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Community Inspires December Devotions

December 6, 2023
Arlene is one of several members of the Roseland Christian Ministries community who is mentioned in <i>Today’s </i>December devotions.
Arlene is one of several members of the Roseland Christian Ministries community who is mentioned in Today’s December devotions.

The Roseland community in Chicago is center stage in December’s Today devotions from ReFrame Ministries. Titled “God with Us,” the devotional series was written by Joe Huizenga, pastor of Roseland Christian Ministries, which includes a women’s shelter, a food pantry, and a gathering place for Sunday worship. The December meditations feature stories from individuals in the Roseland community and invite readers to reflect and see how God is also working in their own communities.

"I think Joe's focus on 'God with Us' serves as a poignant reminder about God's presence with all of us during the Christmas season and throughout the year,” said Jeff Bulthuis, Today’s managing editor. “We celebrate in Jesus' incarnation that God is with us; these stories from the Roseland community help us to see that God is with us in ways that many readers may not have considered."

Roseland’s Impact on Today

The connection between Roseland and ReFrame Ministries dates back to 1954 when Dick Van Eck generously donated a used-car dealership in the Roseland neighborhood to house the Christian Reformed Church’s growing radio ministry known as the Back to God Hour. The building became the central office of the ministry for 22 years.

“The Today devotions really flourished during our time in Roseland,” said Robin Basselin, codirector of ReFrame’s English-language ministry. Created as a follow-up resource for the Back to God Hour radio program, Today grew during those years to become an established ministry of evangelism and discipleship. The Roseland community not only housed but also supported ReFrame and the Today devotions during a critical time in our ministries’ development.”

As ReFrame continued to grow in size and scope during the early 1970s—adding several non-English ministries and a television ministry—the agency proposed a move to one of Chicago’s suburbs. While there were several practical reasons for making the move, it also perpetuated the shameful trend of white flight from Roseland and from other Chicago neighborhoods that were becoming more racially diverse.

Ultimately, as ReFrame’s leaders decided to move its offices to Palos Heights, Ill., its governing board also sought to “exercise every means to find a user or users for the present building [in Roseland] who [would] use the building for a Christian ministry to the neighborhood. . . . This would maintain the Christian Reformed presence in the same neighborhood” (Acts of Synod 1974, p. 53).

In 1976, Pastor Tony and Donna Van Zanten began doing ministry out of the parking lot of ReFrame’s old Roseland location. This served as the humble beginning of Roseland Christian Ministries, which continues to “care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of Chicago's Roseland community” today.

Today’s Impact in Roseland

Every two months, about 400 Today booklets arrive at Roseland Christian Ministries. From there they are distributed to people who visit the food pantry and to other individuals who come seeking hope and connection at the ministry center.

"Sometimes Today becomes that one branch you can grab onto,” Huizenga said. “That may not be the case for everyone here, but it's there as a branch in every food pantry line."

Huizenga spoke warmly about one of the first community members to take a devotional booklet whenever a new shipment arrives: "For her, there's so much addiction and trauma in her family and community that she deals with day in and day out. Her daily devotions are what anchor her day by day. Today is how she starts her day. That anchors her for what in many days feels like a storm."

Another woman in the community has found her own unique way to share the blessings she receives from Today devotions. She cuts out the prayers from the booklet and hands them to people she meets in grocery stores and on the street, aiming to offer a bit of spiritual comfort to those she meets.

“Roll the Window Down”

Inspired by these stories and those of others in the Roseland community, the December devotions encourage readers to "roll the window down" in their own neighborhoods, offering a message of hope, love, and connection during this Christmas season.

“In these devotions, I wanted to take people into the neighborhood that I fell in love with,” Huizenga explained. “God already exists in the community; he wasn’t brought to it. He is Emmanuel (‘God with us’).”

The Roseland community continues to be an essential part of ReFrame Ministries' history, and the partnership between the two has fostered a unique connection that continues today.

“The December devotions aim to honor this connection and inspire readers to find their own ways to embrace God's presence in their communities,” added Basselin.