Photo: (left to right) MaryBeth Steiginga, Atlantic Stewardship Bank (Columbia Bank), Roy Heerema, Chairperson of NECT, Steve Bruining, treasurer of NECT, and Paul Van Ostenbridge, former CEO of Atlantic Stewardship Bank (Columbia Bank)
By Kathryn Mae Post
Last fall, a few weeks before the Northeast Community Transformation (NECT) Men’s Homeless Ministry began its 30th year, the need for a new van became apparent. A van is critical to the ministry, which operates from November to April in coordination with six churches in Passaic County and Bergen County. The churches, which take turns hosting 10 men from Good Shepherd Mission in Paterson, use the van to transport the men to and from the mission each day.
Purchased 20 years ago through donations raised by the churches and Atlantic Stewardship Bank, the old van had about 100,000 miles on it and was in disrepair. But new vans aren’t cheap—they can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $47,000. Still, getting a new one was a must. As NECT Chairperson Roy Heerema put it, “The van is the glue that holds the program together.
Once again, Atlantic Stewardship Bank was able to help the NECT. The bank donated $35,000 towards the purchase of a van, before merging with Columbia Bank last year. NECT was able to use the funds to purchase a used, one-year old van with space to fit 10 adults comfortably, along with a luggage compartment for the men’s personal items. Purchased in mid-November, the van was ready for the first week of the ministry and was used to transport the men throughout the winter and into the spring.
The NECT has been providing hospitality for men facing homelessness since 1990. Each day of the week, the van picks up 10 men from Good Shepherd Mission, opening up space for 10 additional men at the shelter. The van drivers, who are church volunteers, bring the men to the hosting church each night. There, the men share a homecooked meal, participate in Bible study, and spend time with members of the church before staying the night on cots and bedding. The next morning, volunteers provide breakfast and packed lunches before bringing the men back to the mission in time for chapel.
Since the ministry’s start, 37,000 men have been sheltered in the participating churches. Current host churches include Cedar Hill Christian Reformed Church, Madison Ave Christian Reformed Church, Unity Christian Reformed Church, Midland Park Christian Reformed Church, Rockpoint Community Church, and Emergence Church. These churches also partner with others to make the program possible. Cedar Hill, for example, works with volunteers from Abundant Life Church, Living Word Church, and St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church. This is an inter-denominational, community-wide effort to provide hospitality to those facing homelessness in the Bergen/Passaic county area.
Men involved in the ministry have built relationships with volunteers at the host churches, and some have even become members. Ken Vander Wall, previously InterVarsity Campus Pastor at William Paterson University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, was one of the founders of the NECT.
Vander Wall said, “Our church, Madison Ave. Christian Reformed Church, hosts the men on Saturday nights and has had the joy of having some of the men join us for our Sunday morning worship service—and celebrate as some became members of our church!”
John Dyksen, who leads the Bible study for the men at Cedar Hill church on Friday nights, said that many men have a Christian background, but struggle with challenges such as addiction and alienation from their families. The ministry helps to meet their basic needs, while also bringing them into an existing support system. Simultaneously, the ministry impacts volunteers, giving them the opportunity to get to know the men and appreciate what they are going through. Thanks to the new van, this ministry will continue to impact volunteers and participants as they learn from one another and build community together.