Beloved ‘sneaker-wearing worshiper’ dies of cancer, remembered for voice

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A worship leader known for sporting her love for Jesus and sneakers is now singing from a different stage after her battle with colon cancer.

“I was very proud,” said Pastor Brenda Rijfkogel, Sarah Rijfkogel’s mom. “It did my heart good to think that not only was my husband leading people in the word, my daughter was leading people in the presence before he even opened up with the word.”

Sarah Rijfkogel was a worship leader at Grand Rapids First, the place where her father is the lead pastor.

Sarah Rijfkogel, a worship leader at Grand Rapids First, has died. She was 27. (courtesy)

Loved ones say she always rocked the latest pair of kicks while using her instrument to glorify God.

“Sarah was so gifted, anointed and talented, but she had a great presence of God,” said Pastor Sam Rijfkogel, Sarah Rijfkogel’s dad.

Sarah Rijfkogel’s performances lessened as her battle with stage 4 colon cancer intensified. But even on her more challenging days, worshipers said she still found the strength to make a joyful noise.

“Here’s what she told me, she said, ‘I don’t feel the pain. I don’t think about that when I’m worshiping,'” recalled Drew McElhenny, the worship arts pastor at Grand Rapids First.

She continued to sing until she could no longer perform publicly. She even worshipped at home until she took her final breath on Jan. 12 at age 27.

Her mom posted about the passing online, saying in part, “our precious baby girl ran into the arms of Jesus early this morning.”

“It was just meant for her to be with Jesus right now,” her mom said.

Sarah Rijfkogel, a worship leader at Grand Rapids First, has died. She was 27. (courtesy) Sarah Rijfkogel, a worship leader at Grand Rapids First, has died. She was 27. (courtesy) Sarah Rijfkogel, a worship leader at Grand Rapids First, has died. She was 27. (courtesy)

Sarah Rijfkogel’s church family memorialized her on stage on Sunday. They honored her with a white microphone stand and a fresh pair of sneakers at the bottom.

“Sarah was one of those people where you would see the joy,” said McElhenny. “You’d see the peace when she’d lead worship, and if you’re watching and participating in worship, you’d connect to that.”

Although her passing wells up a sadness that her loved ones can never reverse, they find comfort in her music, knowing their sneaker-wearing Sarah Rijfkogel is singing in a new choir in the sky.

“Well done (Sarah)” her dad said.

“You did a great job,” her mom continued.

Loved ones told News 8 a celebration of life will be held for Sarah Rijfkogel Tuesday at Grand Rapids First. A viewing will take from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and a service will follow at 7 p.m. They said supporters are encouraged to wear sneakers and a hoodie, Sarah Rijfkogel’s favorite outfit of choice.

In lieu of flowers, Grand Rapids First leadership said donations can be made to the Sarah J. Rijfkogel Foundation, which they said will help develop the next generation of worship leaders. Anyone who feels called to give may do so here.

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