Dad. It’s a simple, yet weighty title.
It’s one that Bob Venhousen, who is a father to nine children, doesn’t take lightly. Kids, and particularly orphans, have always weighed heavily on Bob’s heart. Before he was married, before he had the responsibilities that come with being a dad to nine children, James 1:27 was his life verse. It was so clear, so concise it just made sense: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
By the time he was 21 years old, he’d married his high school sweetheart, Sherri Vriesman. And four children followed. The verse — James 1:27 — still inspired him. Except he didn’t fully understand how he was called to care for widows. But orphans? Orphans were never far from his heart.
Bob made his first mission trip to Honduras in 1995 with Faith Christian Reformed Church in Elmhurst to serve at All God’s Childrens Orphanage. The orphanage sits on the outskirts of Comayagua, which is some 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa the capital city. It is a place of refuge for the most vulnerable. Supported by many of our church and community members, the orphanage fills the gap for orphaned and abandoned kids by providing food and shelter, education, and a loving Christian environment.
“I fell in love with Honduras and the kids,” Bob says. “we now have over 200 orphans, some of whom call me Dad.”
As it often does, life went along for the Venhousen family. Bob was a CFO for two successful businesses. He became deeply involved with All God’s Children, eventually joining the board as treasurer. The kids were enrolled at Timothy and Sherri taught third grade at Timothy and later found her niche as a special ed teacher.
“The Venhousens are a five generation Timothy family,” Bob says, who graduated in 1979. “I appreciate the sacrifices that my parents made to send me here. They couldn’t have spent the money in any better way than to send us to Timothy. I’m just very thankful.”
Then in September, 2008 Sherri was diagnosed with a rare Neuroendocrine cancer. She passed away in November of 2008. And nine months later, Bob was laid off from his job.
Still, Bob’s faith did not waver.
“During one of my times of struggle, I prayed a three part prayer,” Bob says. “One, do you want me to move to Honduras with my kids? Two, do you want me to stay here and stay single? Or three, is there another Godly woman that I should marry?”
Bob knew a recently widowed woman named Judy Stremler. Judy, a mother to five children, had lost her husband, Darrell, to cancer in 2005. And it was that verse again — James 1:27 — that he had clung to for so many years that kept resurfacing. He’d never fully understood how to care for the widowed.
“I knew she was a widow with five kids,” Bob said. “I said, ‘no,’ out loud to God. It’s too much. God reminded me that I have kids in Honduras that call me Dad. So why not? Why couldn’t I be the Stremlers Dad?”
It turned out that Judy and Bob had much in common. Both were devoted to their family and kids, and committed to Christian education and mission work. By January 2010, Bob and Judy were married. It was an exciting new season for them. They lovingly nicknamed their blended family the Stremhousens, honoring both histories. They leaned on the promises of Psalm 115:1: “Not to us, oh Lord, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”
“That verse kept our focus on God and not on us,” Bob says. “We want God to get the glory, because of his unfailing love and faithfulness to us and to our family.”
Bob and Judy’s faith, though, is contagious. Mission work was so integral to both Judy and Bob that they managed to get all nine kids to Honduras within the first year they were married.
A month after their wedding, Bob was hired as the Director of Advancement at Timothy Christian Schools. The job brought together his three passions: family, Christian education, and Honduras. “It was exciting. It was a new season of life,” Bob says. “Three of our daughters were in high school, so my new job allowed me to be part of their daily lives. And it also let me be more involved with Honduras.”
With an office situated squarely in the middle of the high school, Bob was not only available to the Stremhousen kids, but to any other high school student that passed by. He also had opportunities to take groups of students to serve at All God’s Children — which has been a life-changing experience for countless students over the years. “I’m at Timothy because I love being with students,” Bob says. “My prayer for these students is that they would belong to Jesus Christ and that they would be disciples for him. That’s our mission.”
It’s the Timothy mission — to educate academically prepared disciples of Christ — that Bob focuses on. The mission statement is prominently framed in his office. It’s like an anchor that reminds him why his job matters so deeply. As the Director of Advancement his job is to advance Timothy financially. “It takes everyone,” he says. “Teachers, and bus drivers, and parents. We can’t complete our mission if we don’t have the resources.”
Call it semantics, but the way Bob sees it, the word advancement in his title, isn’t just tied to raising resources. To Bob advancement has a much deeper meaning: to advance the Kingdom of God.
And that is what’s been at the very core of a Timothy education for over one hundred years.
“To be in a place where you can learn about God, go serve and not be ridiculed for it, is a blessing,” Bob says. “It’s part of being trained to be disciples to be difference-makers in the world. We want our students to be counter-cultural.”
And so, he continues to raise funds, mentor students, and has managed to make yearly trips to All God’s Children a mainstay for Timothy students.
He’s slowly come to realize what that verse — James 1:27 — meant for him.
“I’m starting to see why God gave me that verse so many years ago and the plan for my life unfold,” Bob says. “I know that I’m supposed to be here. God is making these three parts of my world come together.”