Saying Farewell to a Beloved Committee Member

Erin Vandenberg served on Diaconal Ministries Canada’s Operation Manna/NewGround Committee for six (6) years. As Erin’s time on the committee has now concluded, she shared a short reflection about her experience and about the program and its impact.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

All across Canada there are churches filled with people who long to see their communities transformed with the love of Christ. People who believe that communities should be blessed by the churches that exist there. For over 35 years, the Operation Manna Program of Diaconal Ministries Canada supported churches who wanted to see lives changed, relationships restored, and an end to injustice. Over 140 community ministries were started or expanded with the support of Operation Manna. The program not only provided seed money, but also hands-on coaching and learning and networking opportunities in order to create meaningful and sustainable community ministries.

Behind the scenes for many of those years was a committee of dedicated volunteers who were part of the vetting process to ensure the compatibility and sustainability of the churches and ministries applying. In recent years, this committee began to dream what it would look like to break new ground and expand Operation Manna’s impact. In the spring of 2019, Operation Manna was rebranded and renamed NewGround. While the focus remains the same – to help deacons and churches love their communities – the program now includes Deacon Scholarships and a Youth Justice initiative, on top of offering Community Opportunity Scans and Community Ministry Grants. Through this robust program, Diaconal Ministries encourages and equips deacons as leaders in all areas they work in – community engagement, stewardship/benevolence and mercy & justice.

A photo of Erin Vandenberg

Erin Vandenberg served on the Operation Manna/NewGround Committee for six years. Throughout these six years, she saw many changes to the program as it continued to grow and as they heard many incredible stories from the partner ministries. As Erin’s time on the committee has now concluded, she shares this short reflection about her experience and about the program and its impact:

The invitation to join had arrived via email. My previous pastor, who was himself on the Operation Manna (OM) Committee at the time (now called NewGround), had suggested I might be interested in joining the Diaconal Ministries Canada board. He knew that I was pursuing theological studies and that I was particularly interested in how the church engaged in community – both here and abroad.

Although I’ve always attended a Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and our congregation was a faithful contributor to the annual OM offering, I confess I wasn’t familiar with OM/NewGround or Diaconal Ministries. However, after speaking with my pastor and checking out the Diaconal Ministries’ website, I was excited about the possibility of serving in this capacity. After attending a board meeting, I was informed that there was an opening on the NewGround Committee itself and asked if I might rather pursue that avenue. Feeling rather “green” in the world of church committees and the like, serving on the NewGround Committee felt like a better fit.

Hans Kater, the previous Director of Diaconal Ministries Canada, and the other committee members were immediately welcoming and encouraging. As with any new role, I was initially overwhelmed with all the new information – the names of the different CRC’s and ministries across Canada seeking funding and support, the specific terminology of NewGround, the timelines for applications, etc. I was mostly struck by how the CRC isn’t limited to the one in my own town or those I know from surrounding communities; the denomination is spread out across our nation and many churches are passionately seeking to engage with their local communities – whether through dinners for seniors in small towns or ministry with Indigenous peoples in major city centres.

I was struck by how many churches are passionately seeking to engage with their local communities – whether through dinners for seniors in small towns or ministry with Indigenous peoples in major city centres.

One of the responsibilities of committee members is to visit with applicants to help them and the committee better gauge their strengths and identify areas for improvement. One such visit brought me to the Barrie Pregnancy Resource Centre (now called Envisage Pregnancy Services). There, with the program’s director and representatives from the supporting CRC, we delved into how NewGround might support a new childbirth support program the Centre was developing at the time. I was blessed to witness how this church, along with support from NewGround, came alongside the Centre to help bring change into the lives of vulnerable women and their children. At the meeting, I heard the stories of their clients – some who were young, others who had been sexually abused, some who were in toxic relationships – and how these and other women were overwhelmed by their pregnancies. After recently having had a child myself, I realized just how fortunate I was to have a committed husband and loving family at my side. Through the Centre, these women were enfolded in the love of Christ and shown support and hope.

During my time on the committee, I appreciated how NewGround stressed that we ought not to give mere handouts in our church and community programs, but rather come alongside those struggling by recognizing their gifts and capacities and acknowledging that they are fellow image-bearers of God.

In my final years on the committee, the board and staff of Diaconal Ministries Canada – along with committee input and outside consultation – went through a process of re-imagining Operation Manna. The results from that process is an updated ministry with a brand new name: NewGround. During one of the brainstorming sessions, when participants were asked to dream up potential names and branding, several individuals envisioned a small shoot breaking up through the soil.

NewGround, like Operation Manna, continues to meet with churches and community ministries as they develop their “small shoots” – offering not only finances, but also invaluable guidance and encouragement. Through NewGround’s Community Ministry Support & Grants, Christian Reformed Churches are able to work together to make possible not only a program in Barrie, Ontario, but ministry efforts that are transforming communities and lives all across this great country. It’s also exciting to see the new initiatives added to the NewGround program: deacon scholarships and the Youth Justice Project.

Now that my time on the committee is over, I am spending more time volunteering at my local church on the library committee and as a Sunday School teacher. While these efforts are local, I have gained a fuller picture through my time with NewGround that as Christians spread across Canada – from coast to coast, rural and urban – we are all members of one Body.

“[Christ] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)

We are grateful for the role Erin played on the NewGround Committee, particularly as Chair for a number of years. “Erin was so great to work with,” shares Tammy Heidbuurt, Eastern Canada Ministry Developer and NewGround Program Director. “She really cared about the churches we supported. You knew she was invested in the role that NewGround played by her overall knowledge of each church and ministry, her attention to details, and the questions she raised. Mostly, she demonstrated a compassionate and gentle spirit in her approach to everything we did.”

Thank you Erin for using your gifts and abilities and contributing to this important program that seeks to help deacons and their churches impact their communities with the love of Christ!