Standing at the precipice of divorce, alumnus Jim Vogelzang ’72 demanded that God change him.
“I was still full of myself,” said Vogelzang. “It really wasn’t as much a prayer as an arrogant demand. But in a testament to God’s grace, He came into my life anyway.”
Nothing’s been the same for him since, and as result, thousands of prisoners incarcerated all over the world have heard the gospel in a fresh way.
Vogelzang, a born salesman, said he graduated from Calvin but did not take much advantage of the resources at the college. He mainly remembers inspiring professors in the history department and coaches on the basketball court.
“[History professor] Ron Wells was an influential teacher; he had a tremendous impact on me,” said Vogelzang. “And I recall a potpourri of basketball coaches—there were a lot of changes going on at that time—but Ralph Honderd was and still is an impressive person in my life.”
After Calvin, it was all sales and marketing, from student days in which he could hardly squeeze in exams because of his own painting business to an investment management, third-party marketing company selling to large institutional pension funds.
He was a success by outward standards but a self-proclaimed mess inside. Back to that precipice.
Renewed in faith and in his marriage, Vogelzang and wife Mary Beth Hoffmeyer ’72 moved to Denver to start over and to listen to God’s call. For Vogelzang, God’s message was clear.
“I was reading Chuck Colson’s Born Again and being introduced to the life and needs of prisoners,” he said. “God called me to get involved. I had no previous connection to this kind of work before. But today, I would rather be in a prison sharing God’s grace than anywhere else in the world.”
Vogelzang began a ministry, Doing HIS Time, which developed programs such as the Barn-A-Bus, which helps prison families stay together by providing low-cost/no-cost transportation to and from prisons, as well as the 72-Hour Fund, a network of support for just-released ex-offenders to feel “tangible grace” during the crucial three days after their release.
It turns out the salesman has an uncanny way of connecting with prisoners.
“You cannot gain credibility with prisoners by faking anything,” said Vogelzang. “I never try to be a prisoner, even though I was in a self-made prison for 36 years. I just never spent a day behind bars. I don’t see ‘prisoners’ when I am with incarcerated men and women, I see people who are the same as I am. We’re all in need of grace. I don’t hear objections or resentments to my being there with them in prison, even though I never served actual time. They are deeply grateful for the time to listen, to talk, to pray.”
As if this radically new direction in his life wasn’t enough, God had another surprise for Vogelzang: become an author.
Jim spent five years writing a devotional book —Doing HIS Time—for inmates, using language that people inside prison walls would find authentic. Knowing he needed an editor, Vogelzang heard positive things about the work of Lynn Schrotenboer Vanderzalm ’70 (pictured with Jim, above) and contacted her. Yet another surprise.
Vogelzang and Vanderzalm soon discovered they had overlapping years at both Holland Christian High School and Calvin. The finished product took another five years, with the two Calvin grads writing and sharpening the text, advised by inmates who made insightful suggestions.
“Thanks to Lynn, the book is much more polished,” said Vogelzang. “It is just beyond belief that God brought two people with such connections together.”
Doing HIS Time Ministry self-published 150,000 copies of the devotional book so it could be given to prisoners. The book has since been translated into Spanish and Bantu, and it has arrived in prisons throughout the United States and in the African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Malawi and Rwanda. Currently, demand has outstripped the finances to produce more.
It appears Vogelzang is just getting started. Jim and Mary Beth relocated to Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2002, primarily so that Mary Beth could attend to Vogelzang Vineyard, which she started in 1997. Jim now works with Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, the largest women’s prison in the world. The plan is to build an all-faith, outdoor Chapel of Grace with surrounding gardens. Groundbreaking is set for this summer.
In addition, Vogelzang is developing a for-profit company in Colorado so that profits can fuel the ministries of Doing HIS Time.
“None of this is me. God is simply using me,” he said. “I’ve learned that if the Holy Spirit is calling you, obey. Run toward the call.”