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Retired pastor counsels homeless


By Ben Bosman
Special to the Collegiate

“I’m here to help,” Pastor Duane compassionately tells the men of the Holland Rescue Mission who come to him to talk about their problems.

Duane Vedders, a man whose job description includes “roam the halls, and talk to men,” provides a valuable service to those in trouble.  He counsels some in the life-skills program, leads chapel on Wednesday mornings, but most importantly he is there to talk to men.   And to listen.

The men are homeless; some are hardened criminals; some suffer from addiction; most are victims of broken homes.

All have broken lives.

He has a way with the men that gets them to open up to their problems, their struggles, their sins.

“The problem is this: It’s spiritual,” Vedders says. He goes on to explain that the men are either lazy -that is, they don’t want to work or don’t know how to work- or they suffer from alcohol or drug addictions, pornography and “whoring around.”

“Whatever it is, the answers are found here in this book,” he says as he points to the Bible lying on his desk.

Vedders would know something of that.  Although he grew up and was raised conservatively Christian, he had similar problems in his youth.  He recounts his Navy days of going on leave, chasing women and drinking excessively. Then he would return home to see his parents, going to church with them as if nothing was wrong.

“Hypocritical,” he calls it.

“If it wasn’t for (his wife) Jackie and the grace of God, I would still be on Laguna Beach telling them to bring me a beer and roll me over every half hour.”

It is these experiences that help him serve the broken-hearted men at the Mission.  He draws on the word of God, his experience in the ministry, and his deep understanding of “how easy it is to fall into sin.”

Born in Pease, Minnesota, when he was 16 his family moved to Ontario and then Chino, Calif.  He served in the Navy for four years (1964-68) and in the Naval Reserve another 16 years.  He met Jackie soon after serving three tours in Southeast Asia.

“God doesn’t call anyone to easy,” Vedders tells the men he counsels.  That is a maxim he has lived all his adult life, having worked full-time while raising a family and earning a business degree at age 32.  At 42 he graduated from Mid-America Seminary.

It was while he was serving in Reformed Heritage Community Church in Holland that he was first introduced to the Holland Rescue Mission, where he was invited to lead the chapel on Wednesday mornings.

At first he refused. A few weeks later was asked again and succumbed.

“I’ll come one time,” he told them.  He spoke on Psalm 1 and the blessings of being rooted in the word of God.

The next week he returned to speak on Psalm 2.  Subsequently he returned every week to speak on all 150 Psalms.  And that was only the beginning.

If he were to write his memoirs, Vedders would title it “An Unexpected Life.”

Certainly serving at the Holland Rescue Mission three days a week at retirement (68) was unexpected, as were the many experiences he had while serving in the Holland church, including serving as a missionary in Eritrea and training pastors in Kenya.

“I understand in the depths of my soul the grace, kindness, and mercy of God to me,” Vedders testifies.  This allows him to counsel these men who are living on the edge.

His philosophy toward the men to whom he brings God’s word: “I can’t make you believe, but what I am going to do is love you.”

Love that the men at the Holland Rescue Mission lack.  Love the men need.
Benjamin M. Bosman is a journalism student at Grand Rapids Community College.

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