Despite these death-defying episodes in his life, Kevin DeVries, founder and president of Grand Rapids-based Grace Explorations, says the greatest journey is when men reach the mountaintop of their souls by descending to who they really are in Christ.
"Here's the thing: I really don't care about summits anymore, I don't care about elevations, I don't care about the physicality of it," says DeVries. "I'm 54 years old. We're going to dive into the interior of the human soul and we're basically going to say the greatest journey is always within."
Come to Base Camp
How DeVries is accomplishing this goal, in part, is through in-person gatherings and videos of Grace Explorations' signature event called Base Camps. These are gatherings that meet monthly or quarterly at places that conjure a comfortable ambiance, including the microbrewers that dot Michigan. Base Camps are not Bible studies, where men are encouraged to memorize rote Scripture. Instead, they hear gospel-story centered stories told by regular Joes.
DeVries emphasizes Grace Explorations is not in competition with churches. By the same token, some churches are getting on board and linking arms with his Base Camps.
"Our job is not to get men to go to church, that's the church's job," says DeVries. "Our job is to get churches to go where men already are. We partner with a lot of churches because they realize they're just not reaching a lot of men right now because they keep doing all of their events at church.
"They have their pancake breakfast the fourth Saturday of every month and that's fantastic and they might have some Bible study groups that usually last for a couple of weeks because it's curriculum based and men get smarter together but nobody knows each other. There's nothing inherently wrong with that but they need community. So that's our overall mission."
Connecting men with a community of believers is huge on DeVries' radar, so big that his big-ticket goal is to connect one million men to a men's ministry through gospel-centered storytelling events.
"God's telling His epic story through small, human stories," says DeVries. "I can see my stories through a different lens because I can see that God has been moving through my stories."
DeVries says holding Base Camps in local watering holes that serve alcohol should not dissuade some, but not all, Christians from quaffing a beer, enjoying brotherhood and hear storytellers tell of their personal grit and grace that exemplify authentic life in Christ.
Big boy ministry
"There's a lot of Reformed background here (Grand Rapids area) that don't have a problem with the alcohol element because of their founders," says DeVries. "It's not really about the beer. Yeah, some guys drink. We have alcoholics that come who are in full recovery and have no issue with being in that space and we have other guys who can't be in that space. So, it's a big-boy ministry. They can make up their mind what they want to do. We're not going to sit there and argue whether Jesus turned the water into grape juice or wine. It's just a stupid argument and we don't have time for it."
In addition to starting and selling several companies across diverse industries, DeVries served as a director and consultant for several faith-based, non-profit organizations across the country, according to his website. As Grace Exploration's founder and president, DeVries combines a business mind and a pastor's heart with an explorer's soul and a poet's pen as a passionate voice reaching the hurting hearts of men as well as women.
DeVries has traveled to over 65 countries across six continents; climbed five of the seven continental summits; skied to the North Pole; expedition kayaked all five of the Great Lakes; is a 2013 Boston Marathon Qualifier and Finisher. His lifelong goal is to complete what only a few dozen explorers have dared to dream and do: The Explorers Grand Slam – Climb the Seven Summits and ski to the North and South poles. DeVries needs to climb Mt. Everest and Mt. Vinson, the tallest peaks in Asia and Antarctica, respectively, and ski to the South Pole to complete the challenge.
Searching for the Ark
From 2009-2013, he was a lead mountaineer for a group of scientists in search of Noah's Ark on the Eastern plateau of Mount Ararat, Turkey, which served as the documentary titled, "Finding Noah" released in theaters nationwide in 2015, now available on Amazon Prime and the Peacock streaming service.
They didn't uncover the Ark, but DeVries says something equally important was unearthed.
"It (the documentary) captures what I think is the essence of the whole endeavor was which was less about a boat than it is about a brotherhood," says DeVries.
"Probably 99% of the population lives in their head where the ego is, it's where I've got to be right, it's where all the political angst lives. You get them to drop out of that cerebral area which is where most of our PTSD lives, if we can get them to drop out of that cerebral area in your frontal cortex and find some healing in the community of Christ, things that can result in transformation, then maybe, just maybe, you're not going to be so driven to climb 18,000 feet."
Fellowship of the rope
Helping men to live in community is what DeVries called the fellowship of the rope.
"Most men ... live singular, insulated lives because they are disconnected from their stories and they don't' want people to know what's going on and it's unfortunate because if they found a biblical community, Christ will resurrect your life," says DeVries. "That's what we're trying to do with Grace Explorations."