Doing Justice, One Conference at a Time

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The prophet Micah calls us to “do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). Andrew VanStee is among a group of students at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., who take those words especially to heart.

The students call themselves the Social Justice Committee, known on campus as SJC. The SJC has existed in many forms since the early 1970s, operating under its current name since the mid-1990s. In 2006-07 the SJC was led by five students, drawing 20 to 50 students at its events.

VanStee says doing justice is synonymous with worship. “It is an act of worship to do justice—whether that means getting to know and love my neighbor, advocating for the poor, or educating people about injustice, it is enjoyable and worshipful.”

He attributes his passion for justice in part to the supportive community he found in SJC. Other influences include his pastor, Rev. George Vander Weit of Fuller Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. “He has a huge passion for community and helped start the neighborhood association and various community outreach programs, and that was very good for me to see,” VanStee explained.

A Lofty Task

SJC’s mission statement declares “As Reformed Christians in a sinful world we seek to restore society to God’s original intention.” This lofty task inspires SJC to organize letter-writing campaigns to elected officials, educational events, fundraisers, movie showings, and conferences on Calvin’s campus.

Because not all Christian college students have a supportive community like SJC, VanStee helped to organize a conference at Calvin on Faith and International Development (FID). The conference attracts students from across the United States and Canada who are passionate about justice. This was its second year, and organizers are already planning for year three.

“I got involved [in the conference] because I saw the need for people interested in these issues to have a place to learn from each other and to encourage each other, especially from campuses that may not be as encouraging an environment as Calvin for people interested in justice issues,” VanStee explained.

Immediately after the 2006 conference ended, organizers began preparing for the next one. They booked speakers, planned the schedule, arranged lodging and food for attendees, and sought funding. Professor Roland Hoksbergen provided expertise and mentoring, and 25 volunteers helped to ensure that the event ran smoothly.

Held in Calvin’s chapel in February, the 2007 FID conference welcomed more than 350 college students from 27 different campuses and 16 nonprofit organizations.

A Solid Foundation

VanStee says that the FID conference built a solid foundation for examining our place in the world. It also provided encouragement that many students do not find at their home campuses.

With speakers including Rev. Celestin Musekura from Rwanda; Dr. Peter Okaalet from Uganda; Augusto de la Torre from Ecuador; Linda Robelo from Honduras; and Roy Berkenbosch of The King’s University College in Edmonton, Alberta, the conference sought to bridge the gap between daily life in North America and the needs in the rest of the world.

Aaron Carpenter from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., welcomed the conference as an opportunity to reflect on his role in the world.

“It showed me different ways to be a responsible steward—how I give my money, how I spend my money, how I vote, and how I use resources in my daily life,” Carpenter said. “All of these things have an effect on world politics, the local and international economy, and international development.

“The conference gave me a broader perspective on how my personal life choices matter in the grand scheme of things.”

Micah Challenge

Through the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action, the Christian Reformed Church has led the way on Micah Challenge campaigns in the United States and Canada.

Micah Challenge is a global movement of Christians that seek to speak out with a common voice against the injustices of poverty. It unites people in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as they call their leaders to account on the promise made in the Millennium Development Goals to cut poverty in half by 2015.

Heed the Call

To take a step toward doing justice go to www.micahchallenge.org and click on “Sign the Call.” Signing is a way to join the Micah Challenge campaign and is a commitment to do justice.

Sign up for the Micah Challenge Friday Prayer to receive a short weekly e-mail containing prayer requests, a Bible passage, and a thoughtful reflection. Subscribe by sending a blank e-mail to regine.nagel@micahchallenge.org with “subscribe prayer” in the subject line.

Visit www.crcjustice.org for worship materials, current issues, and to sign up for the Advocate newsletter that serves Christian Reformed social activists. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to subscribe-advocate@list.crcna.net.

Break the cycle of poverty with CRWRC. Go to www.crwrc.org, and click “Get involved.” Here are some opportunities:

•    Volunteer: Serve those in need along the Gulf Coast and in other North American disaster areas by calling CRWRC's Disaster Response Services at 1-800-848-5818.

•    Discovery Tours: Travel abroad in a small group to gain a personal perspective on missions and CRWRC's international response in the world's poorest countries. Contact Mary Dykstra at 1-800-552-7972.

•    Sponsor a refugee: Your congregation can provide vital support to those who are without a homeland. Call PARA's Jotham Ippel at 616-224-7540 for more information. In Canada, call Rose Dekker or Moses Moini at 1-800-730-3490.

•    Free A Family through CRWRC with your monthly support of a family in a region of the developing world. You’ll receive regular updates about the daily life of your representative family and photos of family members. To find out more, call 1-800-55-CRWRC, or 1-800-730-3490 in Canada.

Interested in attending the Faith and International Development conference next year? Adults and students are welcome. Visit www.calvin.edu/academic/ids/conference for more information about this past year’s conference.

—Jason Fileta

About the Author

Jason Fileta, a staff member of the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action, is a field organizer for the Micah Challenge.
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