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Former Fellow: Hope Zigterman

About a year and a half ago, I walked into the denominational building in Grand Rapids for my first day as the Mobilizing and Advocacy Fellow for the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. This had been my dream opportunity since I had taken a justice course in college and had discovered that many of the readings we had been assigned were by political theologians who had been influenced by or arisen out of the Christian Reformed Church. Names like Nicholas Wolterstorff, James W. Skillen, Steve Monsma, and Albert Wolters. It made me proud to belong to a denomination that cared about justice enough to think through a theology of political engagement.

One of the most important things that I learned was to listen.

My fellowship did not turn out exactly as I had imagined it; namely because halfway through, everyone in the office had to transition to working from home because of the pandemic. I mourned the loss of in-person fellowship with colleagues and the missed opportunities for travel and engagement. Despite the changed circumstances, my fellowship still served to be a source of learning, and one of the most important things that I learned was to listen.

Growing up, I had been influenced by Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (NIV). What I had not considered though, was that the people who I had always considered to be voiceless - people who are marginalized and oppressed - are in fact speaking out and advocating for themselves. It is just that too often, I am not listening.

It would be like trying to sing a four part harmony with only one or two of the parts

Early on in my fellowship, I attended a conference hosted by Evangelicals 4 Justice that was organized and largely attended by people of color. For one of the first times in my life, I was worshipping with and listening to the unfiltered stories and experiences of my black and brown sisters and brothers. It made me more aware of how uncomfortable it can be to be the odd person out in the room, how physical features can unthinkingly be linked to cultural assumptions, perceptions, and affiliations. While there, I was challenged to read more writings by women and people of color - not necessarily because media by white men is bad, but because if those are the only voices I am hearing, then I am not getting a full representation of the church of God. It would be like trying to sing a four part harmony with only one or two of the parts - the song would be noticeably lacking and maybe even a little painful. By excluding the voices of people who are marginalized, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I may never fully understand the harm I cause through my own words and actions, biases and affiliations, because I don’t know what I don’t know.

Advocating for justice was no longer a theological exercise

As my fellowship continued, elevating and centering the voices and experiences of impacted peoples became a theme. While working in different advocacy spaces, I heard stories from refugees and asylum seekers, DACA recipients fighting for their rights and dignity, Indigenous leaders, and people in developing nations already experiencing the effects of climate change on their livelihoods. Listening to their experiences transformed my work and my language. Advocating for justice was no longer a theological exercise or a performative attempt to be politically correct or appear woke. Instead, I had started to recognize the human cost of injustice - the trauma, pain, and death that results from it. By taking the opportunity to listen to people who are actually impacted by different policies, I learned to center the needs of others and advocate alongside them as opposed to prioritizing my own, sometimes uninformed, thoughts and feelings on a subject.

I am grateful for the theological upbringing I received from the Christian Reformed Church and the firm foundation it has provided for my faith, as well as the “great cloud of witnesses” that has surrounded me since before my birth and have encouraged me in my faith since my baptism (Hebrews 12:1 NIV). Now I am also grateful that that great cloud has grown to include people from outside of my tradition and worldview, country and place of origin. I hope to continue to listen to these different voices and to be the church with them by “rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice,” “mourn[ing] with those who mourn,” and advocating together for justice (Romans 12:15 NIV).


We are looking for our next Mobilizing and Advocacy Specialist!  Join our team for this one year fellowship experience.  Or hear more stories from past fellows in this series.


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