Stereotypes aside: Wichita pastor and homeless man form unique bond


A Wichita pastor and a homeless man have formed a special relationship thanks to a simple act of kindness.

“We know we are doing something for someone besides ourselves,” said New Hope Christian Church Pastor Denny Bell.

Pastor Bell prides herself on giving back to the community.

“It just takes one person with one person, one-on-one, to make a difference,” Bell said.

New Hope Christian Church offers a food pantry to those in need. Thanks to Bell and a group of volunteers, the church also makes and donates sleeping mats to the homeless.

“It makes us feel like we are really doing something, not just occupying a space, we are doing it,” Bell said. 

That feeling of ‘doing it’ really came to fruition about two years ago when a stranger walked into the church’s food pantry.

“The ladies were more than happy to indulge and they asked me who I was and what I do and I said, ‘Well, I was in a previous life a programmer.'” said Brian Downs. “They introduced me to Pastor Denny, who at that moment, was banging her head against a website trying to get things to work.”

Downs immediately offered to help. Within no time, Downs and Bell formed a relationship.

It wasn’t long after that, Bell learned about Downs situation.

“I don’t like to think of myself as homeless. I like to think of myself, I am currently between jobs and between homes,” Downs said.

Downs, 55, is a 911 survivor. He is a former administrative assistant at the World Trade Center.

He moved in with his sister in Wichita about four years ago. After about two years, his brother-in-law kicked him out. Since then, he’s been living on the streets of Wichita.

“It’s been a real learning experience the past two years,” Downs said.

After Downs visited the church’s food pantry several times, Pastor Bell offered him a hand-made sleeping mat made of more than 500 plastic bags.

Church Secretary Velinda Johnson spent countless hours crocheting the mat.

KSN asked Johnson why she volunteers to create the mats.

“I’m doing something that is helping someone else,” Johnson said. “These are making a difference.”

“To come here and have the church not only give me a sleeping bag, but a mat to go with it, I thought was extraordinary,” Downs explained.

Since receiving his mat, Downs has attended church services and continued to help the church with its website.

Pastor Bell said Downs has made a lasting impression on her.

“He’s educated me without even trying to that people who are homeless are invisible. They don’t exist.” Bell said. “It’s interesting because when people meet someone that’s homeless, there’s also a trust issue and he helped step over that boundary here and helped people see him as a person.”

Downs said he’s grateful for the church particularly Bell’s continued kindness and understanding of his situation.

“I have just been blown away by how much they care and how much they give,” Downs said. “I was lost without them and they have been able to help me get my feet, well not quite back on my feet, but I’m getting up on my feet.”

“He’s part of my family. He got adopted,” Bell said. 

A group of volunteers come together once a month to sort the bags, cut them, link them and then crochet them together.

Downs said he’s had a difficult time finding work because he doesn’t have his birth certificate. Therefore, he can’t get an issued government ID. 

Bell and several other services in Wichita are helping Downs get his birth certificate.

He hopes to find a permanent place to live and work in the near future.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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