Four hundred dollars and a kind gesture was all high school friends Rob Westerman and Mike Lewis needed to make the days of some unsuspecting grocery shoppers.
Westerman, a pastor at Cincinnati, Ohio's Springdale Nazarene Church, surprised 15 customers at a local grocery store by paying for their groceries at the checkout counter. Lewis, a minister with JesusPainter Ministries, filmed the day’s events.
“We wanted to attract people who haven’t really given church much of a thought lately,” Lewis told TODAY.com. “We thought some sort of effort like that might touch people’s hearts.”
And touch people’s hearts they did. According to Lewis, one woman they helped that day reached out after the video was posted to say that she'd been struggling with her faith through a rough time, and had asked God just that day to send her a sign.
“Our goal was to go out and show average people that God loves us, whether you accept it or not, believe it or not,” Westerman told TODAY.com. “Let’s truly love our neighbor, whatever that looks like for you. We did this with no strings attached.”
The emotional reactions in the heartwarming video quickly went viral. Since it was first posted on July 5, the clip has racked up over 15 million views and half a million shares on Facebook. Westerman said he has received messages from people all around the world and is overwhelmed by the attention the clip has gained.
The experience even had a profound and surprising impact on Westerman himself. “When Mike did the video, I was a mess myself,” he said. “It made me realize that as people, we all have junk in our lives and we don’t know what other people are going through.”
Lewis added that the growing number of viewers isn’t as important to him as the community’s response to the video.
“This is something you can do, I can do, anyone can go and do this,” he said. “And the number I care about is how many people are imitating this behavior and this style of ministry.”
Westerman said he hopes their act of kindness will inspires other people to do the same.
“Our goal is that people see this video and go out and be nice to people," he said. “Let someone over in traffic or smile at someone. Christian or not, it doesn’t matter. Just do good.”