I joined the Micah Center a number of years ago. It is a faith-rooted organization that works for justice in the Grand Rapids, Michigan community by promoting education, building relationships, and calling for action.

The Micah Center expresses its mission in the words of Proverbs 31:8-9:
Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

My experiences there have led me to places that I have never been before and have introduced me to people I have never known before. These places and these people have changed my life. The significance of all this came home dramatically to me one weekend that I will never forget.

On a cold Saturday morning, I attended a breakfast meeting at a predominantly “Black” church on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. A group of mothers carried pictures of their deceased children, all of them victims of senseless gun violence. They called on all of us to help them end the violence in our communities. Other than a few members of the suburban church who had graciously provided the breakfast, I was one of the few “White” people in attendance. My heart went out to the cries of these mothers sharing their stories of pain and grief. I wondered, “What can I do? How can I help?”

My next stop that same day was the Hispanic Center on Grandville Avenue in Grand Rapids. Several of our elected officials were there to share their opinions about immigration reform. A number of citizens passionately shared their painful stories of separation and incarceration. They called on all of us to reform the current immigration system. A very civil discussion took place.

I wasn’t buying what these elected officials were selling however. Their tone suggested they were more interested in a policy of “arrest and incarcerate” and less concerned with finding a pathway to citizenship for immigrants crossing our Southern border.

As I drove home I pondered how segregated our community really is. Blacks living in a Black community and dealing with their issues. Hispanics living in Hispanic communities and dealing with their issues. And I living in a White community. I have few Black or Hispanic friends and am only dimly aware of their issues.

The next day, I attended my White Church. Throughout the service my mind wandered. The Word of God as not coming to me in the sermon. It was coming from somewhere else. I felt the Word of God in my heart, a “still small voice” prompting me with questions: What kinds of sermons were being preached in the Black and Hispanic churches this day? What would I say if I were giving the sermon that morning? Would anyone care to listen?

The service finished with the singing of a contemporary song, “Our God Reigns.” I have sung this song many times before, but this time the words took on a new meaning. “Our God?” How many Gods are there? Is there a Black God? a Hispanic God? a White God? Is my God the god of White privilege?

Until I joined the Micah Center I doubt I would have spent my Saturday the way I did. I doubt I would have spent my Sunday wrestling with that “still small voice” calling on me to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Yes, that would be the text of the sermon that I would be preaching on a cold Sunday morning. How can we address the needs of our community if we fail to recognize we have but “One God”?

“Our God Reigns” — I don’t think I can ever sing that song again…at least not until the word “Our” has been removed.

Phil Boogaart

I am soon to be a retired insurance agent from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Social Justice is a passion of mine, and I've been involved in a number of faith based justice groups throughout the years. I am looking forward to spending more time with my grandkids, fishing, and boating on our beautiful Michigan lakes.  When I am on the water I am at peace.

9 Comments

  • Sue Poll says:

    Thanks for this article, Phil. But more importantly, thanks for the work you do and thanks for the challenge you have laid down.

  • Greg Young says:

    Good words well said, Phil. Thanks.

  • Beth Jammal says:

    When I sing Our God Reigns, it unites me with every Christian around the world. It does separate me from people whose god is an object of nature, something manufactured or themselves. I guess it’s how you want to see “our”.

  • Thank you. You description is mirrored in many places. These are issues we must address.

  • Keith says:

    Thank you Phil!
    Powerful.
    So thankful for you.

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Phil: Might I respectfully suggest that in your retirement, or before that even, you consider moving (literally) to one of these communities (“Black” or “Hispanic”, as you see them). And become a member of a church there, in that community.
    My experience suggests the best way to help out a community that one intends to help is to become part of that community, and the best way to do that is to live there — actually be part of that community.
    Just maybe, that was the (or a) message contained in the still small voice you heard.

  • Karen Prins, Holland, MI says:

    Mr. Boogaart, May I respectfully share that I am currently reading Tom Hayden’s book, “Reunion – A Memoir”, published in 1988. Tom Hayden lived in Newark for 4 years, 1964-1967, in the community of Clinton Hill. An FBI Memorandum of 8/19/67 sent to “Director, FBI” from Newark states: “RECOMMENDATION: In view of the fact that Hayden is an effective speaker who appeals to intellectual groups and has also worked with and supported the Negro people in their program in Newark, (Newark Community Union Project) it is recommended that he be placed on the Rabble Rouser Index.”
    Tom Hayden was 26 years old then.
    I am grappling with how suppression of African Americans and Latinx populations in America seems as evident in 2021 as it was in 1967.

  • Joan Haan says:

    Thank you, Phil, for sharing your journey of faith and active racial justice.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Thank you Phil for speaking up for how we should be acting. Go in peace and in justice.

Leave a Reply