Thrive
Podcast

Overview

Keith Wasserman, founder and executive director of Good Works, Inc., in Ohio joins me on the podcast today. We talk about his God-given calling that led him to found Good Works Inc., and his experiences of being homeless by choice. Good Works is designed to connect people from all walks of life who are struggling with poverty, so that the kingdom of God can be experienced. We talk about the importance of relationships, practical ways to help others, and ways to develop a disposition of a learner. We also find out about the many offerings they have and how you can get involved.

Let’s listen!

 

Keith Wasserman, Founder and Executive Director of Good Works, Inc.

Keith Wasserman founded Good Works, Inc. in 1981 and is now in his 40th year working with people who struggle with homelessness and poverty in rural Ohio. He is committed to loving God and neighbors as a community. He frequently speaks about ways to engage others who struggle with poverty through relationships in churches, community groups, and on college campuses. In order to better understand homelessness, he has chosen to be homeless on 11 different occasions. You can read more about that in his blog post.

He graduated from Ohio University with a degree in mental health in 1981 and has attended Asbury Seminary on 10 different occasions over the past 35 years. He received an Honorary Doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2012. He and his wife of 38 years, Darlene, have one son, Timothy.

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast. I’m your host, Heidi E. Wilcox bringing you conversations with authors, thought leaders, and people just like you who are looking to connect where your passion and the world’s deep means connect.

Heidi Wilcox:
Today, on the podcast, I’m really excited to get to talk to Keith Wasserman, founder and executive director of Good Works Incorporated in Ohio. We talk about his God-given calling that led him to found Good Works and his experiences and being homeless by choice. Good Works is designed to connect people from all walks of life who are struggling with poverty so that the kingdom of God can be experienced.

Heidi Wilcox:
In today’s conversation, we talk about the importance of relationship, practical ways to help others and ways to develop a disposition of a learner. We also find out the many offerings they have to help others, and how we can get involved. Let’s listen.

Heidi Wilcox:
Keith, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast. I’ve been looking forward to our conversation for several weeks now, ever since we started going back and forth to set this up. I’m really grateful that the moment is finally here and that we get to talk.

Keith Wasserman:
Me too.

Heidi Wilcox:
I want to start out by getting to know a little bit about you, and because you are the founder and executive director of Good Works incorporated. Just start out, tell me a little bit about Good Works, and what that is and how you got started.

Keith Wasserman:
We read in scripture where there is no vision, the people perish or the people are unrestrained. Then, we read in the New Testament that in the last days, God will pour out God’s Spirit and young men will see visions, and older men or women will dream dreams.

Keith Wasserman:
I didn’t experience this until I began this ministry and then it hit me, but this is a very vision-driven. We’ve never been need driven. I’m just back up a little bit to the beginning. I became a follower of Jesus in high school. I am Jewish. I grew up in the Jewish capital of Ohio which at the time was Cleveland Heights.

Keith Wasserman:
I never met a Christian in the 16 years I lived there. I came to follow Jesus in a little town called Centerville. I renamed it the Land of the Gentiles. I heard the gospel for the first time. Well, I’m not going to go into more detail there. My life was transformed, and I graduated high school which was a miracle because I was a drug addict between the age of 12 and 17.

Keith Wasserman:
I came to college, and I knew God had called me to do something with my life. I just continued to immerse myself in Scripture and in Christian community. Out of that came this intense desire to do something with my faith. I had bought a house. We remodeled the basement, and we were just ready to do with that resource whatever God called us to do, and it turned out we were right at the beginning of what we would later call the homeless.

Keith Wasserman:
At the time we started in the basement of my house in the fall of 1980, we opened January 1, 1981, none of us had heard the word the homeless. We don’t use that word anymore today, but that was the situation, and we were in a rural context. I had read Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman. It began to just seep into my soul, and I began select men to live with me, and we did this as a volunteer project.

Keith Wasserman:
I was a volunteer operating this thing for the first three years just volunteering my time, and I was running on zeal and joy and energy. It’s always been a privilege, but I felt privileged to have people come in at that time, and we were caring for them. We were providing them with food and shelter. We were learning so much, and I’ll pause there.

Heidi Wilcox:
Tell me about because I don’t think of rural Ohio as having a large homeless population. Why did you pick that area?

Keith Wasserman:
I went to school here in Athens, Ohio at Ohio University. This was kind of my senior class project. I had gotten permission from my professors to do an internship by creating the space in my home. There wasn’t a visible problem, and we’ve never been need-driven. We’ve always been vision-driven. A lot of the initiatives we’re doing today came out of a vision.

Keith Wasserman:
We were the first organization in our community to start a public meal. There was no such thing going on. Later, we started the thing called the Transformation Station. A lot of what we’re doing, and we’re the first or maybe the oldest rural shelter in Ohio. I don’t know how far you go back before 1981.

Keith Wasserman:
These were the just the joy and the energy and the dreams that we begin to form with structure, and it’s been good. It’s been fruitful.

Heidi Wilcox:
It sounds like it. Just tell us in a nutshell what is the Good Works Community?

Keith Wasserman:
The mission of Good Works is to connect people from all walks of life with people struggling with poverty so that the Kingdom of God can be experienced. It’s audacious because it’s not that the Kingdom of God can be read about or talked about or discussed, but the vision is for the actual experience of the reign and rule of God in people’s lives.

Keith Wasserman:
We have a lot of people that we are praying this to happen, and it’s happening. It’s really exciting to me just this morning. We had a story of a volunteer that’s working with our kids’ program that asked to come to church with one of our staff. That’s not the only mechanism, but that’s one mechanism of connecting to a community.

Keith Wasserman:
We’re seeing people impacted and the broad vision of Good Works is to care for widows and children, and what I would describe as the cross-fire of poverty and parenting and to create a space to care for people without homes. The old language was the homeless. Again, we don’t use that language anymore. Language is very, very important to us. Choosing language that builds bridges rather than walls is really important to us.

Heidi Wilcox:
Can you talk a little bit about the importance of language, and how we can use that to build bridges with other people?

Keith Wasserman:
Sure. I was having lunch with Kevin, and we’re actually eating at Chipotle, and he says, “I’m homeless.” I said, “Kevin.” I looked him in the eye and said, “Kevin, you are not homeless.” He looks back at me. He says, “Well, I’m living in your shelter.”

Keith Wasserman:
I said, “Kevin.” I’m smiling now. I said, “Kevin, you’re not homeless.” I said, “Kevin, you’re a man who right now is without a home.” I say that to say that we must separate what’s happened to people from reinforcing an identity that the world gives them. You may remember in James 1:26 and 27 that the writer says, “Pure religion in the sight of God our Father is to visit widows and orphans in their distress.”

Keith Wasserman:
Many people stop there, but the rest of the phrase says this, “and to keep oneself unstained or unpolluted by the world.” I think the world can stain our language, and we will unintentionally use phrases that we have inherited that are just not dignifying, not honoring, and can be reinforcing a negative stigma.

Keith Wasserman:
For example, you and I would never say, “Oh, yeah. This is Bill, my disabled friend.” We would never do that anymore. We would say, “Hi. Look at my friend, Bill, who has a disability.” There are myriad of examples of how we do this particularly as we’re talking about people in poverty, and I’m very much more reluctant to use the word the poor.

Keith Wasserman:
I know it’s in scripture, but I’m trying to find a language. We back off from using the phrase we serve widows. We serve older women who are in a season of life, many of who have lost their husbands. Well, that’s a much longer phrase, but it’s much more dignified.

Heidi Wilcox:
I love thinking about how we can use language to give dignity to other people and also hope to them as well.

Keith Wasserman:
The gospel, if it’s really good news, will bring dignity. I don’t want to minimize the power of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction because that’s clearly what happens, but the way in which we carry out mission should be infused with dignity. Our culture has slipped into some thinking patterns which I think are very unhealthy.

Keith Wasserman:
For example, I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. Well, that’s good. I was sick, and you came to me or you visited me. Well, Jesus puts both of those on an equal plane, but in our modern day culture, we would tend to lean into the doing for and providing and somehow being more important when it’s not. When it’s not. Actually, we have these three concepts. They’re not original. They’re called do for, do with, and be with.

Keith Wasserman:
A lot of us are caught in the trap of thinking about loving others in the “do-for” mentality. Can I get you something? Are you comfortable? Is there anything else I can do for you? Some people get stuck there.

Keith Wasserman:
Now, realize it may be a starting place, but in the kingdom economy, let’s not get stuck there. We’ve created innumerable ways in our ministry for people to do things with others. I can talk specifically about that if you want, but the third, of course, is “being with”. In the kingdom economy, the Scripture teach us, and there’s the living word and the written word, that being with people is not less significant than doing things for them. We create space again to just value being.

Heidi Wilcox:
Let’s talk about that like how you create space to move from “the doing” forward to the “doing with”, and the “being with”.

Keith Wasserman:
We operate a home for people who have no place to live. We’re the only home in eight or nine counties here in rural Ohio. This is our 40th year of doing this. I will tell you I’ve learned more through failure than through success.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow, that’s awesome.

Keith Wasserman:
But God has given us grace, and we’ve never had a dishwasher. Using the ethic of inefficiency which I can talk about later, we do the dishes rather than put them into a dishwasher. That means that several people have to work together. We have volunteers and residents and staff. We make this a part of the meal. It’s not less important than the preparation, but we use that as a means by which we get to know each other. And we’re focused on the dishes.

Keith Wasserman:
We’re not focused on each other. The each other conversation is more on the periphery. Well, there are many examples that we have of doing things with each other. I can give you another one. It takes a little bit of a backstory, but Good Works has a program we call the Transformation Station where we invite people to get five things that they need. They are furniture, appliances, bicycles, non-emergency food, and automobiles.

Keith Wasserman:
This is the 15th year. We just provided car number 185 last Thursday. This is a sweat equity initiative. Someone will call us. They’ll say, “I heard I could get a car.” They’re going on a waiting list, and then, their time comes up. Then, we invite them to come and serve. What they do is they join us as we’re serving others.

Keith Wasserman:
Bill, who may know how to fix a lawnmower or use his skills to fix a lawnmower, and he will go out with Jeffrey. Well, Jeffrey is volunteering from Powell United Methodist Church in Powell, Ohio outside of Columbus. The two of them are working on that lawnmower together for Mrs. Jones whose lawnmower is broken.

Keith Wasserman:
Together, they are serving someone else. This concept of “do with” is critical because it helps people see that they have something to contribute. They’re not just the object of our ministry. They’re not just our project, and I’ll just give you an old phrase God spoke to me years ago. I’ve not given you projects in poverty. I’ve given you people.

Keith Wasserman:
“Do with” is riddled and woven into everything we do. Let me just say along with that comes the business of mutuality. Mutuality is a significant achievement that we pray for in all of our relationships as we cross the lines of class and race, and someone said, “Well, maybe the most subversive act you will do this week is to sit down and eat with someone who’s not like you.”

Keith Wasserman:
We’re constantly crossing the lines of class and race, and we want to do it in a way that gives people dignity and a way that opens the door for mutuality. Because something happens particularly in the transmission of the Gospel, in my view, when we have some forms of mutuality in the relationship, it’s not just…

Keith Wasserman:
Now, let me just veer off and tell you I’ve chosen to be without a home in 11 cities in my life. I was what we call Homeless by Choice. I had to sit through sermons in many of those places as a condition of eating my meal. To me, that was very uncomfortable. It robbed me of a sense of dignity. Many of those situations nothing I could do.

Keith Wasserman:
I was just the recipient, and I think we can create forms of ministry where you’re just not left as the recipient. I know we have to start there sometimes, but you’re not left there. I better pause because you may have a follow-up.

Heidi Wilcox:
I really love that because I think at least for me, I oftentimes just think about doing for, so I’m really grateful to just have the thought about doing with and to be able to think about learning from other people that maybe I sometimes think about just doing for, but seeing the gift that they also bring to the table…

Keith Wasserman:
But let me back up a little further.

Heidi Wilcox:
…or things like that.

Keith Wasserman:
If you’re stuck in the do for, again a lot of people start there. There’s nothing wrong with there. A lot of our relationships that’s just where they start, but if you’re stuck there, then you realize that power is on your side. You’re the good person doing something for someone else.

Keith Wasserman:
What we’ve got to think through in our relationships as we’re building community across the lines of class, and we’re carrying this in our soul. Lord, how can I tell them about you? How can I explain to you the transformation that has happened in my life? Where is the door? I can talk about our philosophy of witness in just few minutes.

Keith Wasserman:
But as you’re at this threshold, you want to remember that you need to take opportunity to release your power as much as you can because power is good. Yet, those who deny they have it are dangerous. We oftentimes get a lot of good feelings by what we do for other people.

Keith Wasserman:
Initially, there’s nothing wrong with that and accept that it becomes maybe an addiction or the reason why we continue, but there is a messiness as we get in to “do with” and as we get in to “be with” that makes most of us very uncomfortable. It is an awkwardness, and we all have to go through this if we’re going to have a breakthrough in these relationships.

Heidi Wilcox:
For sure. What does what does “being with” look like in a relationship because it sounds like, and I may be wrong, so feel free to correct me, but it sounds like when you start with “do for” most of the time move to “do with” and then end with “be with”, so what does that look like?

Keith Wasserman:
Sometimes, that process can happen in just a short period of time. Today, we have a group which hosts around 20 or 30 different short-term mission teams from all over the United States. We have a group today from Illinois. They’re doing some things at one of our senior homes, and it’s intentional that maybe one or two people are just “being with”. They’re just visiting.

Keith Wasserman:
Now, sometimes, the person will participate in what we’re doing. They want to and we want to create space for that. Other times, they’re in bed, or they’re unable to get up. It’s really important that we create space. It’s a key word in my vocabulary, create space for God to work, and that we set this time aside, and we’re just listening and being and we’re learning.

Keith Wasserman:
Our primary identity should be learners. Wherever you go however long you’ve been doing this, and I’ve been doing this a long time, our primary identity should be learners. We should be teachable. Now, there are five things that I would say we’re mining for or searching or trying to learn in these relationships.

Keith Wasserman:
I would coach these volunteers to look for these things. In other words, as you enter into conversations and you’re “being with”, look for these five things. Number one, learn about the history of the people and the values and the history of the region you’re in, like, we’re in Appalachia. Learn about the values of the people. Learn about the beauty of this region. Learn about their needs. Of course, learn about the people.

Keith Wasserman:
But you’ve got to sequence your conversation. You can’t just dive into that. You have to hold those five things, history, value, needs, people, beauty in your heart and wait for the conversation to move in that direction. Then, ask inquisitive questions. Then, of course, don’t be afraid to talk about you. This is a two-way street. If you come as a learner, chances are, you’re going to learn something.

Heidi Wilcox:
How have you seen Good Works bring hope to the variety of people that you’re working with?

Keith Wasserman:
These are very intuitive. They’re difficult to measure. I resist sometimes the antidotes and stories. I actually can’t keep up. There are so many ways in which we are present with people.

Heidi Wilcox:
No doubt.

Keith Wasserman:
We’re fixing things. Just to clarify, God has not called us to fix people. God has called us to love people, but we do fix things. We suffer with people. We tolerate, and we put up with things. I’m not suggesting anyone should put up with abuse. Never. Verbal abuse, never, but there are days in which we tolerate a lot because we look at the pain and the suffering that people are going through when they’re without a home, and they’ve lost their connecting points. They don’t have any income and all the variables that go along with that.

Keith Wasserman:
They’re suffering. Long-suffering is a fruit of the Spirit, but there is clearly suffering as one of the ways that we eventually get to the place of hope, but honestly, it starts with listening. I mean we don’t have answers we come with eyes to observe and hearts to listen. It takes time. I would just offer you that listening is an act of worship.

Keith Wasserman:
Good Works is a paradigm of worship. I could talk about that if you want to later, but listening is one clear way in which we express our worship. You and I have talked to people who go on and on and on, and you’re looking for the exit or you’re looking for a pause and you want to say take a breath.

Keith Wasserman:
I have found over the years that, and I just had one of these recently that the best thing to do is say, “Lord, this is for you. I’m listening.” It’s in listening that we find that place that we can offer, sometimes not all the time, that we can offer words and compassion and empathy that ultimately leads to hope.

Keith Wasserman:
Those are just things I’ve experienced over time, but there is long-suffering. There is awkwardness. This isn’t like a simple methodology that you can prescribe to someone.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. For sure. It sounds a lot like it’s built on just relationships and getting to know people.

Keith Wasserman:
Yes. Let me extract a few principles from Luke 4. Jesus of course, and most of your listeners will know. he stands up in the synagogue to read from Isaiah. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me or upon me. The Lord has anointed me to preach or bring good news to the poor.”

Keith Wasserman:
In Good Works, we try to unpack that with some questions. Then, we have what I call best practices. The questions are, number one, who are the poor? Again, I’m not fond of that phrase, but I’m using it in this context. Who are the people that struggle with too much month left over at the end of their income? They may be employed part-time, but who are they?

Keith Wasserman:
Let’s start with their first and last names because until we get to people and names, we’re bordering on objectifying. Then secondly, what is it that they struggle with? Do we even want to know what SNAP is? For example, there are 400 people in the county that I live in, and they’re going to be cut off from SNAP on April 1st.

Keith Wasserman:
I try to follow this. What is HUD? What is SNAP? What is WIC? What are the terms that a lot of people in poverty know about and struggle with? Can we become familiar with them that in order to become familiar with the particulars? I will tell you the transportation is a number one issue that often separates urban poverty from rural poverty making rural poverty worse.

Keith Wasserman:
If you did not grow up with transportation, you have a whole different sense of time. That’s a tangent. We can go back to that. First question is who are the poor, and then what do they struggle with? The next question is what is the gospel?

Keith Wasserman:
I say well what is the good news that we can convey to them in the particular context in which we’re living? People in rural Appalachia, there are some other ways to think about this and maybe in an urban area or maybe in Brazil. You have to find the context, understand it to know the best practices. Who are the poor? What do they struggle with? What is the Gospel?

Keith Wasserman:
Then the last of these questions is just how do we bring it? What are our methodologies? Our methodologies, are we following them or are we innovative and creative with these methodologies? Now, if I could just go on a tangent with you before you get to the four best practices, my favorite New Testament stories…

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh sure.

Keith Wasserman:
… is in Mark 2 where these four guys bring their friend to Jesus. Most of your listeners know the story. The line is long. The sun’s going down. One of the four gets an idea. You know what the idea is? I have an idea. Let’s not wait in line. Let’s take him through the roof. The one guy has to persuade the other three to do something they’ve never done before, probably never done, I’m assuming.

Keith Wasserman:
He has to kinda persuade them, but they’re all moved by the desperation to get their friend to Jesus. The end of this is they want their friend to hear Jesus say, “Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to say rise up and walk?” They don’t know that, but that’s really the end that we want for the people we’re learning to love.

Keith Wasserman:
Now, one guy’s got to persuade the other three. Who knows how that conversation went? One guy might have said, “Well, this is Bob’s house.” Bob, I’ll never hear the end of this.” But, eventually, they all four of them had to do this for it to work. They went up. They took their paralyzed friend. They put him through the roof. They broke all the rules. There are times to break rules particularly when we’re trying to get someone to a place where they could hear Jesus say, “Which is easier?”

Keith Wasserman:
But they had risk. This is one of the essential qualities that I pray that I would continue to have. Secondly, they had innovation. Thirdly, they had ingenuity. Lastly, they had creativity. These are the characteristics of ministry that connects people. I just go off on this tangent before I tell you these four best practices because you said relationships are really important. Yes, the first of the four best practices is this. It is about relationship, not program.

Keith Wasserman:
We’re asking, “How do we build these relationships?” Well, this word that I’m using diminish trust or will it build trust? Well, these actions that I’m taking, will they diminish trust or will they build trust? Well, why is that important because trust is the second most important ingredient that goes in the best practices. It’s first about relationship.

Keith Wasserman:
I have a whole essay on this called the continuum of maturity. It’s second about building trust, and how could we build higher and higher levels of trust? Why is this important? Because, eventually, we’re going to plant the seed of the good news of the gospel which is a person. We’re going to introduce them to a person. The higher level of trust you have, the more likely that seed is to bear fruit.

Keith Wasserman:
Thirdly, let me see if I get these in the right order, is this an environment where somehow the recipients can leave their old identity and graduate and become a participant in some way? Because that’s one of the best practice. Are we creating a structure? Or do we have to keep people in that, “Oh, yeah, you’re the poor person that I’m supposed to minister to today.” How are we building bridges for people to come on their old identity as poor and needy into a new identity which we use a phrase volunteer in our ministry?

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. You’re leading me right into my next question. What about the philosophy of witness and how does that relate to the best practices that you just shared with us?

Keith Wasserman:
With sharing our faith, we have a couple very basic entry points that we encourage our staff and volunteers to start with. The first is tell them your story because if you don’t have a story, you got a problem. There’s always a story. We know in Revelation they overcame by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. There’s always a story. Keep that in mind as we go to these four principles.

Keith Wasserman:
Number one, earn the right to speak. Don’t assume that your title or position or credentials somehow gives you a right to talk to somebody about your faith. You earn that right. That’s through some interaction.

Keith Wasserman:
Number two, get permission. Because we’re working with people who are very vulnerable and who often fear that where their next meal is coming from or where they’re going to stay tonight maybe dependent upon them giving the correct answer. Get permission. Ask if it would be okay if you share your story.

Keith Wasserman:
If they say, no, well then, number three is use respect. If people don’t feel respected, then you’re not going to have much fruit in the relationship. Respect is a non-negotiable. Then lastly, assume God is at work in this relationship way before you ever met this person. Your question for me, “Lord, how can I further your work?”

Heidi Wilcox:
What have you found in Good Works to be the relationship between loving God and loving our neighbor like Jesus talks about in the Bible?

Keith Wasserman:
Well, I would say… I could probably do this in a song. It might be more impactful. The two are mystically interrelated and inseparable. (singing) It doesn’t happen that way. It just doesn’t. We are always loving God when we’re loving our neighbor. When we’re loving God, we think we’re like just me and the Lord together. God is working in this this grace to expand our perspective of the Kingdom of God in loving our neighbors. The two are very, very inseparable.

Keith Wasserman:
I don’t want to diminish the importance of solitude, the importance of quiet time, the importance of time set aside just to be alone with God. That’s essential. I tell our community those are non-negotiable. If you don’t have that in your life, you’re going to get into a situation that’s going to be a problem for you.

Keith Wasserman:
Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” This is John 15. Well, I might challenge that right now. I would offer that if we’re not abiding and we have power over in relationships and we have a lot of responsibility and we make a lot of decisions, apart from him, we can create a disaster.

Keith Wasserman:
I think that I’m trying to keep this in balance. We need those essential times with God, but ultimately, there is a mystical line between loving God and loving people. It gets even more mystical when Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another as I have loved you.” Of course, you’re taking the experience of what you’ve experienced from Christ in your own life, and you’re transferring it. That’s never sequential like that. That’s my first attempt to answer the question.

Heidi Wilcox:
It sounds like that we cannot love God as we were meant to love God outside of community. Would you say that’s an accurate statement?

Keith Wasserman:
It feels exactly accurate, but I don’t ever want to absolutize that. I see through a glass dimly.

Heidi Wilcox:
No.

Keith Wasserman:
Yeah. I had this thing about absolute.

Heidi Wilcox:
For sure. But I do-

Keith Wasserman:
…absolutes in opinions. I have a very strong opinion that I believe absolutely. That is that I don’t have to have an opinion on everything. I hope you got that.

Heidi Wilcox:
No. For sure. For sure. But what is the importance of community in our relationship with God?

Keith Wasserman:
Jesus said, “I will build my church, my Christian community.” He never said, “I will build my individual Christians.” We realize the fullness of God in community. We have many different gifts and abilities, but we get the best picture of who Christ is through the body of Christ.

Keith Wasserman:
If I could just go on another tangent with you, the idea of being the body of Christ in the world really appeals to me. I’m not sure that that can happen in the current paradigm of church meetings. I think that we must learn how to function as the body. That means we make mistakes. We say, “I’m sorry.” There isn’t anyone that’s perfect. We try hard to do better.

Keith Wasserman:
The realization of who Christ Jesus is, is experienced in the functioning of the body of Christ. If I could just say in the world for the world, for the glory of God, and obviously, I had more to say about community. I worked with Dr. Christine Pohl along with 20 others on this book that was written and produced in 2012 called Living in the Community. It’s all about the four practices, gratitude, hospitality, truth-telling and promise-keeping.

Keith Wasserman:
We have done a lot in that arena in our community here working very, very intentionally around practices related to gratitude and hospitality and truth-telling which is always hard, and promise-keeping.

Heidi Wilcox:
It was kind of breaking up because we’re doing this online. It was kind of breaking up at the end. I didn’t hear what you said about you could talk more about something related to community and something like that.

Keith Wasserman:
Well, community is hard. It’s all about working through relationships. Your brokenness comes up. Ultimately, we have to be have a willing spirit to work through the difficult times. There’s times of celebration. There’s times of suffering. I find that the work of community is also an act of worship. We have times of celebration, and we have times of working through difficulty. We have times of serving others together, but it’s hard for me to read Jesus’s phrase, I will build my church and even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, without reading the phrase, I will build my Christian community.

Keith Wasserman:
I’d like to use the phrase ordinary people through whom God can do extraordinary things. Our role, all of us if we’re in the community, is to yield, is to have a yielded spirit, a teachable spirit. I was just sharing this with our community this morning how important it is for all of us to just continue to maintain a teachable spirit.

Keith Wasserman:
One of our deep values is the unity of the body which is in my view the answer to the prayers of God that they may be one. In Ephesians 4, we read that God has given the body unity. It’s a gift. It’s our job to preserve it. It takes work to preserve the unity that God has given us as a gift. It’s always the work of humility and forbearance and bearing with one another, and God will give us grace if we’re willing to choose humility instead of pride.

Keith Wasserman:
One thing I know for certain from Scripture, God opposes the proud. Well, I’ll just keep that in the back of my mind when work through these things, but as we choose humility and as we choose to yield, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have responsibility. We don’t have jobs to do. This is the way we carry those things out.

Keith Wasserman:
How do you know whether you have a teachable spirit or whether you actually have humility? You and I don’t know. We really don’t know.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. I’m glad you asked that.

Keith Wasserman:
Yeah, until someone comes along and wants to admonish us or correct us or even rebuke us. Then, you’ll know whether what’s going on in your heart, what’s going on in your soul. You’ll touch your own resistance. You’ll touch your own brokenness. I think this is essential for the community to grow in the awareness.

Keith Wasserman:
In the Proverbs, we read a rebuke to a wise man is better than a hundred lashes to a fool. I think we’re supposed to welcome that. Now, again, there are some qualities here. You want to know that you’re getting a rebuke from someone that you trust, that loves you, that you feel safe with. These are important qualities. I’m not suggesting we should be able to navigate people we don’t know as well as people we do.

Keith Wasserman:
But one of the evidences of whether I really have humility is how I respond when someone wants to admonish me or even rebuke me and what’s going on inside me. This is an essential part of building community. Those are just some things that sit in the background of truth-telling as we practice it here.

Heidi Wilcox:
What if as you’re going through life and you want a teachable spirit, but you realize that you don’t have one, then what do you do? How do you get a teachable spirit?

Keith Wasserman:
Well, I certainly don’t feel like I’m the expert on this. There’s probably some brokenness in there somewhere. There is some hurt. Sometimes, there’s an incident someone could have been traumatized. There’s something to go back and have to examine and work on in the presence of God and another person, and the presence of God and another person, and to begin to talk about those things.

Keith Wasserman:
Those are hard and painful, but oftentimes, that’s at the root or fear is at the root. In other words, we think well the last person that yelled at me and screamed at me and called me names. I’m afraid that you might do that too. Those are legitimate issues but sometimes, I don’t mean to be over-simplistic here, it’s an advance repentance.

Keith Wasserman:
Lord, just forgive me and I asked for grace here, to make a turn here because there’s something in me that is just resisting. It could be the personality or the way they’re coming to me, or it could be something in me. There’s a lot of different variables, but I think God wants us, as the psalmist writes: “A broken and contrite heart Oh, God, you will not despise”.

Keith Wasserman:
I think it’s important that we seek to cultivate. That’s one of my daily prayers: “Lord, help me to choose humility today instead of pride.” God can work grace in us around these matters if we are willing.

Heidi Wilcox:
I want to talk a little bit now, this is backing up to going back to Good Works specifically, but you’ve talked a little bit about some of the initiatives that you guys offer. I know you have several, but could you just run through? I don’t know if you want to do all of them or just pick a handful and just talk to us a little bit about some of those.

Keith Wasserman:
Like a lot of organizations, depending on who is counting, we could have 20 of these different initiatives. We have the Transformation Station. We have Friday Night Life. If someone is listening to go to the web page, they can read about these. I can see videos on these. We have work retreats which are short-term mission teams. We have the Timothy House.

Keith Wasserman:
These are some of our larger initiatives. Many of our volunteers, we have about 1100 volunteers. A lot of our volunteers run some of these larger initiatives. We went through nine years of an agricultural initiative we call Good Works Gardens. We’re not doing that this year. We’re praying God’s going to send us somebody that would serve in that arena.

Keith Wasserman:
These are the larger initiatives. Friday Night Life began in 1993. We’re about to celebrate the beginning of the 28th year of a community coming together for a meal. We start at 4:30. It ends at 7:30. It’s a three-hour tour. We do this every Friday night, 52 weeks a year. It’s amazing. It’s a phenomenon. We have tons of teens that come not because they have to come, because they want to come.

Keith Wasserman:
God is doing an amazing work there with our volunteers and our staff and our sponsors. It is subversive because we’re constantly bringing together “the haves” and the “have-nots” in the community with each other. It’s really inspiring to me to see it. I’m there most weeks. It’s full of humor. We celebrate people’s birthdays. We write our own birthday song. There’s education. We have this series we’re doing right now called Talk to a Nurse.

Keith Wasserman:
It’s a whole phenomenon of experience. We hold it six months of the year outside picnic-style. We hold it six months of the year inside. I could say more. It’s really amazing. I find a lot of joy. It’s very intergenerational. The oldest person to come is 95. We just celebrated his birthday two weeks ago. The youngest is probably under a year old.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow.

Keith Wasserman:
It’s like a congregation, and people get older and they pass away. There’s somewhere between two and 300 people that participate over the course of the year of which fortunately not more than 120 to 150 come every week, but it’s really our connecting point.

Keith Wasserman:
We don’t use a lot of power in that structure. We don’t have a lot of control over what people say. We create structure, but it’s really cool what happens. That’s a big initiative. I’m happy to answer a question on that or I can go on to another one.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. No. That sounds awesome. Feel free to go on to another initiative.

Keith Wasserman:
The Transformation Station, the term we use today, I’m not sure if I was naming it today if I’d use the same term, but we started about 15 years ago because I was really wanting to answer a question related to the third way. Our culture, it seems like if you’re going to help people who are struggling with poverty, you either give them stuff or you sell them stuff.

Keith Wasserman:
I knew there was something more. We created this concept. We borrowed from Habitat for Humanity called Sweat Equity. We borrowed from broadcasting the concept called Thank You Gifts. We combine these. We cross pollinated these ideas. Now, people volunteer time in exchange for their time. I looted this a little while ago. They get points in exchange for the points. They get a car. They get a bicycle. They can get a washing machine.

Keith Wasserman:
They sign up. They call. We do an application. They come in face to face. We do an orientation. We move them from an old identity called Needy to a new identity called Volunteer. This is profound. This is substantial. It’s significant. When they arrive and they work alongside other volunteers. Then, they do things that are related to their skills and abilities things that give them joy. They may be cutting the grass.

Keith Wasserman:
They could be cooking. It could be, as I said earlier, fixing a lawnmower. They could be painting. We try to form opportunities that relate to people’s skills and abilities by giving them a sense of dignity and opportunity to serve others.

Keith Wasserman:
I think I said this, we just provide a car number 185. That’s 185 families who donated cars to us. It’s really amazing.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s amazing.

Keith Wasserman:
None of them have come from dealerships. Some of those have come from Wilmore, thankfully. If you know anyone that would like to donate a car we would be delighted. The cars go to the people and its just amazing. This program continues to thrive, just continues to thrive.

Heidi Wilcox:
Let’s do a couple more initiatives, maybe the Timothy House, because I would love to learn more about that.

Keith Wasserman:
We started caring for people without homes in my home. As I said, I volunteer for the first three years. Then, the fourth year, we received a staggering $300 a month which was a lot of money back in 1983 or ’84.

Keith Wasserman:
We moved out of my house in end of ’84. We purchased this property on the west side of Athens. We didn’t name that building the Timothy House until years later. We continued to provide a safe, these are key phrases here, clean, temporary place for people who are experiencing homelessness here in a rural segment of Ohio.

Keith Wasserman:
This is really important to a safe, clean, temporary, very stable that is predictable. We create a structure there. We have forms there. We’re caring for men, women, and children. We have several teenagers right now with their mom and several single adults men and women. We do our best to love them.

Keith Wasserman:
Involved in that is a high level of accountability, good communication. We have a zero tolerance for unprescribed medication, but we try to work with people. People often ask, “Well, do you have a length of stay?” We’ve never had a length of stay. The state tried to dictate one to us once. That just didn’t work. We have a different metric that we use to move people. I’ll just tell you briefly what they are.

Keith Wasserman:
Number one, have they been deceiving us or have they been honest with themselves and us? We take hours to unpack what that means, but let’s just say that the woman at the well who Jesus said you’ve had five husbands and the one you’re living with now is not your husband, Jesus and her still had a relationship there even though there was something really awkward about that story.

Keith Wasserman:
We know that people often will not tell the whole truth. We just try to work with them as best as we can. We’re not black and white. I could tell you a story about what I went through when I was homeless in Lexington around that teachable moment related to that. But number one, are they being honest or are they intentionally deceiving us or are they being honest with themselves?

Keith Wasserman:
Number two, are they now able to get along with the structure? We have a structure. We have a curfew at 10 o’clock. We ask people to get up in the morning at a certain time. We ask people to eat in certain locations. We ask people to smoke outside. There’s a whole structure there that is a little inconvenient for some people, but it’s not asking too much.

Keith Wasserman:
Number three, what are you doing to help yourself get out of here? It’s a concept called Shifting the Burden. Now, my train was in social work. This was never a question that we were given in caring for people, but I believe in responsibility. Responsibility, by the way if I could define it, is helping people identify their abilities to respond to the situation that they are in right now.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s good.

Keith Wasserman:
Helping people see the importance of responsibility, what are you doing? It’s different for every person. It’s not the same. A woman with five children under the age of five. I know her. She has a lot more limitations, and limitations are different than a single 22- year-old man. What are you doing to help yourself get out of here is a third one.

Keith Wasserman:
The fourth is your situation. What is unique about your situation? We just had a woman come in. She was eight and a half months pregnant. She was going to have a baby within the next two weeks. We didn’t really ask a lot from her. Then, she had her baby. Then, she came back. We still didn’t ask a lot from her.

Keith Wasserman:
We take situations like that into consideration. Timothy House is just a house. It’s got-

Heidi Wilcox:
I’m sorry. You started to say something, I talked over you.

Keith Wasserman:
That’s right. Timothy House is just a house. It’s located in the city of Athens on the bus route. It’s just a house. It’s got four bedrooms. It’s an ordinary house in the neighborhood. We have a strong commitment, very strong commitment to the immediate neighbors who live right around us. That’s a story probably for another day.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. How do people hear about Good Works and become connected to it who may need a safe clean temporary place? We’ll just start there. Then as you say, I might may ask more questions.

Keith Wasserman:
Okay. Basically, what we’ve done is it’s our responsibility to inform the places where people would be likely to connect at their point of need. That includes social service agencies, religious communities, and word-of-mouth or law enforcement. That’s right.

Keith Wasserman:
It’s my responsibility in making sure that those are on the front-end of those industries or areas know about how to get connected to us. There’s a whole forum they can read, and we send them. Then, there’s word-of-mouth. We just find out. My friends stay there. I’ve heard I could get a place to stay. They would call us.

Heidi Wilcox:
Is there a criteria for people to come or is everybody just welcome?

Keith Wasserman:
Oh yeah. There’s a criteria. We definitely cannot help some people. Once in a while, I encourage my co-workers close your eyes, bow your heads, click your heels together, repeat after me, I am not the Messiah. Now, when you’re in this, well, I’m not the Messiah, Jesus is the Messiah.

Keith Wasserman:
When you’re in this kind of work, you want to help as many people as you can, but we have to create parameters of what we can and can’t do. Some people, their experience with mental illness is so severe that we are not the people that could be assisting them right now. We just had a situation recently or they’re high. They’re just strung out on something. We can’t assist them at that point.

Keith Wasserman:
We did not do drug tests for 35 years. We do them now. There are limitations. If someone is verbally abusive at the point of an interview, chances are we will slow that down. We will not. Now I know people are desperate. They say things out of their desperation, but there’s always limitations of who we feel like we can help.

Heidi Wilcox:
That makes a lot of sense you mentioned a couple times while we were talking that you chose to be or to live without a home on 11 different occasions. I know from looking at your website, you’ve learned different things in each city. But if we could, let’s just start with talking about Lexington and what that experience is like for you and what your teachable moment was, what you learned.

Keith Wasserman:
I actually did Lexington twice once before the program they have they’re called is the Hope Center. The first time I stayed in the Salvation Army in place called the Way House. I stayed the night with 150 strangers…we were in line. We had to register. We got up to the point which got the piece of paper and asked for our name, and the second question was home address.

Keith Wasserman:
I’m like, “What is going on with these people?” That seems weird to me. 150 people, got up in the morning. My buddy got me a job. I had prayed for a buddy. Okay. My buddy got me a job at McDonald’s. Well, none of the jobs were at McDonald’s. One was shoveling horse manure, and the other word stripping tobacco. I got in a job in Georgetown, stripping tobacco.

Keith Wasserman:
There’s a story there maybe for another day. I got sick. I hitchhiked back from Circle Four into the downtown area. No. I’m sorry hitchhike to Circle Four. I walked from Circle Four to the downtown area. It’s a long walk. The guy comes up to me. He says, “Hey, man. Let me have some money.” I said, “I don’t have any money. I stayed where you stayed last night.” He grabs my shirt. He pulls me right to close to his face. He whispers in my ear. He said, “I said let me have some money.”

Keith Wasserman:
Well, I was pretty shaken up at this point. I didn’t know what to say. I had a dollar and change in my pocket. I lied much more enthusiastically the second time and raised my voice and said, “I don’t have any money, man. I stayed where you stayed.” Well, eventually, he let go. Then, I got by myself. My heart eventually slowed down. I thought, “I’m not a liar. Why did I lie?”

Keith Wasserman:
He hit me in a millisecond. I lied in order to survive. That was a pivotal moment in my understanding on how to help you. Then, I did 10 more cities after that. They all have stories, but I don’t know we could do that. That’s another podcast.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. We might have to have you back to talk about each of those. Why did you choose to live without a home?

Keith Wasserman:
I knew there were things I didn’t know. We don’t have this. I knew that I needed to learn some things about particularly what it was like to be on the receiving side because I’ve only been on the power side. I went, but I was not prepared honestly for the emotional difficulties that I was going to experience in every one of these places.

Keith Wasserman:
When I did Cincinnati, I had a very difficult experience in racism. I was on the other side of that equation where somebody was after me because I was white. These experiences were so helpful to me after I’m done. I don’t like this. It’s not like I look forward to these things. I do write about them. I do speak about them, but I know in order to do what we do, I have to experience some of these things.

Heidi Wilcox:
How did you come to that decision that you needed, because I think it’s a really cool thing that you do? When did you first start doing that?

Keith Wasserman:
I was on sabbatical at Asbury in the 1989. I was taking a class with Christine Pohl at the time it was called Servant as a Liberator. There’s a whole essay on this called Three Days in November. I just know I needed to do this. I went. I got dropped off. That was the first and then all the other cities. Most recent one was Columbus, Ohio which has a story, a very interesting story in and of itself, but I’m looking at our clock, and I’m like, “I don’t know how much time we have going all this.” I’m happy to keep talking but…

Heidi Wilcox:
Maybe just tell the Columbus story because I can’t just leave that being so curious. Then, we can wrap it up if that sounds good to you?

Keith Wasserman:
Okay. I’m still trying to learn, but in 2014, the state of Ohio had been funding Good Works for 23 consecutive years. They changed the rules, and the rules were unethical and immoral. I’m like, “Does anyone see this?” I’m in an appointment with my state representative to meet with the officials at the state of Ohio. It’s now called Ohio Development Services.

Keith Wasserman:
The appointment was for Monday, but I decided that would go and choose to be without a home in downtown Columbus on Saturday. I got dropped off. I went into the shelter, and the guy says to me, “Can I help you?” I said, “Yes, I need a place to stay.” He says, “Well, maybe you don’t know anything about Columbus.” In Columbus, you call a 1-800 number. They place you in a shelter.

Keith Wasserman:
I said, “Okay. Well, that’s fine.” I gave him the number. I called. They had a payphone in their Lobby. I heard a voice at the other end of the call: “All of our representatives are working with other customers please stay on the line, and you’ll be helped by the most next available representative”. I said, “Okay.” Then, it’s 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, hour.

Keith Wasserman:
At an hour and a half and I’m standing there and I’m getting a little tired standing, a guy from the shelter, one of the residents comes up and looks me in the eye and said, “Buddy, you need to get off the phone right now.” I said, “Yes, sir.” I hung up the phone. I went back to the desk. People at the desk said, “Well, what did they tell you?” I said, “They never answered the phone.” I felt like they were thinking I was lying, but you don’t know. They didn’t say I was lying.

Keith Wasserman:
They said, “You go back to that phone. You call again.” I said, “Yes, sir.” I went back. I called the 1800 number. Sure enough, “All of our customers they’re working with other customers…please stay on the line”. 10 minutes, 20 minutes. At 30 minutes, this guy comes on the phone. He goes, “Hi, this is Jason. How can I help you?” I felt like saying (singing) “Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”, but nevertheless I said Jason, “I was told to call this number because I need a place to stay.”

Keith Wasserman:
Jason says, “Social security number, please.” I gave him my real social security number. Next question: “Date of birth?” I gave him my real date of birth. Next question: “Name?” I’m thinking, “Could you have started with the name? It just seems so dehumanizing. Next question: “Where did you stay last night?” I said, “Jason, honestly, if it’s okay with you. I just don’t think I can talk about that right now.” I really didn’t know what to say, but that was the best thing I could come up with.

Keith Wasserman:
He says, “No problem. When you’re ready to talk about that, call me back. Click, Welcome to Columbus, Ohio.” Well, there’s more to that story, but I’ll stop there.” I found it to be extremely dehumanizing.

Heidi Wilcox:
Was it hard for you even though it was only for a short time? Was it hard for you to regain your human dignity and your own personal emotional health after that?

Keith Wasserman:
Well, there is recovery from every one of these incidences. I try to set a day aside just to recover from every one of them emotionally, but what I found is I’m not really homeless. I know that. They don’t know that all these places, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Akron, Ohio, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jacksonville, Florida. They don’t know that, but I know that. I know that I can get out.

Keith Wasserman:
In fact, in Cincinnati, I had to get out. There was so many risks there, and I finally got out. But I know that I’m not really, really homeless and then I can get out. That helps me to navigate the difficulties of the incident, but I do learn. I do go back. I look at different ways in which we’re functioning in our ministry. I ask, “Are we doing anything that could be interpreted as dehumanizing?”

Heidi Wilcox:
If someone is listening and wants to take a next step with Good Works, what are some ways that they can get involved?

Keith Wasserman:
If you’re local, of course, you can volunteer with us. If you’re not local, you can do week of service. It’s a short-term internship we have for anyone that wants to come for a week. People come all the time. It’s fun. We love it. You come in on at Sunday, leave the following Saturday. It doesn’t cost you anything.

Keith Wasserman:
There is an application process we want you to think through some things. Then, we have longer-term internships we have an internship we call Appalachian Immersion which is a four-month internship which you can renew over time. Then, we have a summer internship which is nine weeks.

Keith Wasserman:
All of our internships do pay stipends. Well, most of the are residential which we provide housing and utilities and most food. Then, you get a stipend. Those are connecting points. Then, we host lots of short-term mission teams or what we use the phrase work retreats because we do a lot of reflection in these visiting groups. We’re scheduling for the fall because of our spring and summer are booked up for 2020.

Keith Wasserman:
But if there’s someone who wants to come for a weekend in the fall or even a week just contact us through the Good Works website email or if you just want to come and visit, we’d be delighted to have you just come and visit.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, for sure. We’ll link to all of the ways to contact all of that. We’ll link it all out in the show notes, so people will be able to find that easily. Before we wrap up the interview, is there anything else you want to say that we haven’t already talked about?

Keith Wasserman:
Well, I’m just thankful and grateful. One of our core values here is Psalm 127 verse 1. Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain. I’m just thankful God invited me to do this thing. I’ve lasted for a pretty long time, but it’s by the invitation of God. One day, God’s going to ask me to do something else, I’m sure, or take me out.

Keith Wasserman:
This is God’s work. I just feel that it’s a privilege and an honor. Now, there are hard days. There are days I’m struggling. But overall, this is a privilege and an honor. I just feel so thankful. I hope that when people come and visit us, they get the virus of being grateful and thankful, and they find the joy of being able to serve and the privilege it is to be introduced to people. That’s probably what I would say wrapping up. Yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
Absolutely. We have one question that we always ask everybody as we end the podcast. Because the show is called the Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast, what is one practice, it can be spiritual or something else, that is helping you thrive in your life and ministry right now?

Keith Wasserman:
Well, song is one of the things, and I think that many believers can make up their own songs. I have so many that I just make up. You don’t need to be Chris Tomlin. You can make up a song and it can just be between you and God.

Keith Wasserman:
I found the power of melody to carry me along when my emotions are taking me in one way. Sing to the Lord a new song. The psalmist understood this, but I think that creatively singing whether it’s other people’s songs or your songs asking God, “Lord, would you put a song in me to help carry me through this day? Please, put a song in my heart, song of praise.”

Keith Wasserman:
We have a pretty broad paradigm of worship, maybe a discussion for a different day, a different podcast that that is… but singing is only one form of the much broader vision of worship. People want to learn more. They can read our document called Vision of Hope. You can click on it from the front page of our website.

Heidi Wilcox:
Once again, we’ll link all that out. Some people will be sure to find it. Thank you so much, Keith. I have really enjoyed learning more about Good Works and just getting to know you better. I know you’ve come to the seminary campus a few times. We’ve never had the chance to talk. So, I’m glad that we were able to do that today. Thank you.

Keith Wasserman:
Thank you.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Keith Wasserman. Just really appreciate the opportunity to get to know him better and appreciate his passion and love for God and the way he demonstrates that by loving others.

Heidi Wilcox:
If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to go ahead and subscribe. And as always, you can follow us in all the places, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @Asbury Seminary. Have a great day you all and go do something that helps you thrive.