By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
HOCKESSIN, Del.—In the summer of 2008, Ben Cooper and Terry Foester were disturbed.
Foester, associate pastor at Hockessin Church in Hockessin, Del., and Cooper, fellow small group member, found themselves living the old saying, “God comforts the disturbed, and He disturbs the comfortable.”
“I guess we were disturbed that our Gospel that we lived didn’t necessarily align with the one Jesus preached,” said Cooper, pointing to Luke 4, where Jesus gives His mission statement, which includes preaching “Good News to the poor.”
“The way that we lived and where we lived even—nothing said we brought Good News to the poor,” he said.
So, the two friends decided to began sharing their Wednesday lunch breaks taking homeless men out to lunch along Market Street in Wilmington, Del.
One of the people that they took out on a regular basis was Herman, who mostly lived under the Amtrak bridge. The three of them, and sometimes more, would go to their usual restaurant—Benjamin’s on 10th.
“They told me it was part of their mission and they were out to help—helping out—because God led them to do it,” Herman said, noting that his new friends told him that they weren’t using the church’s money.
“They’re not using up their collections. They’re doing it out of their hearts,” Herman said. “So that made them like an angel coming to a hungry man that needed some help.”
Foester, an engineer turned pastor, shared that someone wanted to offer a donation to help Herman. “They said, ‘We know Herman, and we want to help him out. So here’s $500. You guys know how to best help him.’”
The donation led to a bigger idea.
Cooper explained, “What we decided to do is get a whole bunch of ‘smalls’ to come together and make one ‘big.’ By that, I mean, we tried to get people from all across the country to donate one dollar to Herman. That dollar is really symbolic of the small things you can do to make big impact.”
They placed a simple contract on Foester’s blog, greylias.com. “You trust us and we’ll tell you the story.”
The duo promised they wouldn’t give Herman a life-size cardboard check. They would talk to him. They would find out his need and then get him something he could use.
“I need less help than you can imagine,” shared Herman, telling Cooper and Foester that he wanted three things: a mattress, a radio and some fruit.
They gave him “all of the above” and actually went above and beyond to give him something even better: hope.
Foester explained in his blog: “One thing we’ve noticed is that this experiment has given Herman an extra layer of accountability – that he never had before. He seems to be recognizing how people from all over the country are chipping in to help him. And you know what? That’s giving him HOPE.”
Altogether, participants gave nearly $2,500.
Explaining that many asked what else they could do to help, Cooper answered, “There’s really nothing else other than to do the same thing yourself, to establish a connection with poor people.”
Foester said, “Don’t be afraid to look at someone in the eyes. Don’t be afraid to ask them their name… If they are asking you for something, then you almost have that right to kinda investigate that and just be like, ‘Hey, what’s your story?’
“What I think what’s missing is that we would go out and be Jesus and really sit down with someone and take the time to get to know them.”
Cooper said, “It’s different when you establish a personal connection with someone and when you invite them to lunch and you share with them and their stories. I can’t continue to serve a God who makes decisions for the poor and not know them.”
“Herman is not a problem we are trying to solve. Herman is a person we are trying to love,” Foester added, noting that he and his family regularly share time with Herman, whether it is in downtown Wilmington, at their church or in their home.
“The coolest thing has been to watch my eight-year-old Eli to pray for Herman every night,” Foester said, noting that even to his children, Herman is a consistent friend.
Though Cooper has since moved to Texas to attend medical school, Foester still finds himself going downtown to look for Herman in one of the four homeless shelters or on the streets. With the consistency of repeated meetings, Foester can go instantly into deeper conversations with his homeless friend.
Foester regularly asks Herman about his life goals and what his next step should be to accomplish them.
“We keep it real,” Foester said, noting that Herman still prefers the homeless lifestyle, without rules that prevent him from abusing drugs or alcohol.
He’s helped him set up a bank account and find temporary housing, but Herman is quick to return to the streets. Why? Foester thinks it is because there is a social order within the homeless community that feeds Herman’s self worth.
Herman has taught Foester about “groupness,” his word for “community,” which Foester defines on his blog as “a social group of five people or less whose members are unrelated but reside in a specific locality, share food and blankets, and often have a common heritage, and who look out for each other…”
Like many homeless people, Herman says he has a relationship with Jesus, though Foester will say some of his beliefs seem skewed. He knows what is right and what is wrong.
“You have to get comfortable with building a relationship without enabling [the wrong behaviors],” Foester explained. “To go beyond that, you realize that you can’t change a person; only God can.”
Though little has changed in Herman’s life, at least on the outside, Foester knows that Herman enjoys the friendship.
“And I enjoy his friendship, too,” he said.