct faculty member and since 2006 as an affiliated faculty member, all the while serving full-time in parish ministry.

A pastor for nearly 40 years, Janssen has been serving the Community Church of Glen Rock, New Jersey, since 2000. With his installation, Janssen becomes the first General Synod professor to be serving a church full-time.

"For nearly forty years I've been doing theology in the parish," said Janssen, who in 2005 received a PhD in systematic theology from the Free University in Amsterdam. "This means something for New Brunswick seminary and for me personally."

Synod Votes to Reestablish Advocacy Network on Israel and Palestine

(From RCA Communications)

On Saturday, delegates approved three recommendations that call the RCA to renewed work toward a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

"We're dealing not only with complex international situations and policy statements and issues, but with people—people whose livelihoods and very lives are being threatened, people who are created in the image of God and deeply loved by God, people with whom Christ calls us to be engaged in a ministry of reconciliation," said John Paarlberg, who presented the report of the Working Group for Peace and Justice in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

"Our hope is that this report might be another step in leading people in the Reformed Church in becoming more personally involved in justice and reconciliation for the people of Israel and Palestine."

Delegates voted to affirm the statements of previous General Synods, reaffirming Israelis' rights to live in a safe state and Palestinians' right to statehood, as well as advocating for an end to violence that includes an end to the Israeli occupation and the removal of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

Delegates Approve Moving toward Biennial General Synod

(From RCA Communications)

Synod delegates today approved four recommendations to move toward a biennial General Synod, proposing that odd-numbered years would feature a gathering of congregational leaders to focus on equipping the RCA's congregations.

"I believe that biennial synods and off-year gatherings will help us move into the future in an exciting and positive way," said General Synod vice president Tom Smith.

General secretary emeritus Ed Mulder spoke against the recommendation, saying "We are a family, and if we meet together every other year, we will have lost something."

Last year's General Synod president, Don Poest, shared that in his travels around the denomination, he frequently heard about how many decisions in the RCA are made by 50-year-old white men. "I didn't take that personally since I'm a 60-year-old white male. So much can be done electronically, and I long for younger generations to have a role in the church," he said.

The team that brought the recommendations, comprised of GSC members and RCA pastors with input from GSC staff, reported that the recommendations' goal is "to maximize delegates' ability to engage in missional business at the face-to-face meeting of the General Synod, while simultaneously providing mechanisms through which all other business can be addressed by delegates" (General Synod workbook, page 126).

General Secretary Encourages Unity as RCA Looks to the Future

(From RCA Communications)

In his report to the General Synod, general secretary Tom De Vries encouraged "runners of the race"—participants in the 10-year goal to revitalize and plant RCA churches—to finish well and prepare for an exciting, challenging future.

Acknowledging that the race toward the goal has been intense and exhausting, De Vries noted the importance of finding energy and resources to finish well and engage what comes next. "How do centuries of faith translate into relevancy for the twenty-first century?" he asked.

He addressed the synod's role in continuing a process to discover what God has next for the RCA. Delegates to synod will be considering the direction provided by the denominational process so far, and they will engage in distilling and refining that direction.

"We do not define the terms of our engagement," said De Vries. "They will be discovered as we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit."

Synod President Urges Unity and Reconciliation

(From RCA Communications)

In her report to the General Synod, president Lisa Vander Wal asked delegates to reflect on Jesus' desire for his disciples to live in unity for the sake of the world.

"I believe that this time in the history of the world—with all its diversity and challenges—is precisely what Jesus was envisioning as he prayed that [we] may all be one," said Vander Wal, who is pastor of Lisha's Kill Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York.

Vander Wal told how she saw believers' unity being lived out in large and small ways over the past year as she traveled throughout the RCA and internationally. "But," she added, "I was also at times distressed about deep divides between factions within Christ's church, even within this part of the church known as the RCA."

Acknowledging that issues associated with homosexuality are causing deep divisions within the RCA, Vander Wal urged delegates to be "respectful in conversation with each other in this matter” and to “maintain the unity of the body through the bond of peace."

How to Connect with General Synod 2012

(From RCA Communications)

General Synod 2012 runs June 21-26 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. Whether you're nearby or far away, you can stay up-to-date on the latest synod happenings.


The homepages of both RCA Today and RCA.org will feature the latest stories on synod throughout the meeting.

A current list of news stories, as well as links to the synod workbook, an updated recommendations list, and other resources are all available on the main synod page, www.rca.org/synod.

To receive the latest news in your email inbox or feed reader, subscribe to the RCA news feed.App


The new RCA Synod Event App features more from General Synod, including the workbook. It's available for free in both the Android Google Play and iTunes App stores.


The Reformed Church in America page on Facebook will be regularly updated with synod news and comments, www.facebook.com/reformedchurch.


TwitterGet up-to-the-minute General Synod updates on Twitter, a subscription-based service that provides quick, short announcements to your computer or mobile phone. Visit www.twitter.com/RCAonline for RCA tweets or search for #GS12 for recent updates from other General Synod tweeters.


Read about General Synod 2012 through the eyes of the delegates. The RCA General Synod blog has a team of bloggers who will share and comment on the proceedings of synod at heraldblog.squarespace.com/general-synod-2012-blogs/.

Plenary live stream video

Watch General Synod unfold in real time with streaming video at www.rca.org/stream. Video will be live whenever synod is in a plenary session. Archived video from major presentations will also be available.


Throughout General Synod 2012, we'll be posting photo galleries to show what's been happening at synod. Galleries will be linked from the rca.org/synod page. The RCA also has a Flickr group where you can view photos and even submit your own. Feel free to tag any RCA or General Synod photos you take.


Individuals and churches throughout the denomination will be praying around the clock during synod. Consider signing up for a one-hour timeslot to blanket General Synod in prayer. Spots are still available; visit www.rca.org/gsprayer to sign up. All prayers are welcomed and encouraged!

General Synod Hotline

The General Synod Hotline is updated by 6:00 each evening (central daylight time) with a message detailing recent synod highlights. Call (800) 968-6063.

Water in Jesus' Name: Wells Counter Drought in Maasailand

(From RCA Today)

Life-giving water—spiritually and literally—has come to Maasailand in Kenya, thanks to God's call on the life of a Maasai leader and his service to his people in partnership with the RCA.

Simon Muntolol, son of a Maasai chief, came to know Christ in 1984 while in jail in Nairobi for cattle rustling Facuet. After his release, he returned home to the wilderness region of Kenya known as Maasailand and began telling his people about Jesus Christ.

The Maasai are semi-nomads who graze huge herds of cattle and goats on the vast, sweeping grasslands that are part of Africa's Great Rift Valley. Men care for the animals and travel long distances to find water for their livestock in times of drought. They are proud of their reputation as fearless warriors.

Muntolol attended seminary in Nairobi for three years, started the Maasai Outreach Mission church, and trained eight Maasai pastor-evangelists. Their tireless planting of God's Word has brought a harvest of 3,000 believers. Their goal is to evangelize the Maasai of the Rift Valley all the way to Kenya's southern border with Tanzania. So far 50 churches have taken root where before there were none.

Providing water in a thirsty land
The Maasai's greatest physical need is water. Kenya's extreme drought for the past three years has led to the deaths of countless Maasai cattle, which represent wealth, prestige, and insurance against disaster. Cattle and goats supply almost the entire Maasai diet, which consists mainly of milk, blood, and meat. For the Maasai's way of life to survive, they must have dependable sources of fresh, pure water for themselves and their livestock.

The RCA has committed to digging five wells in Maasailand in partnership with Maasai Outreach Mission. Three have been successfully completed, a fourth is in progress, and the fifth is being planned.

"It's all about you": Nonprofit uses horses to help people discover themselves

(From the Fort Dodge Messenger)

A new nonprofit organization - Stable Connections - held a demonstration for 30 audience members Monday night to show how horses can help humans connect with themselves.

Deb Koerner, a licensed mental health counselor, told her audience at the Webster County Fairgrounds that "horses and humans are herd animals and both are sensitive to non-verbal communications."

Stable Connections is designed conduct equine assisted learning exercises and equine assisted psychotherapy for individuals and groups.

It's an outreach ministry for Cana, which described itself as "an organic mission station ... that will reach out to people in need through mentoring, Bible studies, workshops, small concerts, and at some time, a worship experience." It was planted in Fort Dodge by the Reformed Church of [sic] America.

CRC Synod Sets Assessment at $326, Accepts RCA Invitation to 2014 Synod

The Christian Reformed Church's 2012 General Synod approved a ministry shares amount of $326.26 per member for 2013. Ministry shares funds are used to support shared ministries of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC).

The approved ministry shares amount represents a 3 percent increase from 2012. Most of the increase is intended to go to Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the CRC.

Synod also approved the locations for synod for the next two years.

Synod 2013 will meet June 7-14 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids (Mich.), with Roosevelt Park CRC serving as the convening church.

Delegates voted to begin synods on Friday, which provides a natural break with a day of "rest" falling between the scheduled two days of advisory committee meetings and the start-up of full plenary sessions.

Synod 2014 will convene at Central College in Pella, Iowa, accepting the invitation from the Reformed Church in America to meet simultaneously with its synod and to participate in joint sessions. Joel Boot, executive director of the CRC, said joint sessions would likely include worship and discussion of issues common to both denominations.

Crystal Cathedral congregation set for 2013 move

(From Reuters)

The congregation of Crystal Cathedral, a mega-church once famous for its "Hour of Power" broadcasts, will move to a new location next year under a deal with the Roman Catholic diocese buying its glass-walled house of worship, officials said on Thursday.

The Southern California congregation's move was expected, under the terms of an agreement that saw ownership of the Crystal Cathedral property transferred in a $57.5 million bankruptcy sale the two sides entered into late in 2011.

The Protestant congregation's move one mile away to the building now occupied by St. Callistus Catholic Church in the Orange County suburb of Garden Grove is planned for June 2013, well ahead of the three-year deadline set for the relocation.

Practice Makes Perfect

(From RCA Today)

A new church in Florida is building its core group ahead of its grand opening this fall.

Motion Church, located in the Tampa Bay area, had a "soft launch" on February 12 and has been holding weekly worship services since then in the ballroom of a local Embassy Suites Hotel. Pastor Aaron Lewis says the services let the core group see the vision of the church and discover how everything plays out—before the guests arrive en masse.

"The idea is right now we're teaching our core group who we are as a church, and we're allowing our DNA to sink in to who they are, so when we have our grand opening they know what we're all about," he says. "And that way, we're able to better minister to the people who show up."

Initially, the core group was made up of Lewis, his wife, and seven others who moved from South Carolina to Tampa to start the church. They have all been using their hobbies to meet and connect with people in the community—people playing basketball at the YMCA, for instance. "Now that we're going every single week, we've added a lot to our plate, but not at the expense of outreach," Lewis says. "Outreach is still the primary concern throughout the week."

Longtime RCA Missionary Joyce Dunham Dies

(From RCA Communications)
Joyce Dunham, who served on the mission field for 31 years, died on Tuesday, May 29, in Pella, Iowa, at the age of 83. Joyce and her husband, Jim, served in the Middle Eastern nations of Bahrain and Oman from 1953 to 1984. Jim passed away in 2007.

“[Joyce and Jim] were known for the way they valued the relationships they shared with people,” says Duncan Hanson, supervisor of RCA mission in Europe, the Middle East, and India. “They thought of ministry as presence. They believed that just being there is half of what a missionary’s work is about.

“As principal of the Al Amana School in Muscat, Oman, as well as apart from her formal work assignment, Joyce cultivated relationships with women and children from what one missionary used to call ‘more humble’ Omani families. In this she was like her Lord, who in his earthly life also sought out people of humble background.

“Joyce and Jim had warm friendships with many Bahraini and Omani families. After Jim died, some Omanis and Bahrainis said they felt they knew Jesus through the friendship they had with Joyce and Jim.”

A memorial service is planned for this summer. The family has asked that memorial gifts in Joyce’s honor be given to RCA Global Mission to support mission work in Oman and Bahrain. If you'd like to make a gift to honor Joyce's memory, please mail your gift to RCA Global Mission, 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512-9670 and write "Joyce Dunham memorial" in the memo line of your check.

June 3 brings community-focused changes for Plano church

(From examiner.com)

Sunday, June 3 marks the official beginning of summer for the Reformed Church in Plano (RCP). The change of seasons means significant changes for the congregation. On the heels of a recent six-week sermon series about "turning RCP inside out", the church is responding with a new missional focus.

"The pastors and Consistory (church leadership board) believe that God is calling the Reformed Church in Plano to grow by reaching out to those in our community who have no spiritual home," says Rev. Elizabeth Hardeman, who co-pastors RCP with Rev. Mike Hardeman, her husband. "With that in mind we are following the Holy Spirit to provide a more welcoming atmosphere for all who enter RCP."

The themes of reaching out to its community, hospitality, and embracing new believers and attendees have inspired three new happenings at the church.

Community Reformed Church celebrates its 50th anniversary

(From jconline.com)

Martha Smith, of Lafayette, [Indiana] has been a faithful member of Community Reformed Church since the church was founded in 1962. Over those 50 years, she has seen her youngest son become the first to be baptized, raised five children and married again under its leadership.

"It was very small, yet members have always been close and supportive of one another," said Smith, 81. "(There's) different faces, different times but always the same focus."

Not surprisingly, Smith was in attendance during the church's 50th anniversary celebration May 20. The church today is the fruit of those who have labored, prayed and volunteered in the past. It is the realization of dedicated families from First Reformed Church that was located on North 15th Street in Lafayette. First Reformed Church is now Heartland Community Church at 3900 E. County Road 300 North in Lafayette.

Melodic Mission Partnership

(From RCA Communications)

Composer Wei-en Hsu lives in New York City, but in 2009 two of his tunes were published in a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. Hsu attends Taiwan Union Christian Church (RCA) in Queens.

RCA missionary David Alexander, who works in partnership with the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, recently wrote new lyrics to one of the tunes. The song is called "Love and Fellowship."

"The first time I heard the tune I was seized by it," he says. "Since then, every time that hymn is used at morning prayers or worship in Tainan Theological College, it stays with me all day, or even all week."

Alexander's new lyrics focus on the Trinity, and are intended for use on Trinity Sunday, which falls on June 3 this year.

Wanting to distribute "Love and Fellowship" for church use on Trinity Sunday, Alexander contacted Hsu for permission. Only then did they realize the RCA connection.

"This new hymn is the latest fruit of a church to church partnership that has existed since 1953," Alexander says.

Pacific and Asian American Ministries: Fresh Air, New Spirit

(From RCA Communications)

The 33rd annual consultation of the Council for Pacific and Asian American Ministries of the Reformed Church in America met in Grand Rapids and Holland, Michigan, on May 1-2. More than 50 pastors and elders from New York, New Jersey, California, Minnesota, Georgia, Colorado, Florida, and Illinois were present.

As the opening keynote speaker, general secretary Tom De Vries welcomed the CPAAM community to Western Michigan. He encouraged CPAAM's involvement in the RCA and shared some of his ideas concerning the future of the RCA. Then participants engaged in the ongoing RCA discernment process. CPAAM is the first group to take part in a discernment workshop following Conversations, with the goal of discovering CPAAM's perspective on how God is working within, through, and ahead of the Asian American churches and communities we serve. After a full day of meetings, reports, and plenary session, consultation participants played charades and showed their athletic skills in a rousing game of kickball.

Coming Full Circle: Food Pantry Helps with More than Hunger

(From RCA Today)

When Homewood Reformed Church—now called Living Springs Community Church—moved to a new location in Glenwood, Illinois, 10 years ago, it included a food pantry in the design for a new building.

"The leadership knew that by moving to a busy street, we would be near people in need," says Allen Jongsma, director of ministries and administration for Living Springs.

The pantry hands out one bag of food a week to anyone from the church or surrounding communities who is in need. People fill out a form when they come to the food pantry, and every month the forms are turned over to members of Living Springs' Circle Ministry, which attempts to minister to each person and family to help them meet all of their needs—not just food, but material and spiritual needs as well. The Circle Ministry is led by assistant pastor Ann Bilbrew. She and a group of volunteers reach out to families that are willing to take steps to improve their situations. They work closely with Children's Hunger Fund, which also supplies food boxes for the ministry.

"God has a special way of blessing his children," says Bilbrew.

Gospel-Centered Community

(From RCA Today)

Covenant Grace, a church plant in Temecula, California, built a worshiping community of over 200 before holding its first "official" service this past Easter.

"I wish I could say that we had this brilliant plan for growing Covenant Grace, but that would not be true," says Sabo Cortez, the church planter who led the ministry team that started Covenant Grace.

"We launched out of Rancho Community Church (RCA) with 20 people, started meeting in a house, and focused on building strong relationships with each other. We really emphasized having meals together in which we shared the story of our lives and brought the gospel of grace to bear on our daily situations."

Granberg-Michaelson to Speak at Central College Baccalaureate Service

(From RCA Communications and Central College)

Wes Granberg-Michaelson will speak at the baccalaureate service at Central College on May 12.

Retired in 2011, he served as general secretary of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) for 17 years. He is the author of five books; his most recent, “Unexpected Destinations,” is a memoir chronicling his pilgrimage and the church’s missional transformation.

Kathleen Sikkema will speak at commencement. A 1984 graduate of Central College and an expert in HIV prevention and mental health, Sikkema is a professor and clinical psychologist at Duke University. Her research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health for 20 years.

Both speakers are leaders in their respective fields and represent major priorities for Central College and for higher education: the health sciences and religious tolerance and fellowship.

“These two professionals and their important contributions have been influential on a global level,” said Mark Putnam, Central College president. “They are shining examples of service and dedication and clear models for our academic community. Their messages are quite powerful in showing students pathways in life with open doors of opportunities along the way.”

Both Sikkema and Granberg-Michaelson will receive honorary degrees from Central during commencement.

On May 12, 323 seniors will graduate from Central College. The baccalaureate service will begin at 9:30 a.m. in First Reformed Church. The commencement ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. in H.S. Kuyper Fieldhouse. Watch the Central College commencement ceremony streamed live online at www.central.edu.

Giving the Gift of Shoes

(From RCA Communications)
When Megan Campbell saw a presentation by Soles4Souls at the National Worship Leaders Conference in Kansas City in summer 2011, she felt led to get involved.

Soles4Souls is a nonprofit organization that collects new and gently used shoes and distributes them around the world to victims of natural disasters and people in poverty. Campbell, a worship leader at Harvest Community Church (RCA) in Wichita, Kansas, helped her church initiate a shoe collection.

Starting in September, members of Harvest went door-to-door, asking people in the neighborhoods surrounding the church if they’d be willing to donate shoes. If no one was home, they left a flyer explaining the shoe collection project and asking people to leave any shoes they were willing to donate on their porch with the flyer attached. Shoe collectors drove through the neighborhoods several days later, collecting boxes and bags of shoes left for them to pick up.

Several church members handed out flyers at area yard sales. Often, the people holding the sale donated any shoes they were selling.

The Wichita post office and the nursing department of Newman University both offered to serve as drop-off sites for donated shoes, collecting several hundred pairs of shoes to add to the collection.

The shoe drive lasted from September to January and netted nearly 3,500 pairs of shoes. The shoes were sent to Soles4Souls’ collection center in Dallas, Texas, to be sorted and sent around the world.

URCSA Helps People Living with AIDS in South Africa

(From RCA Communications) Feeding kids

When Edgar, a 45-year-old gardener in South Africa, was treated for TB and released from the hospital, he looked like a frail old man to Efraim Oppelt. Oppelt is a diaconal program coordinator with the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) and is partially supported by RCA Global Mission. "I could not understand why he was discharged."

It became clear when Edgar showed Oppelt his medical report. Edgar was in an advanced stage of AIDS. Oppelt offered to bring him to a clinic, but Edgar refused. "I feared it might be only a few days before he died."

Fortunately, Edgar's family convinced him to go to the clinic to receive medication. "After being on treatment for just over two weeks, guess who came walking into my office with the support of a walking stick? Edgar, but with a much healthier skin tone and a sparkle in his eye.

"There are many more jaw-dropping stories of people living with HIV/AIDS and how God makes it possible for them to keep a positive attitude.

"Thank you for faithfully supporting the HIV/AIDS work of URCSA. It has enabled us to coordinate and provide holistic ministry to persons infected and affected by this pandemic."

Growing the Church: Commissioned Pastors Provide Leadership

(From RCA Today)

Beechwood Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, has a heart to reach out to members of Spanish-speaking communities who have few options to worship in their heart language.


In order to equip leaders for new Spanish-speaking churches, the congregation currently provides mentoring and support for three Hispanic commissioned pastor candidates. Commissioned pastors are elders who are commissioned and trained to meet a specific ministry need.

It all began in 2005 when Beechwood's mission and outreach team felt the church was being called to plant new churches. 
They began searching for a church planter, and found Hugo Vasquez. Vasquez had connections to West Michigan; he'd done some mission work in Texas and Mexico that had been supported by several Christian Reformed churches in West Michigan. In addition, his wife, Sarah, was from Jamestown, Michigan. "One thing led to another, and we determined he was the right person to start our first work," says Beechwood's senior pastor, Jim Lankheet.

Vasquez entered the RCA's commissioned pastor program and began work on a Spanish-speaking church plant in Holland. Iglesia Alas de Aguila--Holland held its first service in April 2007.

In the Zone: Kingdom Enterprise Zone Takes Off in the Southwest

(From RCA Today)

Spurred by the Kingdom Enterprise Zone initiative that encourages church planting cooperation between the RCA and Christian Reformed Church, new ministries are springing up all over Southwest Classis.

The initiative is funded in large part by a grant from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. The funds support joint efforts to spread the gospel by planting new churches in four "zones" across the U.S. that have great potential for RCA-CRC cooperation.

"The DeVos grant has been a catalyst for church multiplication in the Phoenix/Tucson area," says Gary Jarvis, associate pastor of New Hope Community Church (RCA) in Gilbert, which is part of the Phoenix metro area. 
"A number of CRC and RCA leaders in our two classes had already begun to talk about partnering for this kind of effort, but there is no way we would have accomplished so much in so little time without the encouraging boost the grant gave us."

Tsunami Survivors Honor Volunteer

(From RCA Communications)

At a gathering to honor volunteers, community leaders in Sendai, Japan, Honored volunteers shared about the many tragedies that happened in their neighborhood when the tsunami came crashing in on them on March 11, 2011.

Nine people from Tokyo, including RCA missionaries Abraham and Sayuri Kist-Okazaki, made up the bulk of the volunteers at the gathering. They were just a few of the 1,500 volunteers who had done relief work with the United Church of Christ in Japan's Emmaus Center in 2011.

"[The Sendai leaders] were grateful for all the hard work and long hours which [the volunteers] put in and the connectedness and hope they offered," says Abraham.

"I felt somewhat awkward. Our group had shown up at the last minute and had hardly put in as much work as all the other volunteers who had come before us. However, as things progressed I realized that these people wanted to give something back to all who volunteered—they wanted to demonstrate their appreciation. If we had not been there, the room would have been very empty."

To donate to help with the massive recovery efforts still underway in Japan go to www.rca.org/japan.

Any Day, Any Time: New Ministry Welcomes People at All Hours

(From RCA Today)

Nate Bull calls the new ministry he leads in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a "guinea pig."

"Not because it's a house church. In Kalamazoo we did house churches too," he adds, referring to Vanguard, the ministry he previously served as pastor.

"What's different is that anybody from the neighborhood can come to the house any day, at any time of day. We have a guy who lives there, so the house is always open. You can get chili, a cup of coffee. Those little things build a relationship. People come knowing it's a safe place to be, to share.

"Proximity and consistency is everything," he says, when it comes to ministry in tough city areas like the core of Benton Harbor. "It's important to do the same thing in the same place all the time.

"We're dealing with people in survival mode, who are in love with Jesus, but none of them believe they are saved because of their actions," says Bull. "People would be astounded at how many active drug dealers come to the house."

Packing Meals to Stop Hunger

(From RCA Today)

In 2011 a mission experience in our local school gym honored our Lord Jesus Christ, brought glory to God, and strengthened our bonds and witness in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. 
Nearly 200 volunteers, ages four to 84, gathered and packaged more than 25,000 meals with the support and guidance of the Stop Hunger Now meal-packaging program.

Interim Discipleship Staff Announced

(From RCA Communications)

The RCA's ongoing discernment process has delayed the search for a new denominational staff member in discipleship, but two people have been contracted to serve on an interim basis.

At February's Conversations event, holistic discipleship and ministry with children, youth, and young adults were identified as priorities for the RCA's future, says Ken Eriks, director of congregational mission. The discernment process is expected to shape the discipleship role, which has been vacant since January and will not be finalized until the conclusion of the discernment process next year.

"The executive leadership team places a high priority on discipleship and we want to allow the discernment process to give us greater long-term clarity about God's preferred future for discipleship in the RCA," Eriks says.

In the meantime, two people have been brought on to help.

Bob Cleveringa will serve as an independent contractor in youth ministry for the RCA until September 30. Cleveringa is director of youth ministries for the Synod of the Heartland. He will provide short-term leadership for the RCA youth team, help develop strategic focus for RCA youth ministry, and help articulate an approach to youth ministry that will best serve the congregations of the RCA.

Stephanie Doeschot will serve as coordinator of adult discipleship until September 30, 2013. She will lead the RCA discipleship team; help the RCA develop an overall vision and strategy for holistic adult discipleship for the future; resource congregations to be healthy, vital centers of Christian witness in their communities; and sustain and broaden relationships with various ministry partners. Doeschot is copastor of Christ's Church in Saint Peters, Missouri.

Hope for a Hungry World

(From RCA Communications)

U.N. world hunger statistics are shocking:

  • Hunger is the world's number one health risk, killing more people than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
  • One in seven people in the world will go to bed hungry tonight.
  • One out of four children in developing countries is underweight.
  • There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, and the European Union.

Your gifts to RCA Global Mission and Reformed Church World Service support work with indigenous mission partners to offer sustainable ways for hungry people to get food.

Church Volunteers on Fifth Sundays

(From RCA Communications)

The R.O.C.K. Church in Los Angeles began four years ago with a vision to become an urban multiethnic church that impacted its community in creative and authentic ways.

The church plant, which shares space with Park Hills Community Church (RCA), is particularly focused on making an impact whenever there are five Sundays in one month. On the fifth Sunday, rather than meeting for worship, they go into the community and serve. On these "Impact Sundays" the congregation has ministered to homeless people, renovated a community center, set up for a neighborhood Christmas party, and more.

"Our Impact Sundays have brought the church closer together to live missionally in community," says pastor Pete Watts. "We have been able to take the gospel message of Jesus Christ and make it tangible. People within our church have grown spiritually because of our Impact Sundays and are always encouraging the members to stay ‘outward focused' on the community around us."

As a result of Impact Sundays, two new families have begun attending the R.O.C.K. and one young girl was baptized.

Finding God behind Bars

(From RCA Today)

Each Monday, the members of Celebration Fellowship begin their time together with an hour of Bible study in groups, followed by a time of prayer and then a worship service. They praise God through song and prayer and celebrate communion, just like any other church.

But the members of this congregation are all wearing blue jumpsuits, because Celebration Fellowship worships behind the bars of Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan.

Celebration Fellowship is one of only 17 prison congregations in the United States, and the only one of its kind in the Michigan prison system. "We don't do 'prison ministry'--we plant a congregation in the prisons," says Rich Rienstra, who recently retired as pastor of Celebration Fellowship. "[The inmates] are the church there right now. They're the ones who are praying for their fellow inmates. They have a lot of mission and vision--they are sensing what it means to be a church."

Singing Bach and Bluegrass

(From RCA Today)

On Tuesday afternoons during the school year, Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York, rings with the chatter, laughter, and singing of children and young people.

Boys and girls of all ages come for friendship and fun thanks to a choral program run by Old First member Jennifer Nelson. Their parents appreciate the high quality program Nelson offers, especially since New York City public schools no longer teach music.

Church Celebrates Clean Water for Earth Day

(From Bay Ridge United Church, Brooklyn, New York)
On Sunday, April 22, part of Bay Ridge United Church’s Earth Day celebrations will include an update on the work of El Porvenir, an organization the church supports.

El Porvenir means “the future” in Spanish, and clean water means a healthier future for rural Nicaraguans. In partnership with the people of Nicaragua, El Porvenir helps improve their future by providing clean drinking water and improved sanitation. In addition to sustainable water and sanitation projects, El Porvenir provides health and hygiene education and reforestation.

During the coffee hour following the service Rob Bell, executive director of El Porvenir, will speak on the organization’s work in Nicaragua.

The worship service will begin at 11:00 a.m.

At Tiny Church, A Time of Renewal

(From the Times-Union)

The water has been here since the beginning.

God created Earth, the Bible tells us, and even when it was nothing it was covered with water. Next came the heavens, and light and dry land.

And so this is our natural harmony: light divided from dark and sea from earth. Except sometimes, the waters rise up and reclaim the land.

In Middleburgh, flood walls and river dredging will never be enough to stop Schoharie Creek.

The Middleburgh Reformed Church, built along the creek's banks in 1786, has no floor, and workmen are carrying buckets full of mud out of its guts. In August, Tropical Storm Irene's rains swelled the Schoharie, which rose up and blasted off the church doors, pushed in the windows and carried off the toys in the children's Sunday school room. The watermarks were 10 feet high.


Sustainable Health Care Model is Underway in Niger

(From RCA Communications)

When RCA missionary Susan Beebout and her husband, Jeremy, came to Niger in 2007, they thought Susan would be working in a rural clinic outside of Niamey.

"God obviously had other plans as political issues have kept us from being able to use that clinic," says Susan. Clinic "We now see another opening for serving in a sustainable, meaningful way by creating a simple health cooperative.

"Patients pay about $2 per year and $1 per consultation to receive basic outpatient care. The fees go to pay our nurse and some of the overhead of the office."

She adds that some medications are donated but most are purchased from a European organization at a very low cost and resold at cost. Nearly all patients are able to pay for the medications they need.

"In this simple model we are finding that sustainable, affordable, quality healthcare can be a reality," Beebout says, adding that 800 patients are enrolled, the vast majority of whom are Muslims from the surrounding neighborhood.

"We truly believe that this model is going to work and will be replicable in the interior of Niger where access to healthcare is much more limited."

Fearless Highland Park Pastor Continues to House Immigrants Facing Deportation

(From the Newark Star-Ledger)

He is young and looks even younger than his 36 years. Yet, in the midst of a confrontation with the federal government that could have grave consequences for his future, Seth Kaper-Dale acts with the poise of a much older man.

"I’m not afraid," says the co-pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park. "To me, we’re facing a cross and crosses are what we face. We know about facing crosses and we know about the hope that’s found on the other side of crosses, so we walk with confidence toward crosses."

So, in the last few days, he has admitted two more men into his church to find sanctuary, refuge from federal immigration officials who want to deport them. That makes three. Kaper-Dale is likely to bring in more.

Revival, Not Revolution

(From RCA Today)

You know how the story goes—the church starts shrinking a little at a time.

Soon it divides itself even further between traditional and contemporary services, thinking worship style is the problem. Or it sells the building and heads to the 'burbs, thinking location is the problem. Or it does nothing, figuring the last one out will turn off the lights, because it's convinced culture is the problem.

The story of First Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois, is a bit different and goes something like this.

One hundred sixty-three years ago Dutch immigrants settled on the fertile farming soil on the south side of Chicago and formed First Reformed Church of South Holland. In the 1950s and '60s First Church was growing faster than the onion sets that made this community "the onion set capital of the world." Pastors like Zandstra and Punt stewarded the pulpit and saw the membership balloon to well over a thousand people. Unfortunately biological growth only goes so far.

Established Church Helps Fledgling Congregation

(From RCA Today)

When New Hope Community Church (RCA) in Gilbert, Arizona, began the process of becoming a parent church, they envisioned starting a new church from the ground up. But God had something else in mind: adoption.

Dan Beyer, who at that time was serving as regional strategist for the Classis of the Southwest, contacted New Hope about an opportunity to adopt a small Hispanic congregation. 

It was already meeting and was looking to get plugged in to a larger ministry body.

Gary Jarvis, associate pastor of New Hope, says it seemed like a good fit. "This congregation was looking for a home, a place to do worship and ministry. We were in the process of becoming a parent church, being coached on how to cast a vision and poise our congregation to plant and multiply."

Israel Camacho, the pastor of that small Hispanic congregation, says New Hope "welcomed us with open arms; we feel it's the same heart we were looking for."

West Michigan Bible study attracts Japanese students

(From RCA Communications)

Andy Nakajima and his wife, Emma, were surprised at what happened when they invited Japanese college students to meet in their home in Holland, Michigan, for a Bible study. Group "Beyond our wildest expectations, 25 students have been coming."

He adds that one-third are not Christians, and three have accepted Christ.

When he was a senior at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Andy and other Japanese students at the seminary caught a vision for reaching out to Japanese people living in western Michigan. They held their first worship service in 1992.

The ministry now organizes worship services, Bible studies, language classes and tutoring, and pastoral care ministries in four western Michigan cities: Holland, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, and Kalamazoo.

Goats keep bringing hope in Africa

(From RCA Communications)

Fifty-six families in Malawi recently received their first goat and a boost toward a brighter future thanks to donations to the Give-a-Goat program.

Goats are key providers of income and food for the families that receive them.

They provide offspring and dairy products to sell.

Many of the goats distributed in Malawi were pregnant. Their offspring will be given to other, community-chosen families to ensure that the program expands and is sustainable.

The goat distribution in Malawi was overseen and coordinated by staff of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Nkhoma Synod, an RCA mission partner. Synod staff arranged for vets who taught recipients how to care for goats.

People who contributed to Give-a-Goat through the 2011 Christmas Gift of Hope appeal have ensured that many more families in Africa will receive a goat in 2012. Reformed Church World Service began receiving offerings for Give-a-Goat in 1999, and since then about 900 goats have been donated each year.

Youth discipleship energizes congregation

(From RCA Communications)

Vriesland Reformed Church is a young church. Cadets Well, it's 166 years old, but the congregation includes a lot of young people—nearly 40 percent are under the age of 20.

"Years ago, VRC made significant commitments to its children's and youth ministries, and the fruit of that investment is paying off in amazing ways," says Tim Rotman, pastor of the Zeeland, Michigan, church.

Recently the youth and adults traveled together to downtown Grand Rapids to provide a hot meal, clothes, and other items to homeless people.

Rotman says the congregation's children's and youth programs bring vibrancy to Vriesland Reformed. "Teenagers have a lot of energy and passion, and they tend to have a lot of idealism. Because of the energy and idealism these young people and teens bring, the congregation gets excited and is proud of that."

End in Sight: Bible Translation Nears Completion

(From RCA Communications)

"Something thrilling is happening in Africa," write Pat and Harry Miersma, longtime RCA missionaries. The Majang people of Ethiopia will soon have a Bible translation in their native language.

"Almost 40 years ago, as very 'green' missionaries in the Reformed Church in America, we began our mission careers in the southwest rainforest of Ethiopia," they write. "In an isolated setting along the Godare River (a distant tributary of the Blue Nile), we lived among the Majang people. A very isolated and unreached people, they lived scattered throughout the rainforest in open-sided thatched roof huts with dirt floors. They had no written language and only a few Bible stories in their language on tapes that Harry would share with them on solar powered cassette players on his treks from village to village."

St. Croix Church Dedicates Wind Turbine

(From RCA Communications)
On February 29, St. Croix Reformed Church held a service inaugurating its new 10-kilowatt wind turbine. More than 80 people gathered for the dedication ceremony led by St. Croix’s pastor, Rod Koopmans, who thanked the many volunteers and officials who made construction of the turbine possible, and offered a prayer of dedication. At the close of the ceremony, the turbine was christened with water balloons (champagne was deemed too messy), and then local officials flipped the switch to turn the turbine on for the first time.

As the turbine turns, electricity generated will be fed back into the island’s power grid and will be credited against energy used each month by St. Croix Reformed and Kingshill School. Based on its current energy consumption, the church expects that the power generated by the turbine each month will be more than enough to zero out its electric bill—a huge savings, since the cost of electricity in the Virgin Islands is among the highest in the United States.

Construction of the turbine was made possible by a $50,000 renewable energy grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The church kicked in an additional $16,000 from its reserve fund; expected electric-bill savings will enable replacement of the reserve fund money in about seven years. The turbine was installed by church member Jeff Cabrera, owner of Mayan Windpower.

For more information on St. Croix’s new wind turbine, check out stcroixreformed.org/our-wind-turbine.

Remembering Pope Shenouda III: 'A Heart for Unity'

(From RCA Communications)

The late Egyptian Coptic Pope Shenouda III was buried today after a funeral attended by thousands.

Members of the RCA had the opportunity to visit Pope Shenouda III in the last several years. Read about their experiences, as well as reflections on the life of the pope from Wes Granberg-Michaelson, the RCA's associate for ecumenical relations:

Northwestern Women Win National Basketball Championship

(From Northwestern College)
Northwestern College’s women’s basketball team won the NAIA Division II national championship for the third consecutive year on March 13 with a 75-62 victory over the College of the Ozarks. Northwestern has held the championship title for four of the last five years.

For more details about the game, visit Northwestern’s website.

RCA and CRC Classes Meet Together

(From RCA Communications)

The RCA and CRC Classes of Central California met together in March for a historic joint classis meeting.

More than 150 delegates from the two classes gathered in Ripon, California. The event began at Calvary Reformed Church with a leadership seminar on "organic outreach" led by pastor Kevin Harney.

That evening, more than 300 people attended a joint worship service, held two blocks away at Almond Valley Christian Reformed Church. The sermon was delivered by Joel Boot, interim executive director of the CRC, and Tom De Vries, the RCA's general secretary. Communion was administered by three seminary presidents: Jul Medenblik, president of Calvin Theological Seminary; Tim Brown, president of Western Theological Seminary; and Scot Sherman, president of Newbigin House of Studies.

"It was a great experience on Thursday evening to worship together, and then be able to share the preaching responsibility with Joel Boot," De Vries says. "These times of joint worship have been rare since 1857, the year the Christian Reformed Church started out of the RCA."

"I valued the opportunity to remind us that we are not two denominations, but one body."

Tailgating: The Rural Church

(From RCA Today)

One of our missionaries once asked, "If your church was not in the community, would people miss you?" Like all churches, the rural church needs to serve the people surrounding it.

Seven years ago, Greenleafton Reformed Church began hosting its annual National Night Out event. National Night Out, held the first Tuesday of August, is a time of gathering neighbors together for food, fun, and fellowship; it's a night when people reacquaint themselves with their neighbors.

On that night, the hamlet of Greenleafton swells from 65 to 550 in population as the church offers free pork sandwiches, baked beans, milk, and entertainment for all ages. The evening is given to the Lord through a Sunday morning prayer walk within the community and a prayer drive down the dusty gravel roads surrounding Greenleafton.

Crystal Cathedral downfall offers cautionary tale

(From Religion News Service)

Last Sunday (March 11), Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman appeared for apparently the last time before some 800 people at the morning service of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

For members of the extended Schuller family who had built and shepherded the iconic megachurch into the spiritual home for 10,000 members, so much had changed.

As members of the Schuller family head in new directions -- Coleman and brother-in law Jim Penner plan to start a new church this Sunday -- the famous glass-walled church offers a cautionary tale of the potential pitfalls facing family-run ministries.

Finding Freedom: Recovery Ministry Offers Grace

(From RCA Today)

Janet and Kerry Kruger have seen many lives changed through a recovery ministry called Finding Freedom that has been embraced by Place of Grace, the church they attend.

Kerry tells of one young man who admitted he was a crack addict and at the end of his rope. "After the message this man stayed for the support group where the men prayed together. He recognized his need for God to change his life and to rely on God for strength. He has continued to attend Finding Freedom and had the courage to enroll in a men's drug rehabilitation center."

Tales of a Globe-Trotting Bible

By Tim Breen, pastor of First Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa

Like most pastors, I get lots of junk mail. Scarcely a day goes by when my mailbox at church is free from subscription offers from magazines I wouldn't read, catalogues for curriculum I wouldn't use, or funding requests from ministries unfamiliar to anyone on my staff. On occasion, I even get a piece or two of mail addressed to a predecessor who's been gone for years.

So I was intrigued to discover a carefully-wrapped package in a manila envelope in my mailbox a few weeks ago. My curiosity rose to another level entirely when I saw the return address: The Islamic Society of Central Florida.

I supposed that the book-sized package represented some national effort to put the Qur'an into the hands of Christian ministers. I was completely surprised by what I found when I opened the package.

A folded note included with the package described the contents: "This Dutch Bible was obtained during my travels in the Middle East. I am returning it to you in hopes it can find its way home."

I gently opened the aging book. On the first page, in faded blue ink, were the faintly-inscribed words "M. Nienhuis, Orange City, Sioux County, Iowa, 1890."

The book was a Dutch New Testament, psalter hymnal, and catechism printed in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1885. It had traveled from Europe to Orange City and then on to the Middle East, only to be purchased by an American and sent to my office back in Iowa.

The sender had included his name and email address, so I immediately sat down at my computer and typed out a message of thanks. Through a series of emails, I learned that the author of the note, a Muslim man named Louis, had obtained the Bible at a market in Damascus, Syria. After discovering the inscription inside the cover, he felt compelled to return it to Orange City.

That story alone amazes me. I'm sure the part of the Bible's story I don't know is even more incredible. How did it get to M. Nienhuis in Orange City in the first place? How did it make its way to the Middle East from Iowa? Was it brought there by a missionary? Where has it been for the last hundred years? And what motivated a Muslim from Florida to buy it in Syria and then send it back here to Orange City?

As I imagined the story of this globe-trotting book, Isaiah 55:10-11 came to my mind: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (NIV).

Isaiah invites us to consider a drop of water, freed from a glacier by the spring sun, watering a flower, trickling to the sea, evaporating to the clouds, then returning to refresh a young tree in a thunderstorm. In the same way, he writes, the Word of God moves from continent to continent, nation to nation, and person to person, nurturing, healing, and bringing growth and life.

Who knows what comfort and joy this small book has brought during its more than 125 years of existence? Perhaps it provided courage to an immigrant family on stormy transatlantic seas. Maybe it held peace for an Iowa farmer during a crop failure or following the death of a child. It may have ministered to a Christian living as a religious minority in the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s. God alone knows how and to whom this book has revealed God's great story.

I sent that little black book on its way again. It has found its next home with Simon Roderburgh, a neighbor of mine and a concentration-camp survivor. Simon recently shared with me that the words of the Dutch psalter gave him great peace during the dark time he was incarcerated in the camp. Now he has the opportunity to read those words again.

Simon was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. It's very likely that trying days lie ahead. My prayer is that, whatever his future holds, the precious words contained in that worn old Bible—thousands of years old, recorded in a book printed more than a century ago—will once more accomplish the purpose for which God sent them.

Kits, Donations Needed for Storm Recovery

(From RCA Communications)

Communities in 13 states in the midwestern and southern United States were devastated by a powerful storm system that spawned multiple tornadoes from February 28 to March 3, 2012. A total of 51 people lost their lives in the storms. Indiana was one of the worst-hit states; nearly every house in the town of Marysville was heavily damaged. Eleven tornadoes touched down in Tennessee, resulting in three deaths and 40 people injured. Kentucky reported 32 tornadoes, with 12 deaths. Flash flooding was also reported in Bell County, Kentucky. Alabama was also hard hit; at least 16 tornadoes destroyed 40 homes and damaged several hundred more. Some of the houses that sustained damage had only recently been rebuilt after damage incurred by tornadoes in April 2011. Ohio had nine tornadoes that left three people dead and eight injured.

Working with Church World Service, Reformed Church World Service has provided $5,000 for clean-up buckets, blankets, and hygiene kits for tornado-devastated areas. In cooperation with RCWS and the relief agencies of other denominations, CWS is already moving resources and people to aid tornado survivors and to assist with cleanup activities. As the affected communities move from initial response into the recovery phase of the disaster, CWS emergency response specialists will work with local, state, and federal organizations and agencies to train and prepare affected communities for long-term recovery.

How you can help:

  • Pray for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, and for those whose lives are in upheaval because of the tornadoes.
  • Contributions (designated "U.S. Disasters") can be sent to Reformed Church in America, Attn: Finance Office, 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 or, in Canada, to Regional Synod of Canada, 201 Paradise Rd. N., Hamilton, ON L8S 3T3. To donate by credit card (U.S. only), go to www.rca.org/givercws or call the RCA Michigan Regional Center at (800) 968-3943.
  • Assemble and mail Church World Service emergency clean-up buckets. Baby kits, school kits, and hygiene kits are also needed (see www.rca.org/kits).
  • Watch www.rca.org/volunteers for future volunteer needs.
Theology of Place: New Church Is Firmly Rooted in Philadelphia

(From RCA Today)

A new church start in downtown Philadelphia, liberti, is committed to being a neighborhood church.

It's also expanding to launch a second campus in the Mainline, a string of towns just outside the Philadelphia city limits.

That may seem like a contradiction--but not to planting pastor Jared Ayers.

"Most of the people who come to our church walk there instead of driving," he says. "But a lot of our people who bring their friends to church, they work with people who live out that way, or they went to school out that way. More and more, people are joining us who live out on the Mainline, because a friend invited them."

For Ayers, a new campus in the Mainline means liberti can continue its neighborhood ministry focus.

Joy Rediscovered: Appreciative Inquiry Transforms Church Focus

(From RCA Today)

Members of Abbe Reformed Church in Clymer, New York, have embraced a way to change the church's focus, and that has resulted in a new vision for ministry.

Appreciative Inquiry, the process at the heart of Abbe Reformed's new direction in ministry, is a way to deliberately focus on the assets and positive attributes of a congregation rather than its weaknesses.

"It is so easy to focus on the negatives, point fingers, and dwell on past mistakes,” says Lucinda Legters, a member of the vision team that guided the church through Appreciative Inquiry (AI). "But once you start focusing on the positives, you quickly realize God's faithfulness and the blessings he has bestowed throughout the history of the church. Bitterness and anger quickly turn to joy and thanksgiving with very little effort."

Youth explore IT-ministry connection in India

(From RCA Communications)

A group of tech-savvy young Indians wanted to stop by and learn about JP and Katy Sundararajan's audio scripture ministry. "They rode in on motorcycles and scooters and spent their Saturday morning listening to stories of what God is doing through our ministry here in India," says JP.

They were especially curious about the ministry's new digital audio players. "We taught them how to assemble the players for use on the mission field. Their eyes lit up! They loved the opportunity to put their skill set to good use."

Evangelism in Ethiopia, one drop at a time

(From RCA Communications)

Dick and Donna Swart recently took stock of their ministry with the Daasanech people in southern Ethiopia, whom they serve along with their son, Caleb, and daughter-in-law, Joanna. "We often feel that what we do is just a drop in the bucket," say Dick and Donna.

"We stand assured, though, that the Lord does care about the needs of each and every one of the Daasanech." Here are the Swarts' "drops in the bucket" for 2011:

  • 8 families received a windmill (bringing the total to over 60) to pump water from the Omo River to grow produce.
  • 5 new donkey carts help people take produce to market.
  • 2 islands in the river delta have been planted with mango trees.
  • 237 women took part in the prenatal program, 15 patients were taken to the hospital for emergencies, and 22 children were treated for burns.
  • 32 people bitten by rabid animals received injections to prevent rabies.
  • 5 Bible lessons were translated, giving Ethiopian church leaders an evangelistic tool as they reach out to surrounding villages.

"Because of you," say Dick and Donna, "these little drops in the bucket have turned into springs of living water for those we minister to."

The March mission offering will supply windmills to help more Daasanech families get the water they need to grow nutritious produce to eat and sell.

Granberg-Michaelson Speaks on Belhar

(From RCA Communications)

General secretary emeritus Wes Granberg-Michaelson delivered an address on the Belhar Confession on Wednesday, not far from where it was written in Belhar, South Africa.

The speech in Cape Town, South Africa, was the first in an annual lecture series sponsored by the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. URCSA grew out of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, the denomination whose members wrote and first adopted the confession. The speech was attended by URCSA pastors and elders, as well as guests from other denominations.

In his speech, Granberg-Michaelson focused on the Belhar's call to unity. He considered internal issues that threaten unity in mainline denominations as well as global divides in world Christianity, looking at what the Belhar contributes to these situations. He also shared the RCA's engagement with the Belhar Confession since 1995, including its adoption as a Standard of Unity in 2010.

Crafting with Purpose

(From RCA Communications)
Women at Park Hills Community Church in Los Angeles, California, are blessing others with their crochet hooks.

The church’s Create in Thee group meets twice a month to knit, sew, and crochet. “We have big things planned from our creative hands!” says group founder Marian Wade. Their crafty projects have included many efforts on behalf of others: theme tablecloths for the church’s evangelism program, embellishing t-shirts for vacation Bible school, sewing costumes for a play performed at a local elementary, and making hats, scarves, and afghans for people with cancer.

Next up, the group is partnering with the R.O.C.K., a church plant that shares the Park Hills facility, to hold a fashion show and tea. “The members will mentor young women in fashion by collaborating on designs, fabrications, and accessories,” says Wade.

The group began in 2009 with donations of sewing machines, fabric, yarn, and other supplies. Participants range in age from 10 to 87.

Ecumenical Event Responds to Racism

(From RCA Today)

Six RCA members attended the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. February 14-17 in Memphis, Tennessee. CCT is an ecumenical group with members from all the faith families that make up Christianity in the United States: Catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal, historic Protestant, Orthodox, and the historic black church.

At the meeting, 85 leaders from member organizations sought to better understand and more effectively organize to combat racism and poverty in America. During the meeting, participants visited sites related to racism in the U.S., including an Underground Railroad safe house and the National Civil Rights Museum.

"CCT is a picture of what it means to set aside our differences and focus on our unity in Christ and in Christ's proclamation that he came to 'bring good news to the poor...the captives...the blind...the oppressed,'" says Kate Davelaar, a Hope College chaplain who represented the RCA at the event.

Learning How to Become Like Jesus

(From RCA Today)

Karen Bables is "kind of addicted" to the Apprentice program she leads at her church, Christ Memorial Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

"People are happy in this class. They find peace and joy. I love watching transformation take place before my eyes."

Bables, director of adult discipleship at Christ Memorial, introduced the Apprentice program there in 2009, when it was just being published. So far 80 participants have gone through the program, which utilizes three books by James Bryan Smith: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community.

"Apprentice is a program to help people experience transformation in becoming like Jesus," she says.

Working to Build Relationships

(From RCA Today)

This spring Bruce and Laurie Hawley will again offer RCA work groups a great opportunity to grow spiritually through volunteer service. They'll be leading volunteers who will take on the tremendous flood damage to an RCA church and homes in upstate New York.

For seven years, the Hawleys have connected RCA folks with dozens of major rebuilding and renovation projects. With their guidance, hundreds of volunteer workers have helped rebuild hurricane-devastated neighborhoods in Texas, cleaned and repaired flooded homes in Iowa, fixed tornado-damaged homes in Missouri, rehabilitated RCA churches in urban neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, and built a reconciliation training center in what is now South Sudan.

On all of the projects they facilitate, Bruce and Laurie work with and are accountable to RCA mission partners. They help the partner with project development and oversight, and they are on-site to orient volunteers and coordinate their work. All the while, the Hawleys are alert for opportunities to offer hospitality and spiritual care and build bridges of communication and understanding between the volunteers and the people they have come to serve.

When We Pray, We Move Our Feet: A Sankofa Journey

(From Peggy Byland, seminarian, Western Theological Seminary)

The bus rolled along, mile after mile, southbound through the night, carrying thirteen Western Theological Seminary (WTS) students, eight seminary guests, and one WTS administrator, all partnered with someone of another race, on an intercultural immersion trip. As the sun began to rise, the bus pulled into Selma, Alabama. In a way, our group identified with the "Freedom Riders" of 1961, who traveled from Washington D.C. to New Orleans to test the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling banning segregation in restaurants and waiting rooms used for interstate travel. In 2012, our group of riders journeyed to identify and stand against racial prejudice. We would discover in the days to come just how deep the roots of racism run.

For the next three days the 22 travelers, led by Earl James, the RCA's coordinator of multiracial initiatives and social justice, were immersed in a Sankofa pilgrimage on the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights trail in the deep South. The Ghanaian word "sankofa" suggests a bird flying with an egg (representing the future) in its beak, looking back over its shoulder in the direction it has come. It symbolizes that the past is a crucial part of the future.

The rough night trying to sleep on a Cardinal tour bus was a small sacrifice for the travelers, and was soon forgotten in the midst of meals of southern comfort food, thought-provoking conversations, engaging speakers, and visits to historical sites that document the fight for African Americans' civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s. For me, the trip exposed layers of prejudice that I was unaware were hiding deep within my psyche.

Our Sankofa experience began at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where we walked in memory of the 600 men, women, and children who crossed the bridge on Sunday morning, March 7, 1965. These marchers were hopeful that their walk, which began in Selma and covered 54 miles to Montgomery, might result in awareness and enforcement of Alabama's voting rights laws, which were blatantly and forcefully ignored at voting precincts around the state. As a result of the violence inflicted on those marchers by policemen with clubs and tear gas at the north end of the bridge, that Sunday lives in history as "Bloody Sunday."

Reflecting on individual responsibility, each person in our group was invited to stroll the boardwalk or sit on the rocks alongside the Alabama River at the base of the bridge to ponder the roles of those who fought for justice more than four decades ago as well as the role that he or she will personally play in relieving the oppression of those who suffer injustice today. Jesus' directives in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5:3-11, remind us that we are called to be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. While transformation can take place in hearts and minds, our bodies also must be transformed to become the vehicles for change. As the inscription on a monument honoring Congressman John Lewis in the park near the bridge states, "When we pray, we move our feet." As Christians, black or white or shades in-between, we are called to be doers as well as hearers of the Word. We cannot sit idly in the face of injustice.

From Selma, the group traveled to Montgomery, Alabama. There, we toured the Civil Rights Center adjacent to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center was established in 1971 to provide legal defense for the most vulnerable members of society who are unable to hire attorneys to fight hate and bigotry in order to seek justice in cases of oppression.

Located on a sidewalk plaza at the base of the steps to the center is the the Civil Rights Memorial. The memorial is a circular black granite table, bubbling with water and inscribed in radial fashion with the names of martyrs and historical dates of the movement; it honors the memory and achievements of those who died in the civil rights struggle from 1954 to 1968. On a curved black granite wall behind the table, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s well-known paraphrase of Amos 5:24 is engraved: "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The bus rolled on to Birmingham, Alabama, but not before we stood on the sidewalk in memory of Rosa Parks at the place of the Montgomery bus boycott. In Birmingham, two speakers engaged our attention. Ron Carter spoke about the challenges and hopes facing the churches in Birmingham today. Carolyn McKinstry spoke of her experience and healing after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed four of her friends when she was young.

On the way to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, the bus passed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site of the church bombing, and Kelly Ingram Park, where many demonstrations originated. At the institute, the story of the civil rights movement is documented chronologically through videos and photos; replicas of churches, schools, stores, and homes; and interactive displays. Positioned prominently throughout the building are white, slightly less than life-sized plaster statues depicting people at play, at work, and sitting at lunch counters in defiance of Jim Crow laws. As I puzzled over the white color of the statues, I recalled the fact that, scientifically, "white" may or may not be considered a color at all, since "white" is actually the reflection of all the colors of the visible light spectrum.

In Atlanta, Georgia, the final stop on our Sankofa trip, we walked the plaza at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site, where Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are buried. An eternal flame burns there in memory of Dr. King. A short walk away from the plaza stands Ebenezer Baptist Church. Inside, visitors can listen to taped recordings of the choir and sermons by Dr. King. Sitting in the pew with head reverently bowed, I imagined sitting there with Dr. King at the pulpit. His taped voice was strong and firmly commanding as he recounted the progress in the civil rights struggle and reaffirmed his nonviolent stance. Listening to his sermon, I was impressed with the depth of his biblical knowledge and the strength of his faith.

The bus headed north and we reminisced about the places where we had walked and the speakers we had heard. We silently and privately reviewed the documentaries and movies, which prompted thoughts and questions that we shared in dialogue with our partners. We also considered challenges that would alter our call to ministry. After a heartfelt goodbye to our partners, who would continue back to Holland, the WTS students began the second leg of our intercultural immersion trip, which focused on obstacles to and opportunities for urban ministry in Chicago.

Sankofa, a unique word and an equally unique experience, will live in our memories and influence our activities for years to come. Flying into the future with history not far behind us, we will go forward as servants of God and witnesses to the ministry of Jesus. Where the Holy Spirit paves the way, these followers of Sankofa will lead.

General Synod Council Processes Conversations Impressions

(From RCA Communications)

The General Synod Council (GSC) of the Reformed Church in America met for its spring meeting in Orlando, Florida, on February 12 and 13, 2012.

The GSC discussed the written impressions that came collectively from those at the Conversations event.

The agenda included a number of items that will be brought to this summer's meeting of the General Synod.

Following are some of the significant accomplishments that came out of the two-day meeting.

GSC Processes Initial Impressions of Conversations
The GSC discussed the next steps in communicating both the initial impressions that came from RCA members at Conversations, as well as sharing the process that was used throughout the event. The GSC agreed to a number of steps to ensure that this is shared with and includes the entire church. Next steps will include continuing in conversation with those who were in attendance to ensure that the initial impressions resonated with them and ask if anything is missing from the impressions. Information will be shared with consistories, classes, 2012 General Synod Delegates, and regional synods inviting feedback. This process will also continue to be moved forward and tested at General Synod where it will be an integral element of the advisory group process.

Conversations: Initial Impressions

(From RCA Communications)

A six-person writing team on Sunday reported the initial impressions of what 26 groups said they are discerning about God's future for the Reformed Church in America.

"We've heard from many that you 'came skeptical and are leaving hopeful,'" Don Poest, moderator of the General Synod Council, said Sunday morning to the 500-plus participants who gathered in Orlando, Florida, for Conversations: Seeking God's Future for the RCA.

"What's next? The GSC begins meeting at 3 o'clock this afternoon, and we deliberately did not predetermine what will happen next because we wanted to see what would come out of our experience here this weekend."

Acknowledging that many groups were not represented at Conversations, Poest said the writing group's sta