Chaplain of the Neighborhood

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When Burton Heights Christian Reformed Church disbanded in 2005, its pastor couldn’t leave the diverse urban neighborhood he had cherished for nine years.

So now Rev. Robert Bolt works in that Grand Rapids, Mich., neighborhood as a part-time chaplain.

“Community outreach still was in my heart,” said Bolt, who also is a pastor for Heritage CRC in Byron Center.

 Under his tutelage, nine teenagers spent nine weeks last summer cleaning up graffiti and streets in the nearby Garfield Park neighborhood.

 “I try to encourage them, [telling them] ‘This is our neighborhood. God has given you gifts. Find out where God is opening doors to you,’” he said.

The youths gained work skills and perhaps their first paychecks, but Bolt also believes their newfound confidence will curtail the influence of youth violence and gang activity prevalent in the area. Grand Rapids Public Schools and grants provided funds, and the city Sanitation Department supplied paint and tools.

A year-round children’s program takes place in the former Burton Heights building, which is now home to Grace Korean CRC. Classis Grand Rapids South (a regional group of churches) contributes to the Burton Heights ministry.

Bolt wants to involve middle school students in a community garden next summer, depending on funding. “God has shown me a lot through all this. When you think there isn’t going to be any resources or volunteers, just lay it before God, and things fall into place,” he said.

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