I wasn’t looking to start a homeless outreach or ministry the day I met Lisa flying her sign. In fact, I typically avoided looking above signs like hers to prevent making eye contact, because that’s when things get personal and most of us feel compelled to help…and that gets messy, and we don’t do messy well. But God tugged on my heart to stop and meet this woman with a sign begging for help, and unlike numerous previous times, this time I obeyed.
It was a bitterly cold morning and snow was in the forecast when I met Lisa in early December of 2014. After introducing myself, I asked what kind of help she needed. Lisa shared that she and her boyfriend Dave had been living in a tent in the woods for three years. I was stunned. A woman living in a tent…in Richmond? I was naive to the plight of several hundred neighbors experiencing homeless in our area. While we chatted I gave her a pair of wool socks, hand warmers, and a bottle of water I had in my car. She told me she was flying her sign to raise money to buy gas and oil for the tiny generator that powered their small space heater and lights. I promised to come by again with items she mentioned needing.
Over the next few weeks, I visited Lisa numerous times at her corner in front of the Taco Bell where we had first met. I eventually gained her trust, and was invited to visit their camp and meet Dave. I brought them food and toiletries, a new pair of boots for Lisa, blankets, and even a new small generator with the help of generous friends when the old generator died; leaving them with out heat with overnight temps in the teens. They slowly began introducing me to others living in nearby woods, their vehicles, abandoned buildings, and under tarps in alleys. Each time I visited a new camp, I did a needs analysis of their dwelling; often running to a store to buy the things they lacked that I thought would give them hope and a fighting chance at surviving the brutal winter weather…tents, sleeping bags, tarps, boots, coats, propane, etc.
Right about this time, social media was saturated with videos of people dumping ice on their heads through the “Ice Bucket Challenge” to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimers research. I believed God was calling on me to start something similar to create Moments of Hope for our neighbors living outdoors, and that it would spread across the country as a movement. The idea was to share examples on Facebook of little items or gestures that could give someone hope on what might be their darkest day. Buying a beanie hat and stuffing it with a bottle of water, peanut butter crackers, & hand warmers, and keeping it nearby in your vehicle for that person you always see flying a sign on your way to work. Buying an extra cup of coffee at the drive-thru, and handing it to that person in the median at intersection. Stuffing your old rain coat in your vehicle to have ready to present to its next owner standing in the rain with a soaked cardboard sign. Those are just a few of the ideas I shared on the Moments of Hope Challenge page as I solicited others to try and report back their experiences. Over the next year, I visited dozens of camps and provided several dozen tents and sleeping bags, and made a lot of friends with folks I’d previously been inclined to ignore.
I had nothing but time on my hands when I met Lisa, due to disabling injuries suffered when my family and I struck another vehicle head-on at 65mph when the driver lost control in the rain in oncoming highway traffic; crossing the median and into our path in July of 2005. The decade that followed leading up to meeting Lisa was a wilderness journey as God healed most of our injuries, and pruned and shaped me for something very special, though I couldn’t figure out what it was. The counselor helping me put the pieces back together said nothing from my past pointed to anything I could do as a career looking forward. My wife, Bonnie, said she thought I had lost my faith. I hadn’t. My faith had never been stronger, but I knew God was waiting for something within me to change before He revealed His plan that would redeem all we had suffered and endured from the wreck. I had no idea what that something was, and I wasn’t discerning any clues from God, and until I figured it out or He revealed it…I was stuck.
Soon after, in October of 2015, Moments of Hope "Challenge" had only 40 Likes after a year on Facebook promoting the idea of creating Moments of Hope for our homeless neighbors. Naively, I expected we'd have over 1 million Likes, because I believed this was God's work. I remember humbly praying to Him saying "This feels like a Bob 'thing' instead of a God 'thing'", and begged God to strip away everything that was of me, and reveal His true plan for me and this outreach.
A couple days later, my friend Bruce called saying he'd been praying for me since we'd returned from a mission trip to Haiti, but God kept saying I wasn't ready. "Not ready for what?" I asked. Bruce replied "Today, God said you're ready!" "Ready for what?" I asked. Bruce told me of his dear friend who specialized in treating difficult cases of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and asked if I wanted to visit her in Florida. I replied "Dude, you know I've been battling PTSD for nearly a decade...", to which he replied "I know, so do you want to go to Florida next week or the following?" "Next week!" I exclaimed.
We left on our road trip the night before Halloween. After meeting with Nancy for about three hours on November 1st, my PTSD was cured! I was healed! When asked to picture the scene of the high-speed head-on collision my family and I survived...I couldn't see it! Praise God! For He had removed one of the three major thorns in my flesh; leaving eight damaged spinal discs and TBI (traumatic brain injury).
A few days after returning home, I received a call from my friend Amy, the occupational therapist who had treated me for over two years after I survived the TBI. She and her group of friends from Calvary Chapel of Richmond had been following my Facebook page and wanted to know if my homeless friends would like a hot home-cooked meal. What a brilliant idea!
On November 13th of 2015, Amy and her friends joined me to serve delicious chili and cornbread to Lisa & Dave, “Tall Steve”, Robert, Bill, Thomas, “Big Don”, “Don Juan”, Rayburn, Norman, “Stevie”, “Corn Bred”, Jacob and Larry. They handed out warm coats, boots, gloves and other supplies, and prayed with many of my friends. As of today, Lisa & Dave, Tall Steve (R.I.P.), Robert, Bill, Thomas, Don Juan, Norman, Corn Bred, Jacob and Larry are no longer living outdoors! Meanwhile, Big Don (R.I.P.), Rayburn, Stevie remain outdoors.
That gathering led to what we now call Saturday Servings; our weekly community outreach that provides a delicious meal, canned goods & produce, toiletries, medical attention, bikes & bike repairs, clothing, fellowship, Bible study and prayer to 250-300+ struggling neighbors who join us each week, of the 2,067 we’ve documented so far in 2018. We are blessed to have numerous churches and businesses who partner to prepare and serve these vital meals to our hungry neighbors…3,639 meals in 2016…6,469 meals in 2017…11,565 meals in 2018, and 8,099 so far in 2019.
God’s plans for us often don’t match the ones we make for ourselves. His plans are always bigger and better in the long run. Nobody could have foreseen what God had planned for us and those we now serve. I am humbled beyond words by this incredible ministry He has built up around me, and the hundreds of passionate volunteers and donors, and dozens of churches and businesses He yoked with me. And by the 3,000+ who have Liked our Facebook page so far! Thank you all! The Glory is all His!
NOTHING is impossible with God!
Founder & Executive Director