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In celebration of the 50 years of the Office of Race Relations (ORR), we are featuring the stories of people in the CRC who have been actively demonstrating a passion for multicultural congregations and a commitment to antiracism. We call people who have been exemplifying these ideals, “Champions of Justice.” These “Champions” are the nominees for the Dante Venegas award that will be presented at Inspire 2022 in Chicago next August.

We are proud to introduce Monika Grasley as one of these nominees.

Here’s Monika’s story:

Monika Grasley grew up in Germany and immigrated to the US at age 24. Monika had a difficult childhood and became homeless at age 13. By age 16 she was ready to commit suicide when a young man approached her and introduced her to a youth group, where she found and developed a relationship with God. She went back to school to study Bible & Mission and came to the US in 1984. On her journey to healing, she was aware that the greatest change happened when she recognized that her childhood trauma also developed resilience, discovering gifts and abilities she never knew she had. Through this, she became an advocate for justice. Because our life story is not our life sentence.

Since 1985, Monika and her husband Jim have been on a journey to empower people, let them see their God-given abilities, and focus on what is strong and not what is wrong. After living in China they returned in 1993 to be closer to their aging family. Jim and Monika found their church home at a Christian Reformed Church in Merced, Calif. and have been on staff at different times. Merced is a midsize city with rural roots and it is in the center of the 'breadbasket of the world', and while it has abundant food to share with the world. Almost 50% of people in Merced County are on some government assistance.

Monika started a 501c3 in 2007 to 'empower impoverished neighborhoods to thrive' through an Asset-Based Community Development model (ABCD). The result of her efforts is LifeLine CDC, an organization that works in marginalized neighborhoods that are often forgotten but have amazing capacities. The Community Centers are places where people come together, dream about a better future and then move forward together to make it happen.

In the process, Monika realized that the ABCD strategy only works when it addresses the systemic issues as well. “We often think of our communities as flourishing trees that bear a variety of fruits, but we recognize that the root system that should sustain the tree is often not healthy and the systems that have been put in place, the stories that have been told, the history that perpetuates the injustices have not been addressed.”

This realization brought Monika to get more involved with the CRC Office of Race Relations, to learn and understand some of the history of the US (and Europe), and to address some of the justice issues that are caused through it. Monika is also on the Board of World Renew because she sees this organization as a great asset to the world to seek God's Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Micah 6:8 causes her to engage deeply with justice Kingdom causes. It has 3 areas: "to love mercy" (that often is the easiest and most rewarding part) "to do justice" (which needs to happen if we want to see God's Kingdom values reflected on earth) and "to walk humbly with God" (mercy and justice without the moral compass of the Gospels and the redemption and restoration of a gracious God is impossible.)

Monika recalls a few years ago, when a young undocumented man came to LifeLine to do his community service hours following his DUI. "As we had conversations we got to know his family story and the struggles he and his family have been facing. We were able to help him get into a University and get his degree in Business so that he now can provide for his family, yet, still struggling with the immigration status of his family. It is through stories like this that we know there is sadness in the journey but also hope for the future."

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