Brian VanVoorst was born into this world to Marv and Lori VanVoorst in 1969 in California. Eventually the oldest of three boys, Brian was an athlete and well-liked. He volunteered as a cadet at the Holland Police Department and felt a call on his life to one day be a pastor. In 1977, Marv and Lori relocated back to Michigan to be close to family while they raised their boys. When Brian was 15, Marv and Lori divorced. It was one life-altering event in the string of several over the next few years that would take its toll on Brian. When Brian was in the upper years of high school, his dear cousin and friend was tragically killed in a car accident. Then just a few short years later, Brian’s girlfriend was also killed in a car accident while he was a student at Grand Valley State University.
Taking after his dad, Brian who wanted to be just like him and follow in his dad’s footsteps as a cop, internalized much of the trauma he had endured. It was Brian and his girlfriend, who had led Marv to start attending Faith Christian Center in Holland. Marv, in the midst of his divorce, would frequently go to the chapel there to pray. One day he walked out of the chapel and ran into Betty, a former friend from high school. She was crying, and Marv said, “What happened to you, sweetheart?” Betty had been fired, but sparks flew at that chance encounter. Betty and Marv soon married. With all the emotional baggage each of them took into their new marriage, their kids were the ones who got along better than Betty and Marv. But Betty loved Marv’s boys, just as much as he loved hers.
Through it all Marv and Betty had a good relationship with Brian. They knew he had gotten into partying, but they just figured he was sowing his wild oats, and he would come around. They had no clue of the inner turmoil going on in Brian.
One night Brian asked Marv to come over to talk, and Brian’s younger brother Barry came too. Brian confessed that night to Marv that he had been smoking weed and doing shrooms. Later they found out that he had taken LSD for the first time just four days prior. Marv responded to Brian with love, and told Brian that he would get him some help first thing in the morning, and that it would all be okay. Their last words that night were: I love you. I love you too.
Marv arrived home and got a call. Someone at a GVSU party had died, and they thought it was Brian. Turns out – Brian had gone to that party, and was found dead by suicide in a bedroom. A friend of Brian’s called her dad upset with the news, and this dad called Marv. Marv headed right over to the party (coincidentally, Marv’s pastor only lived two doors down from there.) Marv’s pastor met Marv at the party, and when Marv’s worst fears were confirmed that night, his pastor just stood and hugged him. Barry showed up in shock and disbelief and left right away.
Eventually Marv and his family ended up in Marv and Betty’s living room and they all grieved together. They made a promise to God that they would do whatever they could to give God glory from this devastating situation.
That Sunday, Faith Christian Center was packed because Brian was so well-known.
An old friend of Marv’s from umpiring together and Brian’s youth group leader at Central Wesleyan Church, Dan Seaborn, called Marv after the service. He said, “Marv, the Holy Spirit’s been after me all day to call you. Would you be willing to come to my youth group and talk about what happened?”
Instantly, Marv remembered his promise.
Marv called his pastor to get some advice on what to do. Pastor Fred asked for some time to pray about it. When Pastor Fred returned Marv’s call, he said to Marv, “Who better to talk about a war than a wounded soldier? You make good on that promise to God and He will give you the strength you need.” Pastor Fred also recommended taking a couple from their church for support.
That Wednesday night, Marv had no idea what he was going to say. He saw Dan off to the side praying fervently for him. Betty and their supportive friends were there praying too. The one stipulation on the evening Marv had told Dan was that he did not want to stick around after his talk and answer questions. When Marv was handed the microphone, he had no clue what to say, but then as he opened his mouth, the words just poured out. Marv left that group of 300 kids and 30 adults not knowing what God would do through that night.
The next morning, Marv got a phone call – 30 kids received Jesus that previous night.
For the next few years, two weekends out of the month, Marv and Betty traveled to tell Brian’s story. Out of their pain, God was able to do something only He could do. Had Marv not made the promise, and had God not asked them to make good on that promise – their healing would have been delayed. By talking through what happened and helping others, slowly Marv and their family began to heal.
Five years after Brian’s death, Marv received a phone call from a friend who had been meaning to call for a while. This friend’s son and new wife had been in one of Marv’s meetings. At that time they had both been using drugs and off track in life. As a result of that meeting, both of them were immensely helped and his friend was happy to report that they were serving together as youth pastors.
At a meeting at Ebeneezer Reformed Church, Marv actually apologized afterward to the pastor for blowing it that night. He felt he had done such a horrible job of communicating and thought the opportunity was wasted. The pastor assured Marv that that was not the case. The following morning, the pastor called Marv to tell him that a set of twins came that evening prior and had made a pact that they would commit suicide if they did not receive any hope from what they heard. The twins are alive and well today.
Marv had a friend who had trouble collecting from a guy that would not pay his bills, but one day out of the blue he did. What happened was that the man had been doing drugs, ended up in a church parking lot, and the guest speaker that night laid out his whole life’s story as he talked about his son. The only difference was that man’s son had died, but this troubled man was still alive. His life was completely changed. So Marv finds out through this friend about this story, and come to find out – it was Marv telling Brian’s story.
It’s been 29 years since Brian’s death, and telling Brian’s story today is still part of that promise Marv and his family made to God all that time ago. It’s not about any glory for them, because Marv realized that very first night he was going to need God to come through for them and help them tell this story. Marv says that never once was Jesus unfaithful. Betty remarks that it literally felt like they were walking on a protective cloud because of all of the prayers they received. They felt such support from so many.
Brian’s death made an impact on Marv and Betty too. It was the wake-up call they needed. Marv remembers thinking in light of what led Brian to end his life, the path that Marv and Betty on wasn’t so hot either. It was time to grow up.
Brian’s decision was one that could never be made right and never undone, but as Marv and Betty trusted God to walk them through the darkest days of their lives out of their heartbreaking tragedy, they saw many blessings follow. Their marriage strengthened and many lives saved.
September is National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.