John DeHaan, who served as executive director of World Renew for 20 years, passed away Thurs., May 7, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Trained as a therapist, he brought two driving passions to his work: coming alongside people who experienced suffering and equipping the church to live out its mission in concrete ways.

Friends and colleagues note that DeHaan, who helped to develop and shape the agency that until 2012 was known as the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, will be deeply missed.

“His legacy of leadership has influenced World Renew culture and programs up to this present time,” said Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, director of World Renew-Canada. “Most notably, he had a passion for addressing the systemic issues affecting poverty with a holistic approach, seeing the churches and Christian leaders as having a key role in this. His thirst for increasing knowledge with relentless curiosity has fostered a strong culture of learning, innovativeness, and adopting the most progressive approaches to development and humanitarian assistance.”

DeHaan had a keen focus and appreciation for mentoring strong leaders with the result that World Renew is able to offer high-quality programs, partnerships, staff support, board governance, and ultimately measurable impacts in communities around the world, said Kaastra-Mutoigo. 

“We loved John and are so appreciative of all that his family did to support his work, particularly Alice and his children. We pray for God's all-encompassing comfort for his family and loved ones.”

At his core, John DeHaan understood that outcome-oriented processes could change the story of poverty, which is why he dedicated his time at World Renew to setting up strong systems for planning, evaluation, supervision, and building the capacity of local ministry partners. His vision has transformed the influence and scope of World Renew around the globe.

Those who served with John were deeply shaped by him, discovering new ways to share the hope of Jesus Christ with the world. Tom Post, former ministry team leader for World Renew, says simply, “John was a mentor to me.”

And Carol Bremer-Bennett, World Renew-U.S. director, said: “John was a much loved leader and change agent at World Renew, and it is because of him that we are making and measuring such a huge impact in the world today.”

Andrew Ryskamp, who served as World Renew’s U.S. director till 2015, worked closely with DeHaan and said he learned a great deal from him.

“It was hard for me, hearing the news that John had passed away. John shaped my leadership and faith in so many ways. He challenged me to excel intellectually while always modeling and encouraging a total dependence on Christ, his Lord and Savior,” said Ryskamp.

“I value deeply the conversations I had with him. . . . He was intent right to the end to do whatever he could to have the church that nurtured his faith live out, passionately and innovatively, its kingdom theology.”

Ever kingdom-minded, DeHaan came alongside people who longed to bring the light of Christ to the world and taught them not only how to strike a match but also how to share their flame.

While his family and friends could not gather together at his graveside, they drew near each other at Calvin University, creating a physically distanced but relationally dear space to remember John and celebrate his life. Members of World Renew staff cherished the chance to join in that celebration of their leader, mentor, and friend.

People who want to can send a gift in memory of DeHaan to Potter’s House, a Christian school in Grand Rapids, Mich. Potter’s House exists so that children of every income level, background, ethnicity, and heritage can receive a Christ-centered education and reach their full potential.

Adapted by Chris Meehan from a World Renew story