“Shalom is the first thing that comes to mind,” he says, in between bites of potato leek soup. “When I think of justice, I think of the Lord’s shalom, especially as it relates to those who are oppressed—including creation.”
John Schuurman says these words with a quiet confidence, not realizing how profound they sound off the cuff. He proceeds to cite Matthew 25 and Isaiah 62 as inspiration for his words.
All I had to do was ask him what he thought justice was in a sentence or two.
John is a 22-year-old and a recent graduate from Redeemer University College. He also recently took part in a LEAP internship program. LEAP stands for Linked Engagement Action Programs, a three-year collaborative initiative between three agencies: World Renew, Christian Reformed World Missions, and the Office of Social Justice.
John and I met during the week for lunch and a conversation. I intended to hear about his experiences as a Congregational Justice and Missions Mobilizer with Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario; Instead, I left feeling refreshed and inspired—John really has a passion for his work!
LEAP—a pilot project that ends this year—is a program for young adults between the ages of 14-30, and its aim is to increase the commitment of young people in the church, specifically through engagement in missions as global citizens. In short, John was responsible for educating, raising awareness, and mobilizing his congregation for advocacy in their community—not to mention challenging them to delve deeper and discern their attitude towards global missions.
“I had to backtrack my theories about community development and missions,” he says. “I had to reconnect these ideas back to my faith. Coming from a university setting, it was difficult at the beginning [of the internship] to talk about justice in simple terms, until I began to remember the connections between justice and faith, and how foundational justice is to our faith.”
John worked full-time for two months (July and August), and part-time for the subsequent four months (September to December). He was responsible for educating the church on issues of poverty and urban ministry, especially through speaking engagements and workshops. These were intended for youth and young adult groups, as well as larger, intergenerational groups. Usually, these took place through Sunday evening conversations with the congregation or weeknight meetings with the youth group.
He also was to act as an intermediary to ministries already nearby Immanuel CRC by helping to build relationships and partnerships among the congregation and ministries.
John’s personal highlight was going on a weekend retreat with Immanuel’s youth group. This retreat was held in downtown Hamilton, with the youth sleeping overnight in Wentworth Baptist Church, taking part in a prayer walk, and learning about various urban ministries—and how they could be a part of them—through a street tour.
In John’s words: “The youth were much more insightful, engaged, and passionate than I thought they would be!”
However, there were challenges as well.
“Looking back, I wish I had tried to better connect with Immanuel’s deacons. There was a little bit of collaboration, but I probably only engaged with the tip of the iceberg.”
At the end of the hour, I ask John what his next steps are. Besides working at The Bridge—a transitional program for men who have been incarcerated and are reintegrating into the community—he is open to the work of the Spirit.
“I don’t know what’s next,” he says. “But I’m open to living a life led by God.”
Perhaps our youth and young adults have much more to offer us than we think they do, and perhaps, as deacons, we could incorporate them further in our diaconates.
What do you think? Feel free to post comments below. If you’d like to continue the conversation, contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at firstname.lastname@example.org.