This year synod received 43 new candidates for the office of Minister of the Word. The Christian Reformed Church in North America celebrates with these men and women the completion of their studies and looks forward to seeing how God will use them.
Serving as an ordained pastor is one way God can use people for ministry, but there are many other types of service. Here are a few stories of men and women serving God’s kingdom through the Christian Reformed Church in a variety of ways. They share how God called them to their particular areas of ministry, and they provide some advice to those considering similar types of service.
Name: Ron VandenBurg
Hometown: St. Catharines, Ont.
Title: Senior producer of children’s ministry at Reframe Media (Back to God Ministries International)
My ministry story: I have always loved theater and storytelling. I did high school and college productions and worked in children’s theater. When I taught at Christian schools, I directed school dramas and wrote drama curriculum for schools. At Jubilee CRC (St. Catharines) we told the story of Jesus’ life with the music of Michael Card and a cast of 120 people. Then, in 2007, I sent an unsolicited Kids Corner script to senior producer Barb Brouwer. She liked the script. It was recorded, and I got more chances to write. Today, through the Kids Corner website, our creative team tells God’s story every day.
Advice to those considering a similar call: As God’s people, we get to tell God’s big story. If you are thinking about serving in this field, find other artists who also want to tell God’s story. Find storytellers in your medium and find people who are creatively using other media. Collaborate. Then find people to share and to listen.
Name: Tami Kuipers
Hometown: Tinley Park, Ill.
Title: Regional advocate for Disability Concerns, Classis Chicago South
My ministry story: I was working part time at our local Christian school when I heard about an opening at Elim Christian Services for a classroom aide. The hours fit my family’s schedule, so I applied and got the job. I was placed with a nonverbal middle schooler who had autism. At first, I felt out of my element. I prayed every day for the Lord to teach me how to help this child. By the fourth week we had clicked. I was at Elim for the next two years, absorbing everything I could learn about special education while I finished my degree at night. After seeing various Elim parents struggling with the legal end of special education, I knew that was where I wanted to focus after graduation. I landed a job with a law firm that specializes in special education, disability, and mental health law and have worked there for 13 years. About 10 years ago, I saw a blurb in our church bulletin that the regional advocate for Disability Concerns was retiring and that Disability Concerns was looking for someone to fill the position. I kept telling myself I couldn’t do it or that someone else was better qualified. I think I saw it for six weeks before I finally felt that nudge from God to email and see what it was all about. I volunteered and haven’t looked back.
Advice to those considering a similar call: Remember that “God does not call those who are equipped; God equips those God has called.” This was true for me. I’d also encourage anyone starting out with a ministry in their church to feel free to contact Disability Concerns or the team at Orland Park CRC. We will be glad to help people on their journey. And that’s what it all is: a journey unique to each congregation and its specific needs. No two churches will ever look the same when it comes to a disability ministry, just as no disabilities are the same. Even if a diagnosis might be like someone else’s, each person is a unique individual with specific needs to address.
Name: Barbara Barungi Kayanja
Hometown: Kampala, Uganda
Title: East Africa Ministry Team leader, World Renew
My ministry story: About two years before I joined the East Africa Ministry Team with World Renew, I started reflecting on my role as a Christian in community development. At that time, I had worked for and built many secular organizations—community-based health care, microfinance, microenterprise development, and global health leadership—but had a certain emptiness. I had done it all for people, but had not done anything for God. This was followed by an overwhelming desire to return to church and support development within a church setting. I Googled Christian organizations working with churches in East Africa and found CRC News. It sounded so much like what I was looking for. The material was very helpful at an individual level for my Christian growth, and, as a pastor's wife, I found so much we could use in our local church. I signed up for the newsletter and started my journey of learning about the CRC. Later, I learned about the World Renew position opening and applied.
Advice to those considering a similar call: Invest in times of quiet listening for God’s direction. This was my strongest tool. I did not let ideas that came through my mind just pass. Instead, as I reflected on ideas, it became clear that this is what God wanted me to do. The biggest challenge was knowing exactly what God wanted me to do, how, and when. I invested time in reflection and seeking direction from God. I prayed about it and made sure I was not doing what I wanted but what God wanted.
Name: Cindy Stover
Hometown: Hamilton, Ont.
Title: Justice mobilizer, Canadian Ministries of the CRCNA
My ministry story: I previously worked with a youth organization that led mission trips to developing countries. I was unprepared for the questions many people had when they encountered extreme poverty for the first time—questions about why local governments distributed services differently from at home, or why healthcare/education/safe housing were huge obstacles in many of the communities that hosted us. As I began to search for the answers to these questions, I learned about the larger systems that affected the lives of the people we were serving. I realized that while it was important to spend time building relationships with our host communities, our work for justice would be truncated if we didn’t also address the systemic issues that cause extreme poverty and actively keep many people marginalized.
Advice for those considering a similar call: So much of what sparked a fire in me to work for justice has been the result of relationships with those who are most affected by injustice. This has helped me recognize my privilege and the blinders I have to systemic injustice, and it has taught me how to be an ally supporting the causes, advocacy, and passions of those who have become my friends. I recommend just getting out there and meeting people. Whether it’s with a newcomer family in your community, Indigenous people at a local Friendship Centre, environmental activist groups in your city, or street-involved youth at a nearby drop-in, spend some time building an authentic relationship with someone you could learn from. Don’t tokenize people or make them feel like projects, but dedicate yourself to spending time with them, sharing stories and hearing their perspective, and then stand in solidarity for the things that matter to them.
Name: Ken Lee
Hometown: Tokyo, Japan
Title: Missionary with Resonate Global Mission in Japan
My ministry story: When my pastor asked me to lead a mission trip with my church to Japan, I was like Jonah—an unwilling missionary. I was born in South Korea and later immigrated to California. If you know a bit of history about Japan and Korea, you might know we don’t mix too well. The Japanese people had done nothing to me, but because of the way I was educated, I really didn’t want to go to Japan. I went with a group of young people, and we led worship and activities in churches. I remember noticing a young lady one day sitting in the middle of the crowd. After the program she came up to me and apologized. “Pastor Ken, I’m sorry,” she said. “Our forefathers had done bad things to your people.” At that moment, God made me realize there was a hatred and resentment within me. I ran out, cried, and repented. Back home, I was trying to decide where God wanted me to go as a long-term missionary. As I was praying, this young woman’s face popped up, saying, “Please come to Japan.” Three years later, on Aug. 15, 1999, I was commissioned to Japan.
Advice to those considering a similar call: My advice is to make sure you have the calling. To me, that’s very important. Without my calling, I think I would have left a long time ago. Being a Korean, even though I’m Korean American, in Japan there still is friction. But because I was assured that that’s where God called me, I have stayed.
Name: Jane DeGroot
Hometown: Spring Lake, Mich.
Title: Coordinator of Safe Church Ministry, Classis Muskegon
My ministry story: I first sensed a calling to Safe Church Ministry when I learned that someone close to me had been sexually abused as a child. I came to the conclusion that if someone I knew well could suffer abuse without my knowing it, then others might also be suffering without my knowledge. That motivated me to listen more carefully. It also opened the door for me to serve on the initial Safe Church Ministry team of Classis Muskegon until it disbanded in 2012 due to lack of funding. As an elder of our church, I attended a classis meeting in October 2016 at which pastor Ken Krause (Fellowship CRC, Big Rapids) announced an upcoming Safe Church conference sponsored by the denomination. My interest was piqued. Soon after, I registered and even encouraged several friends from Classis Muskegon to attend with me. At the conference we heard stories from people who had suffered abuse, learned about abuse in general, and witnessed the healing effect of the truth being told. I returned to our church convicted to revitalize the Safe Church team in our church as well as in Classis Muskegon. I offered to make a presentation about it at our next classis meeting. From there I was given permission to go forward with organizing a Safe Church team.
Advice to those considering a similar call: If you haven’t been involved yet, I recommend starting by attending the Safe Church Ministry Conference Sept. 21-22, 2018, at the Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. You will receive plenty of resources to go back to your local church to start a Safe Church team. Also, keep listening to people’s stories. Don’t assume, as I did, that because I didn’t know about abuse it therefore didn’t happen. Statistics show that one in four girls are sexually abused by the age of 18. The church is not exempt from these statistics. We must show that we care enough to prevent abuse from happening in the future. Say yes when God calls you to this work.
Name: Ronald Chu
Hometown: La Habra, Calif.
Title: Connections regional catalyzer for California
My ministry story: I serve as the global ministry pastor at TtoKamsa Mission Church. In this role and in other positions, I have always acted as a catalyzer—someone who causes things to happen. I am one of the first English-speaking Korean-American pastors in the U.S. I had to catalyze ministries starting in many Korean churches. Catalyzing included challenging people, providing training, and encouraging and coaching leaders in churches. I realized along the way that I enjoy equipping others more than doing things myself. I was more blessed to see God at work in others I had helped than I was when I was in the lead. There was a great fun in enabling others to be/do more than they thought they were capable of.
Advice to those considering a similar call: First, understand that ministry is not about us. If we want our names in spotlight, this can’t be done. Enjoy being used. We can do the work and invest in people and ministries, but we should work to put others in the spotlight. Second, pray for wisdom. Often we must think “outside the box.” A kingdom mindset is also very important. We serve God’s church, not a local church. At the same time, we serve God’s church through local churches. More than anything else, enjoy helping and equipping people to be their best. I compare myself to a sergeant in the army. I’m not an officer, but I train others to be officers. We strive to make others great!