SON-BEAM Shines a Constructive Light in Developing Areas of the World

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Van Drie 225Ray Van Drie is executive director and construction team leader of SON-BEAM International.Ray Van Drie has traveled to Haiti, Ecuador and a handful of other developing countries, but not as a tourist.

The Blendon Township resident said he travels to far-flung areas of the world for reasons that transcend tourists’ customary need to go sightseeing and amass kitschy souvenirs.

Van Drie is the executive director and construction team leader of SON-BEAM International. The acronym means Serving Our Neighbor – Building for Evangelism And Ministry.

SON-BEAM’s focus

SON-BEAM is an independent, interdenominational construction ministry with strong ties with the Christian Reformed Church in North America denomination, but Van Drie is quick to add that he willingly crosses denominational borders to help villages and towns build churches, which may also be used as Christian schools. SON-BEAM also digs and constructs community wells and helps farmers find methods to grow crops more effectively.

He accomplishes such worthy endeavors for good reason.

Van Drie attended a Promise Keepers (PK) conference in 2006 at a time in his life when he was physically and spiritual burned out.

He was working an average of 50 hours at his construction job and another 30 at the church he helped to construct, Searchlight Ministries Christian Reformed Church in Jamestown.

He still remembers how close he was from the platform at the PK conference: three feet. When the speaker encouraged the men in attendance to rededicate their lives to Christ with a new vigor and purpose, Van Drie found himself rising from his seat.

“It was a tough decision because I’m use to being in control,” said Van Drie. “The next day I shared in church what happened and Steve had a vision for building churches in foreign countries and Stan was a missionary and wanted to get back in missionary work.”

Van Drie is referring to Steve Windemuller and the Rev. Stan Drenth, both who serve on SON-BEAM’s 10-member board of directors, Drenth as its president.

Much accomplished through network

These days SON-BEAM concentrates on raising money to purchase construction materials and to design and engineer the building of churches, which usually entails include pouring concrete floors and erecting roofs or creating community wells in Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, El Salvador and in two nations in Africa, Kenya and Uganda. Sometimes, this means SON-BEAM covers one-third the cost of building materials and other times, it climbs to two-thirds of the cost, plus construction and engineering expertise.

SON-BEAM also constructs community wells and installs water filtration systems to ward off water borne diseases such as cholera that too often has free reign with people’s health, children in particular.

All of SON-BEAM’s projects are accomplished by networking with four CRC missionaries, said Van Drie. They include Christian Reformed World mission Haiti field leader Zachary Segaar-King and Mwaya Wa Kitavi, director of Africa Ministries Christian Reformed World Mission Eastern and Southern Africa Ministries. Engineer Larry Hulst donates his structural engineering expertise for the churches SON-BEAM helps construct.

Some of the more recent projects SON-BEAM completed include a 30-foot by 50-foot CRC church in Savannette that has four teachers instructing four different Christian school classes at the same time.

Another undertaking in El Salvador is a project SON-BEAM partnered with the Northwest Mennonite Conference of Alberta Canada. A well was dug 196 feet deep in the isolated western village of Aleman with a population of about 525 people. SON-BEAM contributed $6,200 toward the well’s $8,250 cost.

Often times, the churches serve an additional purpose to worshipping God, said Van Drie. In Haiti, for instance, church buildings double as schools because the country does not have a public education system.

So far, eight churches were built in Haiti. Van Drie points out with understandable delight that all of them remain standing following the Jan. 12, 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left some 200,000 people dead and 500,000 injured.

A silver lining amid the upheaval

Even so, Van Drie sees a silver lining following Haiti’s 2010 upheaval where many consider the Caribbean country to be the western hemisphere’s poorest nation.

“In the more rural areas there is a lot of benefit from the earthquake because a lot of volunteer health clinics and missionaries have come in and have brought in money, education and expertise,” said Van Drie. “And that has stayed to directly help the people. There has been funding for education because the earthquake increased an awareness.”

The community hand-pump wells that cost an average of $5,000 to $10,000, are intentionally built on church properties with the requirement that all the residents living in a village or town are allowed to use them. That means an average of 100 to 300 people have access to clean water per community well.

“When people find a connection with people who are willing to help, that changes their outlook on life,” said Van Drie. “They’re all trying to scratch out a living. The water quality for them is terrible. Clean up the water and the health issues are often cleaned up.”

SON-BEAM’s philosophy is based on giving people who live in developing nations a hand up, not a hand out, Van Drie said.

“We give them the training so they can sustain themselves on their own,” he said.

Van Drie is grateful he took that step of obedience at the Promise Keepers conference and immersed himself deeper in God’s purpose for his life.

“This is what life is about,” he said. “Life is about following God’s will and leading, where He wants you to go.”


Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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