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Illinois Pastor Leads Effort to Reduce Gun Violence

RAWTools blacksmith Mike Martin (left) and Pastor Tim Bossenbroek with gun parts to assemble on garden signs.
RAWTools blacksmith Mike Martin (left) and Pastor Tim Bossenbroek with gun parts to assemble on garden signs.

The pastor of a Christian Reformed congregation in Champaign, Ill., served in a leading role in an interfaith effort to crack down on gun violence in that city.

Tim Bossenbroek, the pastor of Hessel Park Christian Reformed Church for more than two decades, was one of the organizers of the Guns to Garden Tools event at a local community garden in late July.

The name of the event was inspired by the verse in Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Bossenbroek was instrumental in bringing in RAWTools, a Colorado-based blacksmith collective, to convert guns that had been donated into shovels and other garden implements.

“They decommission the guns and chop them up, then they use their blacksmith skills to turn them into tools,” said Bossenbroek, who is also a campus minister at the University of Illinois.

Gun violence has spiked in Champaign, located about 135 miles south-southwest of Chicago, over the past several years, with more than 20 people killed between the start of 2019 and October 2021, according to police statistics.

“We have been having a shooting about every other day,” Bossenbroek said.

In June 2021, with the encouragement of city leaders, Bossenbroek helped organize an interfaith 48 Hours of Peace event in Champaign, working with pastors of local Christian churches as well as faith leaders from the Jewish and Muslim traditions. From there came the momentum to put together the Guns to Garden Tools event.

The first night of the Guns to Garden Tools weekend was marked by an interfaith service that included speakers who had been directly affected by violence in the community. One speaker had recently lost her son to a shooting. 

Several members of the Hessel Park congregation served as volunteers for the event, Bossenbroek said. Other highlights of the weekend included live music and food trucks. 

Bossenbroek said there was a low turnout for the event but that they did receive six donated guns, and several local media outlets covered their work. At the end of the weekend, Dawn Blackman, lead steward of the Randolph Street Community Garden, received a garden tool crafted by blacksmith Mike Martin.

“It is something I could see us doing in the future again,” Bossenbroek said.

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