This June, after decades of dedication and leadership, Peter Vander Meulen will retire from his role as coordinator of the Office of Social Justice. Vander Meulen has served in this role for 22 years and has spent his entire career working for the Christian Reformed Church.
Fresh out of college in 1973, Vander Meulen took a position in disaster relief with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, now World Renew.
Three years later, Vander Meulen went to Bangladesh, where he said he was ready to be a great gift to the community he was serving. “I thought I was bringing all the knowledge, but I learned a lot from those farmers. Interactions with real people give you humility, and I also learned that God is a lot bigger God than I thought I knew,” said Vander Meulen. “This kind of experience forces you to sort out your childhood faith and come to an adult faith and learn how big God’s love and justice is.”
Vander Meulen served for six years there before moving on to the Dominican Republic and then West Africa.
“Over time, it became obvious to me that it was really important to look at the systems that kept people poor. Advocacy was a logical extension, the final leg of the stool of ministry,” said Vander Meulen. “Justice is not all by itself, but needs to be infused in everything we do, a part of all our ministries.”
The Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJ) was formed in 1995 to address and implement the recommendations set out in the “Freedom to Serve” report to Synod 1993. (Synod is the annual general assembly of the CRC.) Vander Meulen was tasked with leading the ministry that studied the root causes of poverty and hunger. Over 22 years, he helped educate churches, assisted other denominational ministries, and worked to bring significant change in the political sphere through advocacy. Vander Meulen started the CRC’s HIV prevention program and had a key role in developing the Kimberley Process, an accord set in place to prevent the flow of “blood diamonds” that were used to finance wars.
“We have been able to do this overseas through World Renew but haven’t done it as well in North America,” Vander Meulen said. “It is the vision of the OSJ that the CRC will do a better job of advocacy within our communities, to lend our power and voice.”
Vander Meulen speaks highly of the team of individuals who work with OSJ, a team of “competent, professional, and committed” people.
Forty years ago, he never thought that he would only work for one organization, but found it to be “an adventure and a wonderful place to work.” Vander Meulen leaves the OSJ officially on June 30, but will continue working as a volunteer on an international peacemaking project in Western Africa in an area where there are many Christian Reformed congregations.
Vander Meulen is a member of Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. His role at OSJ will be filled by Rev. Reggie Smith, recently appointed director of the offices of Social Justice and Race Relations.