The scraping sound of a grocery cart echoes in the distance as a homeless woman pushes her livelihood down the street. A smile surfaces through her toward a home. A distressed blue door with vintage lace hanging in the window belongs to the house at the end of the street. The door is swung open wide, the sweet smell of breakfast and coffee greet all who enter, and they come every Sunday and throughout the week. The homeless, the marginalized, the alcoholics and drug addicts, the uneducated and the impoverished. They come to the home of Ross and Sandy Cooper, where the couple provides a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a mother and fatherly figure and the comforts of home.
For the last seven years, Sandy, a retired hospice nurse, and Ross, a retired police captain, have opened their home to more than 75 people a week. They provide a place for people to have a meal, fellowship with friends, meet basic needs such as laundry and, most importantly, hear the word of God taught in simple words of truth in love. These individuals represent a different level of commitment to serving the Lord.
“Talk about a way to use your retirement. They are not retiring to a country club, they are retiring to serve God full time,” said Dr. Bruce Prins, professor of biology at California Baptist University.
Prins has known Ross and Sandy since high school. He occasionally volunteers his time to drive one of the four vans the Coopers own to pick up the homeless and those in need and take them to and from The River Church and the Coopers’ home.
“I don’t think it’s different than someone packing up and going to a different country,” Prins said. “It’s not the typical American, Christian thing to do, to say, ‘Whatever is in this house is yours,’ and that’s what they do.”
Ross dances with a little girl during the church service’s worship, her ponytail swaying as he lifts her in the air to the part of the song that says, “So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned.” The little girl giggles and puts her hands in the air.
To Ross’ left, Sandy sits, cradling an infant of a mother to whom they are ministering.
The Coopers love these people as their own family and bring them into the larger body of Christ, the church.
According to the 2013 County Homeless Count, homeless people number approximately 2,978 in Riverside, 2,321 in San Bernardino and 2,883 in Redlands.
To many, this remains a statistic, but Ross and Sandy tangibly act, creating positive change.
While ministry and life happen each day at the Coopers’ residence, Sundays are typically the most eventful.
They feed 75-85 people in their backyard every week, and Sandy says without fail, they have never been in need of food.
They say the Lord always provides the perfect amount from donations. Before the meal, all individuals gather and form a circle, holding hands.
“We hold hands because this may be the only time these people will be touched in a good way, perhaps for many weeks,” Sandy said. “Many individuals experience bad touches but in this moment we hold hands and are strengthened by the bond of Christ that is not easily broken.”
When one is in the trenches of life with people, going through the dark and dirty moments as Ross and Sandy experience, they see miracles happen every day.
At 11 p.m. one day, a homeless man named Michael, to whom they had been ministering, was discharged from prison. He had nowhere to go and called Sandy.
She picked him up, brought him home and gave up their bed so he could have a warm place to sleep for the night.
As Michael tells this story, his eyes well with tears.
“When I got released, I asked Sandy why she was there. She responded by saying, ‘Because you’re worth it, you’re a keeper,’ and ever since then she has called me her ‘keeper.’”
A lifestyle of service is not generally practiced in the main scope of Christianity today. People question the couple, saying they need “boundaries.”
“I don’t think Jesus really had boundaries,” Sandy said. “I don’t think he said he’d had enough. There’s times when I want to say that, but when I think about what Jesus is doing and the ministry with the homeless, these are my brothers and sisters.”