Even though they go to the same church, Raven Poest, 16, and Cindi Wiersma, 51, would likely never have gotten to know each other. Yet at a recent get-together, the two were sharing photos and life updates: Poest of her recent Homecoming dance; Wiersma of her house under construction. Their relationship began thanks to Generation Spark, an intergenerational mentoring initiative launched in a handful of Christian Reformed and Reformed Church in America congregations this year.
For 12 weeks, Poest and Wiersma, two members of VictoryPoint Ministries, a CRC congregation in Holland, Mich., met weekly to work on a problem of their choosing. They created what they dubbed “The iNDiGO Project,” to “inspire New Direction, imagine Great Outcomes” for those struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. They compiled research, encouraging ordinary people to be a listening ear to young people dealing with these difficult issues. This summer they presented their project to their congregation, distributing information as well as over 400 gray rubber bracelets stamped with “iNDiGO” and “Need help? Don’t harm.”
Started by Hope College’s Center for Leadership, Generation Spark is a research-based initiative to address the lack of connection many youth and adults feel toward the church. At least 10 mentor-mentee pairs comprised of young adults age 16 to mid-20s and adults over 45, work together on a problem they care about. The hope is that over these weeks these individuals will build relationships and share faith stories with one another.
Young people are often yearning for connection with older adults who can walk alongside them in a different way than family members can. “Sometimes your parents are the last people on earth you want to talk to,” explained Wiersma.
“Our habit toward silos, dividing people by ages, creates a certain efficiency for ministry but [silos are] just deadly for the health and longevity of the church,” said Virgil Gulker, director of the Center for Leadership and one of the creators of Generation Spark. “We want to build within the body this relational power between older and younger members.”
For Jessica Pinckney, 20, member of Beckwith Hills CRC in Grand Rapids, Generation Spark came at just the right time. “I was ready for God to use me for his purpose. I was willing to do anything I was approached with,” she said.
She and her mentor, Marcy Hanley, started Fresh Fund, a ministry providing fresh produce to a local food pantry. With funds from a church offering, even after their 12 weeks has passed, Jessica purchases fruits and vegetables each week and delivers them to a local food pantry, along with produce donated from church members’ gardens.
“It was all Jessica’s idea,” said Hanley. “During this process I got to see her grow more confident and sure of herself, willing to go up in front of church and talk to everyone. That’s a huge deal.”
A three-year $458,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. helps fund Generation Spark. Each church has a director, either paid or volunteer, who seeks and trains the participating mentor pairs in their church. The program began in March in four Christian Reformed and Reformed Church in America congregations; two more followed later in the year. New groups will launch in February 2019 and in 2020.