This fall, Ben Worth purchased his first home in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon, Mich.
Rev. Dave Sieplinga, right, at the house Ben Worth purchased from Community enCompass.
This was not just any home. It was one blessed by Worth’s pastor, Rev. Dave Sieplinga of Bethany Christian Reformed Church. The home was rehabilitated and sold to Worth by Community enCompass, a Christian Community Development organization in downtown Muskegon supported by Bethany CRC as well as other local CRCs.
Worth’s purchase is part of a new Strategic Neighbor Initiative started by Community enCompass to encourage people of faith to relocate and invest in the McLaughlin neighborhood, where two-thirds of the properties are vacant or rentals.
“The main draw for me to live in the neighborhood is the opportunity to live the kingdom of God,” said Worth. “Finding that is like finding a treasure in a field. You sell everything you own to buy that field.”
Community enCompass currently owns five units that have been rehabilitated with help from neighborhood youth through a youth employment program. The homes can be sold back to community members who want to live in the neighborhood. People can buy houses directly from Community enCompass either through land contract or a mortgage through the bank.
“Any time there is a homeowner who is committed to the neighborhood, that’s a strategic neighbor,” said Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, executive director of Community enCompass and member of Bethany CRC.
“One of the Scriptures we often talk about is John 1:14, which in The Message says, ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.’ That is where the gospel was most fully revealed, and as followers of Jesus we have an opportunity to live among people in neighborhoods where there is oppression and poverty, and a lot of beautiful things too. In these places we can realize the gospel in real ways for us and others.”
Rinsema-Sybenga lives in the neighborhood, as do pastors from Bethany CRC, which is also located there.
Sieplenga is one of those pastors. “The most direct, powerful and enduring way to impact a neighborhood is to be a good neighbor. No program substitutes for being present with one’s neighbors, being affected by the same circumstances and challenges, sharing the same dreams and hopes, partnering with them in seeking to improve the environment,” he said. “This has been a priority, a non-negotiable) for me and my family through 40 years in the ministry. It’s not for everyone, but I view it as part of my calling as a core city pastor.”