Oct 08, 2014
Andrew VanderVeer, a Christian Reformed Church missionary who ran the West Fulton Street Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan, loved children. As a Grand Rapids Press article about the beginnings of Bethany Christian Services said, “He had long worked closely with Kent County Probate Judge John Dalton, who often referred troubled kids to him for help. VanderVeer and his wife, Cornelia, often took children into their Grand Rapids home, giving them meals, clothes and sometimes a bed.”
In the same article, VanderVeer’s daughter, Gladys Elzinga, was quoted about how front and center her father’s dream for children was in their home. “He talked constantly about a place where needy kids could live in a Christian, loving environment. It would be an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.”
Mary DeBoer, who along with Marguerite Bonnema provided the genesis for Bethany when they began to take needy children into their own small apartment, worked with VanderVeer at West Fulton Street Mission. Sharing the two women’s dream for a home for children made VanderVeer a perfect fit to become the third cofounder and officer of Bethany Christian Home. He served as Bethany’s first president, and their first constitution in 1944 read, "Caring for Homeless Youth in a Christian Environment."
With the help of Mr. P. D. Peterson, the superintendent of the mission Marguerite Bonnema worked for, the current 13-acre campus of Bethany Christian Services’ headquarters in Grand Rapids was purchased.
Mary and Marguerite moved into the home on the property along with the children already in their care, and soon more children in need joined them. A 12-member advisory board was established to move the mission of Bethany Christian Home forward. Today Bethany Christian Services, as the organization has been called since 1975, is in 36 states with 115 offices, and works with families and children around the world.
Though much is deservedly made of Mary DeBoer and Marguerite Bonnema’s hands-on care, dedication, and sacrifice, Andrew VanderVeer is to be no less honored. He, too, nurtured the dream God put in all their hearts: to serve children in need with God’s love and care.