St. Anne Parishioner credits a parachuting ‘miracle’ for his ministry
By Debbi Elmore
Twenty-two years ago, while on vacation in Honolulu, Bob Johnson turned his back on a homeless man, but not before making clear his disdain for the beggar. As Johnson left the alley, though, the memory of the man’s piercing blue eyes stayed with him.
A few months later, while sky-diving, Johnson experienced a moment of horror when his main parachute failed. He pulled the cord on the reserve chute – nothing happened. As he resigned himself to death, he recalled those piercing blue eyes. Moments later, just 200 yards from earth, the reserve chute deployed and Johnson knew what God had called him to do.
For the 22 years since his “miracle,” Johnson has been on the streets of Wichita every day seeking out those without homes to bring them food, warmth and, most important, friendship. He sets a pace for himself that few would try to emulate: he works the evening shift, arrives home shortly before midnight, posts his messages on Facebook, sleeps for a couple of hours, and is up early to hit the streets.
His first day out, he found several men huddled over the ducts on the sidewalk in freezing temperatures.
“I asked myself, what if that was me? I went to McDonald’s, got some warm sandwiches and hot coffee. As I went back, these men were so cold and hungry they took the sandwiches and coffee and threw the blankets back over their heads and began to eat their breakfast.”
Out of the corner of his eye Johnson said he saw a lone figure, propped up against the building.
“He was an older man and reminded me of that guy in Hawaii and really looked like him too, but I knew it wasn’t. He just looked straight down, looking as though he had lost all hope in himself and the rest of the human race.”
The homeless man didn’t reply after Johnson asked him about whether he was hungry, so Johnson, a member of St. Anne Parish, Wichita, put a couple sandwiches on his lap, unwrapped them, put a cup of hot coffee by his side, and waited.
The man didn’t look up, Johnson said, but after a couple minutes he began to eat. “After two or three bites he looked up at me and eyed me really suspiciously. Then I saw the tears well up in his eyes and he muttered one word, ‘Why?’
“I went over to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Because I care!’ He immediately began to cry uncontrollably, got up, and hugged me. I started to cry and it was so cold it felt like the tears were literally freezing on our faces. Then he looked at me with a gaze that pierced the very depths of my soul and said, ‘I love you, brother, thank you for giving me hope in a world without hope!’ I was hooked and I now knew what my life’s calling was.”
Johnson ministered to the homeless alone for many years, stretching his meager salary to supply what he could for those on the streets. Recently, he founded a Facebook page, “Let’s Rock ‘n Roll and Change the World,” and is busy recruiting others to his cause.
He is slowly building a group of volunteers who assist him on weekends by bringing soups, sandwiches, homemade treats, warm clothing, and other items. He also works closely with the Homeless Outreach Team of the Wichita Police Department, formed to help get homeless people off the streets.
In addition to recruiting volunteers and donations of food and warm clothing, Johnson recently lived for three days on the streets of Wichita as a homeless person. He visits two churches each weekend to see how a homeless person is received, dressed in his trademark T-shirt which reads, “Jesus was homeless.”
Johnson says his main goal is to give a face to the homeless. He says each has a unique story which has caused a change in his or her life circumstances.
“When I had my skydiving accident and subsequent near-death experience a short time later, my eyes were opened,” Johnson says, expressing a prayer:
“Please forgive me because I really didn’t know. I can’t take back what I did. I can only say I’m sorry. You made me see the inexpressible value of each human soul. That day so many years ago set in motion the drive, the passion, the desire to help. You, dear sir, taught me how to love and for that I am eternally grateful. I seek only now to sow love instead of hate, joy instead of sorrow, light instead of darkness.”