Having only been at CPJ for nine months, it’s difficult for me to reflect on our 50th anniversary. So for this reflection, I decided to interview my father, Clarence Wassink, and grandfather, Evert Wassink. I asked about their initial exposure to CPJ and what the organization has come to mean to them over the years. Their stories are not unique. Many CPJ members could tell you similar ones. But they demonstrate a simple concept: that an awareness and passion for public justice is intergenerationally contagious.
Living in the eastern part of the Netherlands, my great-grandfather, Johan Wassink, was vocal about social issues. He would even testify in court on behalf of his neighbours, something that his son said “created friends and rivals around you.” My grandfather, Evert Wassink, has never been one to shy away from a good debate. He says his father’s example instilled in him a social awareness that came along with him when he settled here in Canada.
When he arrived in Sarnia, Ontario in 1953, Evert was quick to take note of the social activists among him. “People like Edward Vanderkloet, Harry Antonides, Stan de Jong, Jim Joosse, and last but not least Gerald Vandezande, a man with remarkable, engaging communication skills.” They would go on to become leaders at CPJ and the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
“CPJ is unique in that it is not a self-interested group, but aims to create space and concern for the well-being of the individual and society as a whole. On that basis it continues to deserve our attention and support.”
He was drawn to CPJ because he believed it “plays a vital role, in their advocacy and research, for social justice in the public square.” Like many long-time CPJ supporters, he has seen the organization evolve over the years. “I remember the Mackenzie Valley pipeline gave them robust publicity in the beginning. For me it is exciting and intriguing that CPJ got off the ground by a narrow band of individuals, while today its leadership comes from a broad spectrum of society.”
My dad, Clarence Wassink, was first introduced to CPJ at Lambton Christian High School, during the 70s, in Sarnia, ON. Gary Van Arragon, his Man in Society teacher, would often give his students readings by CPJ staff such as John Olthuis. They would discuss issues such as the Mackenzie Valley pipeline commission in the 1970s and mercury poisoning on the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northern Ontario.
Back then, CPJ was known as the Committee for Justice and Liberty. As a teenager, my dad’s whole family would attend the Institute for Christian Studies conference. Like my grandfather, he remembers hearing Gerald Vandezande speak about a biblical view of justice. “It was inspiring to hear about people who were being intentional about living their faith in all areas of life, including politics.”
“CPJ is doing important work in working on behalf of those who have no voice. Advocating for those in our country who suffer because of economic, political, or social disparities is one way in which Christians obey the command to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves.’”
Today, as a high school history teacher, my dad often uses CPJ as an example of exactly that. “I try to encourage my students to see that the Christian faith is integral to all activities: work, leisure, education, church, politics, business, etc.”
For him, CPJ continues to speak to the important issues of our time. “CPJ has certainly kept the issues of inequality at the forefront, reminding us of the injustices that existed in our own communities, where we might otherwise have remained ignorant.”
I’m grateful to my family for all lessons they’ve taught me and the values instilled in me, like love of neighbour and care for creation. It’s because of them that I’m here at CPJ now. Looking back at the work of previous generations, I’m inspired by all they’ve accomplished and the victories they’ve won in the name of public justice.
Yet, the previous generations have also left us a broken world. A world where concern for the climate is treated as a luxury in the face of relentless economic growth. A world where poverty, homelessness, and hunger run rampant throughout the developing and developed worlds alike. A world where fewer and fewer people seem willing to take on the responsibilities of citizenship, like paying taxes and voting.
Luckily, they’ve equipped us with the tools to turn the tide. And it makes me very excited to see what the next 50 years of CPJ will look like.