When Gus and Wynanda Polman headed home after attending the Christian Reformed Church’s Inspire 2017 conference in Detroit, Mich., they did not expect an encounter that would launch them on another journey, a trip they made this past fall by Amtrak through the U.S. on what they call a “justice and reconciliation seeking journey.” The Polmans are members of Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.C. Both retired, they seek to engage their time in travel or activities that expand their reach of understanding and empathy.
Returning from Detroit they spent a night in Waterton Glacier Park where they met a woman from Atlanta, Ga. They quickly found they were kindred spirits. “If you ever come to Atlanta, I will take you around,” she invited. They did not exchange their personal information, but the Polmans remembered the woman’s name.
They looked her up. “We learned God had given us to meet Deborah Richardson, the executive vice president of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights as well as the founding executive director of the International Human Trafficking Institute.” What an opportunity to learn from someone so versed in seeking justice. The invitation to visit Atlanta was the beginning of four years of correspondence and planning, including many itinerary changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August 2021 the Polmans set out on the rails in Seattle, and visited Chicago; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Philadelphia before heading south to Birmingham and Montgomery in Alabama, then Savannah and finally Atlanta in Georgia, where they met up with Richardson and toured the city. From there they took the train to New Orleans, then Houston and El Paso in Texas, and then on to Los Angeles before returning home.
The Polmans had hoped they could volunteer at various places throughout the journey, but COVID protective restrictions made them instead plan the trip around visiting outdoor landmarks, art installations, museums, and churches. As much as they were able, the Polmans stayed within found accomodations near to the sites they were visiting. “We wanted those neighbourhood experiences,'' said Wynanda.
The Polmans count the journey a pilgrimage, "an opportunity to learn from the people who have fought for justice against racism for so long." From Richardson they learned about "the power of collaboration and persuasion as one crafts a path toward justice. The strength of one is knit into the work of many, past and present, in the ongoing struggle for freedoms of many sorts," Gus said.
They wanted to take their learning and share it. In January, the Polmans gave a presentation hosted by 1Life, a learning hub for British Columbia’s two Christian Reformed classes (regional groups of churches). 1Life organizers introduced the Polmans as “lifelong learners” involved in advocacy in many different sectors. Host Wilma Vanderleek said, “They enter situations of great injustice to also find a place of great joy and fellowship coming in Christ’s name.”
While relaying this particular journey, the Polmans acknowledge that there are also historic and continuing injustices to map and recognize in their home country of Canada. They noted the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Man., as one potential stop.