Aug 20, 2014
Each of God’s people carries a vision He has placed in their heart—a dream nourished when they say yes to small steps as well as to heart-racing leaps of faith. Marguerite Bonnema, one of the three cofounders of Bethany Christian Services, carried her dream for decades, staying faithful and focused as she took such steps and leaps, even when she felt afraid.
In the 1920s, Marguerite’s walk to school took her past a Catholic orphanage. As she watched the building and activities there, she eventually dreamed about starting an orphanage herself. Marguerite felt afraid to share her vision with others, however. What would they think? After all, she didn’t have any idea how she could establish an orphanage. But she did know orphanages needed nurses, so she pursued a degree in nursing and then faithfully worked for eight years in that field before attending Reformed Bible Institute.
Though she was still not working directly with needy children, Marguerite continued to dream of establishing an orphanage. She was still praying, still seeking, still asking God for His help to realize that dream so He would be glorified in her life.
At RBI, Marguerite was placed in a room with a young woman she’d never met, who had traveled across the country for school. After living together for two weeks, Marguerite asked Mary DeBoer what she wanted to do with her life. “I know what I want to do, but I’m afraid it’s impossible to find someone to go into the work with me,” Mary responded. When Marguerite asked her what she meant, Mary said, “I’d like to start a house for needy children.”
God had brought together two strangers with a vision He’d given to both of them.
Prayer and conversation began immediately.
After graduation, Marguerite took a job with Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church at the 6th and Broadway Mission. Marguerite met the family that lived above her office, and the oldest daughter told her the mother had a baby by a man who was not her husband. Because of her husband’s dislike for the child, the daughter said, “He is going to kill it.” Marguerite’s response? “Tell him not to kill it but to give it to me.”
Arrangements were made in a hurry. The mother and daughter traveled by bus to a train station, where Mary and Marguerite received the baby and took her to live with them in their small Sigsbee Street apartment. This was only the beginning. More children in need followed. The women weren’t paid for caring for the children they took in, so they bought only necessities and even shared a cot in their small apartment.
Even when they eventually established Bethany with Andrew Vander Veer, the women refused a salary, instead relying on gifts and donations. The number of children in their care grew to eight, and today Bethany has become a global organization serving 15 countries.
Throughout the beginnings of their work, the three cofounders never stopped praying that Bethany would be a place where Jesus would be welcomed and where, in the founders’ words, “His presence could be felt and His blessing sought and enjoyed.”
After years of waiting and obedience, Marguerite quickly found herself with rapidly growing responsibilities, and she had to make fearless and faith-filled choices.
Without knowing for sure how she would bring her dream to fruition, she took those first steps of faith. Becoming a nurse, attending Bible school, and ultimately taking in that first child—each time being unsure of how God would weave a narrative with every step. Because she chose to steward His blessing, Marguerite was a co-steward with His vision, and the impact of her obedience is still felt today.
Listen to Bethany Christian Services’ Every Child podcast for more on issues relative to vulnerable children. From adoption and foster care to the introduction of sustainable social services in developing countries, Every Child features an informative discussion, led by Bethany’s President/CEO Bill Blacquiere, with leading voices from ministries and nonprofit organizations, as well as Christian authors and artists.
Bethany Christian Services is a leading global family preservation and child welfare agency.