Benny’s Band of Brothers

By Julie Rhodes

When tragedy struck, a unique table
of First Watch guys stepped up
to stand in the gap for their friend.
“We did what we could do,” they say.

It happened Sunday night, April 19, 2015. Benny, a facility supervisor with the DISD, was driving home from a friend’s house when he was hit by a street-racer who ran a stop sign going 70 mph. Benny, who was wearing his seatbelt at the time, was knocked from the front seat into the back seat. He might have died immediately had a good Samaritan not showed up on the scene to hold his neck and head still until the paramedics came. Benny was taken to Baylor downtown where he would spend the next month in ICU, two weeks of which he would be totally unconscious and on a ventilator. 

The next day, Daniel, a friend at Benny’s First Watch table group, sent out an emergency email to the rest of the guys — Benny was fighting for his life and it was time to step up. Benny’s injuries were grave; he sustained a neck fracture (the kind that paralyzed Christopher Reeve), both lungs collapsed, left and right rib fractures, liver laceration, stomach laceration, bleeding on the brain, and his right side was paralyzed. To say things were bleak would be a gross understatement. 

  • Benny In The Hospital 1280X700 Compressor

    Benny, the optimist

  • Benny And His Doctors 1280X700 Compressor

    (Left) Benny's Speech Therapist at Baylor Rehab (Right) Benny's Brain injury DO at Baylor Rehab

  • Bennys Friends 1280X700 Compressor

  • Benny Friend 1280X700 Compressor

    Benny and Patrick Moody

  • Bennys Whole Gang Compressor

    Benny with his Home Group

Stepping Up

After receiving the email, Grayson and Patrick left work to go to the hospital that same afternoon. Then the group decided to coordinate going to the hospital together the next day. Most were able to drop what they had on their schedules and showed up. Daniel was already there with Renee, Benny’s wife, and many other members of Benny’s extensive family. They went initially to hang out in the ICU, but their presence around the hospital and in the rehab center and within the wide radius of Benny’s life would only grow as the months went on. Each one of the table members — Jason, Daniel, Grayson, Chris, Greg, Patrick, David, Rich, Christian — were in it for the long haul.  

Benny was fairly new to the First Watch group, maybe six months in. Some of the guys knew Benny through work, and a few through IBC’s Hospitality team, where Benny had been serving on Sundays as a greeter. Daniel brought Benny one Friday to First Watch and says, “He just kinda stuck.” He was quieter than most of the others in the group, but he made an immediate connection. 

First Watch meets early Friday mornings at IBC to study the Bible and talk about life with a community of men that values deep connection and spiritual growth.

“It was God’s will that Benny was part of our group,” says one of Benny’s table guys. “He fit in. It was so easy.”

The very next day, after the initial hospital visit, Daniel sent a follow-up email to the group, spelling out the immediate needs of Benny’s family. The biggest thing on the list? Meals. And thus began a continuous string of lunches brought by the First Watch table and others whom the First Watch table had recruited to help. And the meals were not just for Benny and Renee, but also for Benny’s seven brothers and sisters who would also be up at the hospital at any given time — up to 15 people per day. Sometimes the guys went together to deliver meals, like Rich and Jason, who went one day and found Renee particularly moved. She looked at them and said, “Men don’t act like this. You blow me away. You wouldn’t expect men to take care of us like this.’”

Staying Faithful

A great unforeseen benefit of the outpouring for Benny was how David, one of the guys’ former First Watch table members, was able to reconnect with the group at a critical moment in his own life. After moving north to Frisco, David had been out of the group for a while, and had been gone so long he didn’t even know Benny at the time of the accident. But when he heard from the other members what had happened, he immediately wanted to jump back in and help. He started by bringing a meal to the ever-amazed Renee. It was shortly thereafter that David got married and soon discovered his new wife had breast cancer. But his recent reconnection to his First Watch buddies provided a ready-made stream of support for his new wife and himself. Unbeknownst to him, he had been paving the way for his own comfort when he’d need it most.

Perhaps the greatest beneficiary besides David, and (obviously) Benny, was Renee. The guys had become her leaning post. She would call them in the middle of the night to talk or ask for help. They would come and sit with Benny so she could go home during the day. Renee’s father had also just passed away, and she and Benny had recently moved in with her mother during the remodel of their house. In short: things were already in upheaval for Renee and Benny, and then came the wreck. So the guys stepped in. One table member — who works for a local home builder — came to check out the work at the remodel site to make sure things were progressing. Two others, Chris and Greg, took over the lawn duties at the Johnson’s house. They mowed Benny’s double lot in the heat of the summer.

Everyone had a task. Whether sitting with Benny, talking to doctors and nurses, bringing meals, or giving Benny rides to rehab, each man made his contribution. David had an idea to create a GoFundMe account, which raised $6,650 to cover the cost of Benny’s medical expenses. The First Watch table raised two-thirds of what they were hoping for in only 24 hours. 

The IBC Hospitality team also stepped up, making a monetary donation, in addition to praying, calling, and visiting the Johnson family. “If it wasn’t for IBC, Benny and I would have lost our car,” says Renee. “I've often heard of the love and overwhelming support from my fellow IBCers, but to experience it first hand, is a true reflection of Christ in action! I love this church so much and I am eternally grateful for the way our small groups walked with us through this difficult journey with us.”

Seeing God

Benny made slow, steady progress. His table guys marveled at his attitude — and especially his humor — through agonizing physical therapy. “It was the Benny Show,” they recall. His personality began coming back; he was introducing the guys to his nurses and therapists, joking around, making light of things — all without a shred of self-pity. 

Grayson, who liked to go fishing with Benny, recalls Benny’s optimism during his months of recovery. “I kept asking him if he was ready to go fishing yet,” Grayson says. “Almost,” Benny would always say. “Almost.”

“Almost” turned out to be a four-month journey before Benny was able to get out of the house with his friends again. And they think it’s a miracle. Now, Benny and Renee are getting used to a new normal. Benny made enough of a recovery to serve at the IBC Women’s Christmas Dessert this past December. And even though he still can’t drive, Benny is back to serving in the Hospitality team again, and attends the 9 a.m. service with Renee. He’s getting ready to go fishing again.

What have Benny’s First Watch guys taken away from their time of intense care for their friend? 

One says, “I’ve seen how important it is to be part of a group; to surround yourself with brothers.”

“We’re not just friends on Friday,” another adds. “We’re friends all the time.”  

Says another: “It brought more hope into my life. I know if something happened to me, they would be there for me.” 

The irony is, none of these guys had really done this sort of thing before. This kind of community was new to each of them. It seemed God had brought these specific men together for such a time as this. He had even brought in someone from as far away as Switzerland. Christian, who is from Sion, Swizerland and has a heavy Swiss accent, went up to the hospital to visit Benny one day when the nurse stopped him and said only family members were allowed. Without missing a beat, and perhaps with the slightest bit of flair, Christian declared, “But I’m his brother!” The nurse laughed and let him into the room.

All in all, Benny, Renee and the faithful First Watch table guys want to give God credit, not just for Benny’s amazing recovery, but for the unique and powerful impact of nine men joining arms to help a brother in need. “It was a supernatural thing to watch,” they say. 

Benny himself would agree: “I’m grateful that God led me to these guys at IBC because I was reluctant to come at first. I had never been to a multicultural church, but it couldn’t have been a better spot for me. These friendships will last forever.”

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