On October 21, volunteers from the Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., planted 23 native saplings in the Kleinstuck Preserve, a 48-acre nature preserve owned and managed by Western Michigan University, just 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the church. Working with Stewards of Kleinstuck, which supervises activities in the preserve, the effort helped to strengthen the preserve and bring about connection and cooperation between the church and community groups.
“We want to reach out to the neighborhood and be Christ’s hands and feet,” said Pastor Agshin Jafarov, the director of outreach and adult ministry at Third CRC.
Third CRC funded the project with an experimental neighborhood grant that the congregation established last year. “The Winchell grant is designed to develop our neighborhood, involve our church in Winchell, and participate in residents’ public-good, not for-profit or personal use, projects,” Jafarov said.
Jafarov, who lives in Kalamazoo’s Winchell neighborhood, said the church has been developing relationships with the neighborhood organizations there. Some of the neighbors are actively involved in the native plant landscaping movement and Jafarov encouraged them to apply for the grant. The group won, and Jafarov helped coordinate the logistics such as who would provide tools, how many volunteers were needed, and who would come up with instructions for planting. About fifteen Third CRC volunteers ranging from youth to seniors showed up to help plant.
Third CRC is active in other ways in its neighborhood. The church built a playground for the preschool located in its building, and decided to welcome its neighbors to use it. “Parents in the neighborhood bring their children to play in our playground and that helps us to connect with the neighborhood as well,” Jafarov said.
Recently, the church financed a grant application for someone who wants to improve a Tiny Art Gallery – a roadside art box offering free crafts and artwork – in front of her house. In January, Third CRC plans to offer a finance class open to all residents of the neighborhood free of charge.
“Our hope is that our actions will speak louder about Christ’s saving work than our words, so involvement is a way of living out our faith and our hope in the redeeming work of our Savior,” Jafarov said. “If Christ commissioned us to serve people, then the most immediate and visceral way of doing it is to get out of our building and be involved in people’s lives.”