Bird Houses and Bible Studies
What does it mean to become part of the community where God has placed you? For Arlan Menninga, it has meant everything from leading a Bible study to building birdhouses.
In November 2019, Menninga moved into a retirement community in Tinley Park, Ill. It is a large brick building with 150 private apartments. In some ways, he said, it’s like a college dormitory. The residents often connect with one another in the hallways, lounges, laundry rooms, dining hall, and yard.
“It’s a wonderful group of people,” said Menninga. “We have people who walk a lot, some of whom carry candy with them. There are people who sit in the lounges and talk with each other. There are some people whom we hardly ever see outside of their apartments.”
A number of residents gather regularly during afternoons and evenings to play cards and table games, like dominos and Phase 10. Menninga has become a staple in this group, and it’s one of the ways he builds friendships—but he’s also on the lookout for more ways to foster and build community.
That’s one of the reasons he joined the Go Local cohort at his church. A Resonate Global Mission initiative, Go Local coaches believers through a process of learning how to discover and join in where God is at work in their neighborhoods and communities.
Menninga has served as a pastor, chaplain, and ministry director in both the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America. And he has been practicing Go Local’s approach to ministry for much of his life, he said. Even though he’s retired from formal ministry roles, he’s not finished with ministry. He said he sees his retirement community as a new opportunity to share Christ’s love and build God’s kingdom, and Go Local has helped to inspire him to look for ways the Holy Spirit is calling him to be part of his community.
“One of the things that attracted me to [Go Local] was the phrase that I heard so often [in ministry], and that is ‘Look for where God is at work in your neighborhood and join him,’” said Menninga. “The most important thing that you do in your neighborhood is listen and respond to what you’re hearing out there.”
As in all neighborhoods, morale in the retirement community can be low sometimes. For several months this past year, Menninga noticed that people were feeling down.
And then God provided an opportunity. During a conversation with a friend and resident, Menninga mentioned that he missed hearing wrens singing. In the home he had owned, he had built birdhouses. The wrens, in turn, built nests. He could watch the wrens care for their young and listen to their songs all day.
The conversation took wing, and the residents decided they wanted to attract wrens to their yard. Menninga worked with the community’s activity coordinator to organize a project. He built eight birdhouses, and then residents came together to paint the houses, many of them in bright colors. Menninga and another resident posted a few of the birdhouses on poles and strung the rest from tree branches.
“‘If we build it, they will come’ . . . next year,” said Menninga.
He noted that it could take two or three years for wrens to move in—but the birdhouses have helped to lift spirits while residents wait for the birds’ arrival.
This result is “a gift of the grace of God. . . . It doesn't have much ‘God talk’ associated with it, but it’s a good thing,” said Menninga.
When the wrens do come, the community plans to celebrate with a “Blessing of the Birds” party. In the meantime, Menninga will continue leading a Bible study that a few residents have asked him to organize. He has also been asked by the retirement community to form and serve as the president of a new Resident Advisory Council.
“Arlan is living out what he believes,” said Ruth Kelder, a Resonate mission leader who facilitates the Go Local cohort that Menninga is part of. “Following the Spirit means listening and then taking the next step, and then the next step, and then the next.”
For Menninga, it’s all part of becoming part of his community.
“That becoming never stops,” he said. “It changes from month to month and year to year and person to person, but it’s always a matter of seeing opportunities for ministry that are in a way uncharted — and you’re breaking new ground all the time. You live with the confidence that the Spirit is guiding you.”
Learn more about Go Local and joining a cohort (or starting a cohort at your church) at resonateglobalmission.org/golocal.
Update: Sadly, Arlan passed away Friday, August 13, 2021, shortly after sitting down with us to share this story of God at work in his retirement community. For Arlan, becoming part of a community was so important for sharing Christ's love. He hoped sharing this story would encourage and inspire you as you share Christ's love in your community. Please join us in celebrating Arlan's life and ministry, and in praying for his family, friends, church, and community who loved him so dearly.