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Photo: Jonathan James Photography
Photo by Jonathan James Photography

Julia van Oord and her husband, Ryan Vreugdenhil, drove across the Detroit River to attend Inspire 2017, the first binational Christian Reformed Church in North America gathering for ministry leaders, which took place at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Mich., in August 2017.

This year, as they attend Inspire 2019, the couple will be staying on their side of the river. As members of Ambassador Community CRC, host church for the event, they will be welcoming people to the CRCNA’s second binational gathering. Scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 1, through Saturday, Aug. 3, the event will take place at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor, Ont. All who are interested in attending Inspire 2019 are invited to register now.

Both Julia and Ryan have fond memories of Inspire 2017. Ryan sang in the choir while Julia had a chance to connect with many friends from around the world, especially a few she had met while working for Christian Reformed World Missions (now part of Resonate Global Mission) several years ago  as a teacher at the Santiago Christian School in the Dominican Republic.
They also helped to lead a workshop — one of many offered at Inspire 2017 — on the role of lament in Scripture. They were pleasantly surprised when people packed the room for their workshop.

“We loved Inspire 2017. We were blessed to be there. I really enjoyed being able to sing in the choir with people from all over North America,” said Vreugdenhil, who works with Christian Horizons, an organization serving the needs of persons with physical and cognitive challenges.

And van Oord is especially excited that writer Ann Voskamp will be one of the keynote speakers at Inspire 2019. Voskamp had planned to speak at Inspire 2017 but had to cancel because of illness. The best-selling author of such books as The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life and Unwrapping the Greatest Giftis now scheduled to speak on Friday morning, Aug. 2, at this summer’s event.

“I’ve read Ann Voskamp’s books and was quite devastated when she wasn’t able to be there,” said van Oord. “I’m really looking forward to hearing from her . . . and being together as one mind at Inspire to praise God.”

Besides Voskamp, other keynote speakers will be Mary Hulst, chaplain at Calvin College and author of A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday; Ed Stetzer, an international church planter and author, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; and Soong-Chan Rah, author of Return to Justice and the Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Ill.

Besides those giving the keynote addresses, nearly 90 speakers will hold sessions on a range of topics at Inspire 2019.

Gail De Young, worship leader at Rehoboth CRC in Gallup, N.Mex., and Jeremy Simpson, associate pastor of community life and worship at Southridge Church, a Reformed Church in America congregation in Kalamazoo, Mich., will be the worship leaders. They will help participants open and close each day with music and songs spanning many styles and traditions.

The Inspire 2019 website says, “Whether you're a deacon, elder, Sunday school leader, Bible study participant, worship leader, mission team member, or community outreach coordinator, or you fill another role in your church community, you will find relevant workshops to help you in your ministry.”

Above all, Inspire 2019 will be a time to meet and mingle with others, share ideas for ministry, and learn what other CR churches are doing across North America.

About a 15-minute drive from the St. Clair Centre of the Arts, Ambassador Community CRC traces its roots back to the mid-1960s, when the majority of its members came from a Dutch-heritage background.

But that has changed slowly over the years, and now the congregation is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds.

Currently, in fact, members of Ambassador are undergoing a process to evaluate the makeup and needs of the area in which the church is located. They are seeking ways to renew their congregation by investing themselves in the community.

While a portion of the neighborhood remains middle class, another portion is low income and includes a large number of single-parent families. Ambassador members have also learned that young people in the area are looking for a safe place to gather.

“We are trying to develop an outward focus rather than an inner focus,” said Julia van Oord. Her husband added, “We are starting to ask what things we could stop doing so that we can have energy to do other things.”

Being asked to host Inspire 2019 comes at a challenging time as Ambassador Community looks to its future. Yet, they are eager to welcome CRC members from across North America to Windsor.

“We are 100 percent behind Inspire and are looking forward to it,” said Ryan Vreugdenhil.

His wife said they wore their specially designed Inspire 2019 T-shirts on Sunday as a way to generate interest in the church for the gathering. The closer Inspire 2019 gets, she said, interest will grow in their congregation that has a history of hospitality.

And highlighting a vision statement for the church, Julia added: “We care because Jesus cares.”