Arms full with dinner and a new backpack, a woman started down the street, turned around and came back to see 11-year-old Judah Boger.
“Can I have your Santa hat?” she asked.
“Sure,” Judah grinned as he handed it to her.
It’s exactly what his dad would do.
Boger had one wish for his 11th birthday Nov. 13: take a Christmas meal to the homeless near Generation Church in downtown Louisville.
The idea isn’t new.
He has done it countless times with his family since his parents, Jacob and Jessica Boger, started the church on Oak Street for the homeless and those dealing with addiction, poverty and loss.
Jacob Boger had the same story, but once he found Jesus, he never looked back. The forgotten were always on his mind.
But the story didn’t unfold the way the Bogers hoped.
Six months after founding the church, Jacob was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Through the next five years, he went through treatment, remission, recurrence, more treatment, all while continuing to preach and help those on the streets.
He died on his 43rd birthday, April 2, 2019.
It’s been a tough year for the Boger family. Jacob’s big personality left a giant hole for his wife and three sons, Roman, Judah and Justus. Jessica tried to keep the church, the food pantry and community dinners going, but Jacob’s death and COVID-19 made it difficult.
Judah’s birthday wish brought them back to what they’d always done as a family—help others.
The Bogers partnered with Church on the Rock in New Albany, Southeast Christian Church and Jacob’s Ladder, a ministry Jacob urged Angela Timora to start, to provide dinner and 100 backpacks filled with blankets, socks, hats and personal care items. Chick-fil-A matched the 100 sandwiches Southeast’s Missions Ministry provided.
People were already in line Saturday afternoon, Dec. 12, as the Bogers and volunteers pulled into a parking lot near the Louisville Free Public Library. Jennifer and the boys put on Santa hats and carried food to tables. They chose the menu that included chicken sandwiches, potato salad, bottled water, tangerines and candy canes for desert.
As Jessica carried the first load of food to a table, a woman standing in line recognized her and started to sob. Jennifer embraced her in a long hug.
A soft-spoken man in line named Matthew also recognized the Boger family. He sometimes went to Generation Church to hear Jacob preach. He said the Boger boys look like their dad.
Dr. Michael Jacobs, Jessica’s father, is the senior pastor at Church on the Rock. He came to work alongside his daughter, grandsons and volunteers.
“Jacob was a great son-in-law to me,” he said. “He loved God and had a heart to minister to people. He was an ex-addict. I’m an ex-addict. God blessed what he did here as a lot of people came to know Jesus.”
Jacobs is proud of Judah’s birthday wish.
“Today means a lot to Judah,” he added. “He has a heart for people just like his mom and dad.”
Bonnie Epperson, who works in Missions Ministry at Southeast, also knew Jacob.
“Jacob believed the church is to be outside the walls reaching the marginalized,” Epperson said. “Four years ago, he asked Southeast to train his leaders in community transformation. Jacob loved Jesus and his family. Even in his last days before God called him home, Jacob wanted to reach the lost in his community.”
Volunteer Yulanda Owens knew Jacob and volunteered to help with the outreach.
“Jacob was an incredible preacher,” Owens said. “He had a heart for people and the ability to look beyond the nitty gritty to their needs. He led a come-as-you-are church.”
In less than an hour, volunteers and the Bogers fed about 100 people, then took everything to a second location to feed another 100. They heard a lot of thank-yous, God bless yous and Merry Christmases.
“We were doing what Jacob would have been doing,” Jessica said. “There’s healing for us in helping other people.”