Friendship Ministries’ Nella Uitvlugt Dies

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Nella Uitvlugt, executive director of Friendship Ministries, died unexpectedly on March 20, 2013.

Nella Uitvlugt, Friendship Ministries

Ben Greenhoe

Uitvlugt spent 16 years at the helm of the nonprofit organization, which helps churches in more than 75 denominations in 28 countries welcome people with cognitive disabilities.

“She knew that churches who decided to give a Friendship ministry a try would not regret it,” said Gwen Genzink, who worked with Uitvlugt at Friendship Ministries for eight years. “They would understand God’s kingdom in a fresh way and experience the joy that comes when the Spirit breaks down walls between people.”

Genzink worked with Uitvlugt in the Friendship ministry at Plymouth Heights Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Uitvlugt was a member.

“Her presence in the Friendship group at Plymouth Heights Church was dynamic, joyful, and sensitive,” said Genzink. “She invested vast amounts of energy in making sure all members had opportunities to be known and to grow together.”

Genzink also said that Uitvlugt wouldn’t let churches off the hook if they told her they didn’t have any members with intellectual disabilities.

“She would push them, asking them why it is that people with intellectual disabilities are part of the human family but not the church family,” she said.

“[Nella] also leaves us with a beautiful example of how to live life passionately and compassionately,” Genzink continued. “We look at people and see so much more because Nella showed us how.”

Uitvlugt is survived by her husband, Eric, and her children Andrea, Kevin, and Trevor.

About the Author

Ryan Struyk was a former Banner news correspondent for classes Grand Rapids South and Thornapple Valley.