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Find a Need and Fill It -- in Just Two Weeks

When Grand Rapids First decided to take on the monumental task of furnishing 21 apartments for homeless veterans and their families, their time was almost up before they even started.

It was a simple little flier. It was sent out to multiple churches and organizations, with a desperate plea for help, resulting in little or no response — except for one. 

Community Rebuilders, a non-profit organization that benefits veterans in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area, needed help furbishing 21 units designated for homeless veterans in a new apartment building in downtown Grand Rapids. Towels, sofas, kitchen appliances, beds, lamps — anything and everything for someone with nothing to have a comfortable apartment — were desperately needed as the organization didn’t have enough supplies to fill the need.   

The flier made its way to Grand Rapids First (AG). When lead pastors Sam and Brenda Rijfkogel finally saw the request asking for “used items in good condition” to furnish the apartments for the veterans, the couple felt an immediate spurring of the Spirit to act upon the request. 

“We decided to bring this request to our congregation,” Sam says of the church of about 3,300. “But we didn’t want to supply used items, we wanted to furbish the apartments with new furnishings and appliances.” 

The Rijkogels estimated that it would take a little over $3,500 per apartment to properly supply it with all the household goods needed. In other words, an offering of at least $74,000 was needed. 

To make matters more challenging, this couldn’t be a fundraiser done over a matter of months or even weeks as the apartments had to be move-in ready in just two weeks! 

On Easter Sunday, the Rijfkogels presented the need. An offering to partner with Community Rebuilders was taken — $148,000 was given, double the amount needed! 

Although the offering was an exceptional response — bordering on the miraculous — now that the money was given, the work was just beginning. 

Brenda and members of the Grand Rapids First team worked with Vera Beech, the executive director of Community Rebuilders, and her staff in building a database of items and quantities needed, placing a mass order with IKEA for furniture and then with Meijer (a supercenter-type store) for household goods, including small appliances and basic refrigerator and pantry items. 

“By faith, the orders were placed for these items before the Easter Sunday offering was received,” Brenda reveals. 

On Monday, the day after Easter, an 18-wheeler, loaded with 3,000 boxes, including 250 pieces of IKEA furniture arrived – an amazingly short turnaround time. What’s more, they weren’t short any pieces and only two lamps were broken. 

The church then had teams of volunteers flooding the 21 apartments, working long days to set the rooms up and put the multiple pieces of IKEA furniture together. 

“Everyone could learn project-management skills from them,” Beech says, expressing her awe. “There had to be divine intervention in lots of places — they were unbelievably organized.” 

Brenda, who is gifted in organization, agrees with Beech: “No way could we have pulled this off without God,” she says. “Logistically, it could have been a nightmare, but it couldn’t have been smoother.” 

Beech admits that she was overwhelmed by not only the generosity of Grand Rapids First, but by the members’ servant attitudes. “Sometimes people give what they want to give, not what is needed, but [Grand Rapids First members] were so open to hearing what [Veterans] needed,” Beech says. “They also had huge teams of volunteers, and everyone spoke of our consumers with incredible kindness and understanding and a real desire to serve — it was an absolutely amazing experience for us.”

In working with Beech and Community Rebuilders, the Grand Rapids First team also gained valuable insight into how best to serve veterans, as Beech detailed why choice is such a valuable commodity to veterans: all their lives in service and even in working with the VA, they’ve been following orders, with no choices. 

Some churches have been slow to work with Community Rebuilders because it was originally founded by a businessman, not a religious organization. Grand Rapids First, however, saw that what Community Rebuilders was doing was what Jesus had called His followers to do as well. 

“That woman loves the homeless,” Sam says of Beech, “and she behaves more like Jesus than some people who sit in pews.” The Rijfkogels believe that the partnership was no accident — that this was part of God’s design, and that He has a calling on Beech’s life. 

The church, Sam adds, is becoming more generous in every way for the work of the ministry, as God opens doors to the church to influence lives that otherwise they never would have had an opportunity to impact. “When we meet the felt needs of people, that gives us a right to speak — a gift opens the way to the giver (Proverbs 18:16).” 

The Grand Rapids First team completed the furnishings of the apartments on Friday, April 6 — with a few hours to spare. In addition to the IKEA furnishings, and purchasing appliances, goods, and pantry staples from Meijer (through a total donation of $10,000 of gift cards from Meijer), each apartment will have a welcome basket with some of the Meijer gift cards included to allow veterans to make their own decorating and food choices. 

The church also placed Bibles in each room, children’s books from the church in rooms with veterans with families, Jesus Calling books on night stands, and they asked and were given permission to hold a small group meeting for veterans in the complex’s community room. The church is also going to send a bus by the complex on service days so that any veteran or family members who choose to attend, have an available ride. 

On Sunday, April 8, Beech and her staff, along with several veterans, accepted an invitation to attend the morning service at Grand Rapids. As God would have it, over a year ago, a special speaker was scheduled for the service — military veteran and evangelist Dave Roever . . . absolutely the perfect fit for the service! 

Veterans will start occupying the new apartments within the next week to 10 days. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids First and Community Rebuilders are already partnering on another project — the remodeling of the basement of a formerly abandoned Catholic rectory now being used to provide homeless persons with temporary living accommodations while they are assisted to secure permanent housing. 

The money remaining from the generous offering for the veterans will be used to continue to bless the veterans as special events and specific Community Rebuilders’ needs arise. 

“I told Pastors Sam and Brenda over and over again, that we were just so moved and touched by their openness and willingness to serve,” Beech says. “There wasn’t any judgment . . . and honestly, it sparked a lot of conversation among our team members about the impact it had on us.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.