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When 12 adults and six children were baptized at a church called The River in Allegan, Mich., Keith Gebben just had to laugh.

The long-time member and elder couldn’t contain his joy. “We baptized more people today than we had in church six months ago,” Gebben said after the service.

He should know. He’s been a part of Christian Reformed Church ministry in Allegan since Unity CRC was organized in the early 80s. Like many churches, Unity has experienced periods of growth and decline. The low-water mark came about two years ago, when only 10 or 12 people showed up for Sunday morning worship.

But rather than close the doors, members decided that God had placed them in Allegan for a reason. So they started to pray. “We prayed that God would provide an opportunity to do ministry in our community,” Gebben recalls, “and he did.”

Soon a regional Christian social service agency, Love INC, asked to use the church building as an intake center. A month later, a Christian preschool asked to use some space too.

The church eagerly agreed.

Home Missions’ regional team leader Ben Becksvoort and leaders from Providence CRC in Holland, Mich., encouraged a restart of Unity CRC. The church, renamed The River, hired Rev. Jerry Alferink to provide regular preaching and Jon Vugteveen as director of ministries.

“There was a good spirit in the church and a desire to grow,” Vugteveen says. Though Vugteveen describes himself as a risk-taker, he said he is humbled by the turnaround. “The reason is that God is drawing people to himself. This church is all about what God wants to do here.”

Vugteveen credits Home Missions’ online distance learning program with preparing him for ministry. He expects to receive a degree in new-church development from Reformed Bible College and to be ordained by Classis Zeeland as a ministry associate (evangelist) in September.

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