Kim Miskowski grew up believing in God but didn’t go to church and didn’t study the Bible.
“The Bible was a place for your family tree to be recorded, and I think I felt unworthy to touch those pages inside,” she said.
About 10 years ago, Miskowski went through a seemingly endless string of difficulties. Her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her son was deployed overseas in the United States Marine Corps. Within four months, she and her husband lost their jobs. She then needed open heart surgery and did not have insurance to pay for it.
Miskowski realized she needed hope. She tried attending a larger church but felt lost in the crowd.
Then a friend of hers, Jan Hoffman, invited her to services one Sunday at RedArrow Ministries, a Christian Reformed congregation just outside the small, rural southwest Michigan town of Paw Paw. Miskowski decided to go, accompanied by her daughter and her daughter’s best friend.
She found home. She found connection. She found Christ.
“There were people there from every denomination, people who were not judging me but [were] there because they were hungry for the truth,” Miskowski said. “RedArrow is the place where my extended family of believers meet and grow together. There is a genuine love connecting us.”
Miskowski’s story is one of many that can be told about RedArrow Ministries, which this month is marking its 10th anniversary. The congregation has grown to about 350 worshipers who come to one of three services on a typical Sunday. That growth has primarily come through members inviting their friends and neighbors to join them—or, as church pastors Ben Bowater and Maria Leys-Bowater call it, “reaching out by reaching one.”
“People are curious about what is going on there,” said Hoffman, who with her husband, Bill, was among the original members of RedArrow Ministries, which the Bowaters planted in 2008. She says about five or six people from her neighborhood, including Miskowski, now attend services after having been invited by a friend. “Getting them in the door is huge.”
RedArrow gets its name from the two lane, east-west road that goes past the church and cuts through Paw Paw, a town of nearly 3,500 residents about 60 miles (close to 100 km) southwest of Grand Rapids. The building was once used by another CRC congregation that had disbanded.
The worship is energetic, with children and teens joining adults in leading the singing at the start of the service. Ben Bowater presents the message, using the teaching skills he honed as a public school teacher in Chicago before entering full-time ministry.
When the Bowaters started RedArrow Ministries, they wanted to be more than just a Sunday presence; they sought to build connections in the community. Over a period of five months, before they ever held a worship service, the Bowaters reached out. “I went to the chief of police. I went to the superintendent of schools. I went to all the important ones in the community who could tell us [what was going on],” Ben Bowater said.
“Everything you see [inside the church building], from the way the band is set up, the way the seats are set up, having a pool table and kids playing Wii [in the lobby]—each of these is a suggestion from someone in the community.”
Paw Paw’s annual Easter egg hunt to organizing a community-wide food pantry. Ben joined a Sheriff’s Department crisis response team that recently responded to the deaths of two high school students by suicide.
Each opportunity arose, Ben said, from the church asking the community, “What do you need us to be?”
Earlier this year, the Bowaters were approached by the local schools about hosting a parenting class. “They came to us and said, ‘Our biggest need is that parents don’t know how to be parents,’” said Maria Leys-Bowater, who is currently working on a divinity degree at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Lynn Bullard, who holds the dual role as Friend of the Court and juvenile court administrator in Van Buren County, encouraged some of the parents she works with to attend the Tools for Life workshop. The classes went over so well that Bullard asked the Bowaters not only to offer them again early next year, but to expand it.
“There’s nothing else like it in our area. It’s a much needed resource,” Bullard said.
RedArrow will host the parenting classes at the local public library, offering child care to make it accessible for parents who might not otherwise be able to attend.
“If you're a single parent and you’ve worked all day, you might not have someone (available) to take your kids so you can go to a class in the evening,” Bullard said. “I just think it’s very generous and it addresses some of the barriers that parents [may] have to participate in this.”
RedArrow members are also actively involved as volunteers at Paw Paw Early Elementary School through the Kids Hope USA mentoring program and other projects. Melissa Remillard, the school's principal, recalls a visit Ben Bowater made to the school shortly after she started her position there last fall.
“We just started talking. We really hit it off,” Remillard said. “We have a lot of the same beliefs, finding different avenues to help students, especially those in trauma or from socioeconomic backgrounds that need more support.”
RedArrow Ministries has unveiled plans to expand its building, but when that expansion will occur will depend on fundraising efforts.
Ten years into their work in the Paw Paw community, Maria Leys-Bowater marvels at the progress that has been made and what lies ahead in engaging the community.
“All Ben and I have ever wanted to do was figure out where the Spirit was moving and follow it,” she said. “I don't think we’ve ever had a ‘this is what it’s going to be’ picture, We just prayed and discerned and followed.”