Just When We Need It, God Sends Help: Walker Hayes, Craig Allen Cooper, and Evan Dougoud
Craig Cooper: Jesus is alive and He’s at work in this world today, in the middle of suburbia, for us, for the city, for people wherever they are, and it’s mind-blowing.
Walker Hayes: Craig and I are brothers. I mean, we’re more than the concept of brothers, you know? We’re family.
Just When We Need It, God Sends Help: Walker Hayes, Craig Allen Cooper, and Evan Dougoud – Episode #316
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Have you ever been in a desperate situation wondering how you will make it to the next day? Perhaps there isn’t enough money to pay that one bill, or perhaps your health hasn’t been the greatest and you wonder if you’ll ever feel better, or maybe you’re in a dire situation and you just can’t see your way out of it. During these times, one person’s kind gesture or offer of help is sometimes the way we’re able to make it to the next day—turning a corner away from a turbulent season of our lives. So often these “angels” appear in the form of friends, family, and sometimes even strangers who act as God’s agents to lift us up into a better place. This week we’ll hear two touching stories that speak to how God sends His help through others—right when we need it most. We’re talking with singer Walker Hayes and his friend, Pastor Craig Allen Cooper, and the founder of the Beheard movement, Evan Dougoud.
Let’s start with Walker and Craig’s story.
Walker: I’m Walker Hayes, friends with Craig Cooper, and singer/songwriter in Nashville. And I have a wife and six kids and two dogs and two gerbils.
Craig: Whoo, got the gerbils in!
I’m Craig Cooper and best buds with Walker. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for seventeen years full-time and bi-vocationally helped plant and found Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, Tennessee.
I grew up in East Tennessee in Chattanooga in a place called Ooltewah, right outside of Chattanooga, and had a really great childhood. I grew up going to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, every Wednesday night, but I didn’t know the Lord. And so it was more for religion than it was a relationship with Jesus. And when I went to school at the University of Tennessee is when I heard the gospel, came to faith in Christ, and my life was forever changed.
Walker: I grew up in Mobile, and married my high school sweetheart, Laney. We met in 11th grade. I’m the last of nine kids.
I actually grew up in the church but didn’t like it, just went the other direction and couldn’t wait to kind of get out of that. My dad was an ex-music minister, and we were at church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. And I was ready to get out of the house and get out of that church quickly. But I played sports a lot growing up. Soon as I met Laney, always knew we wanted a big family, and moved to Nashville right out of college.
A New Life in Nashville
I moved to Nashville on a crazy whim. Every time I tell the story, I’m still like, Man, we were crazy because I just showed no promise. I wasn’t that talented, I didn’t sing that great. And I had a small gig, it was just a gig that really changed my life.
My dad got me a gig in Mobile and I was reluctant to play it. Finally, I just played the gig and it felt so good. So I called Laney, and she was gung ho. She was very excited. I said, “You want to move to Nashville? I’d love to be a singer.”
And she said, “Yes.”
She absolutely didn’t even hesitate, just said, “Of course.”
You know, again, it didn’t make sense. Like I said, every time I tell the story, it’s not practical at all that we moved to Nashville.
A Sacrificial Gift in a Time of Need
Financially, we were doing pretty dismal. We had one dying car, and then we had a van that was about to get basically repossessed. I had an endorsement deal with a dealership, and it was based on the fact that I was signed by a record label. I lost that record deal, and then I kept it a secret from the dealership as long as I could because I knew they would take the van and I knew we had no options if they took the van. I didn’t know how we were going to get anything. I couldn’t afford to fix our Honda. So that was tough.
I was also an alcoholic at the time. Also, you know, I’d just been beaten up by Nashville and just wasn’t really excited to be known or know people. I just was not a very approachable person when I met Craig, at all. And a lot of that was by choice, and just that was kind of comfortable where I lived.
“I’d just been beat up by Nashville and just wasn’t really excited to be known or know people. I just was not a very approachable person when I met Craig, at all. And a lot of that was by choice, and just that was kind of comfortably where I lived.” – Walker Hayes
Craig: What happened is Laura, my wife, invited Laney and their family to go to church and she said, “Sure.” And you know, people will say that sometimes, like, “Yeah, I’ll come,” and you don’t know if they’re going to come or not.
We had planted a church, probably less than thirty people there, but they showed up. And so that’s when we really met. And they walked in and I was just like, “Wow, you came,” and Walker, the first thing I said to him was, “Glad you’re here.”
We got to the point where we were just doing everything together on a weekly basis. We would be together numerous times, either in our home for dinner or in their home for dinner. We were celebrating kids’ birthdays, we were celebrating our birthdays together, holidays. Walker and I would run the scoreboard for my son Joshua’s baseball games, and that was a blast. And we would cheer for him and we would talk about life and everything.
So we were really intimately aware of what was going on in their world. And so we knew when their van got repossessed and you know, Walker would say stuff like, “Ah dude, we’re good, we’re good, we got it, it’ll work out,” stuff like that.
But, you know, Laura and I, whenever we would travel to go visit Laura’s family or whatnot—they were up in the northeast—we would let them borrow our van. And so we knew it helped. You could tell that was helpful. And when we came back I was always going, “Dang, I hate to take it back,” you know what I mean? And so I started praying, “Lord, please provide so that we can give them the van.”
And I talked to Laura and said, “I think we need to give them that van.” She agreed, thinking the same thing. I was working in a job that had some commissions and whatnot and had I closed a deal, and we had enough to be able to go and replace our vehicle with a used vehicle around the area.
At that point that night, it was when I was like, “All right, let’s clean the van up, let’s get it all set, and then let’s just go make it where they can’t say no. I’ll have the title with me. I’ll have already signed it. I don’t know how Walker is going to respond to this.”
Craig: But we drove two different vehicles to the baseball park. And we were there under the stadium lights at night at the end of the game. And they walked out and he’s like, “Dude, what are you doing here?” He realized what was going on. And I just had the title and said, “Hey, man, all you gotta do is sign this and it’s yours.” And honestly, we had a bit of a moment, you know…
Walker: Oh, yeah.
Craig: Kind of an altercation for a second. And Walker’s like, “No way, man. I don’t want to do that.”
And I remember Lila yelling, “Dad, just take the car!”
And then they did it. I wasn’t thinking anything other than, We love them and this will help. That was it. But looking back, we saw so much significance in what God was doing during that time. I see the significance of the gospel of grace. It’s not something you earn. All you got to do is sign and it’s yours. And He’s done everything. We can’t afford it. We can’t pay for it or whatever. And we look back on stuff now and go, Man, what was the Lord doing there?
Walker: The gift Craig gave me in that van is so much bigger than just the actual vehicle, but it confused me. You know, it was a frustrating night for me because, in a way, I was an atheist. He’s a believer. The believer comes through with the help, he saves the day. And I was probably a little mad, like, “I don’t need that. I don’t need whatever you have, I’m good.”
I was embarrassed to accept the vehicle because I felt like accepting a handout and accepting help, confessing to the world I needed it. You know, if I didn’t need it, I wouldn’t take it. And so it was really hard for me to accept the vehicle. I drove it home that night, and in my mind I was like, I’m going to give it back. I don’t need it, you know what I mean? I drove home with that attitude.
But as I drove home, the relief off my shoulders, the void filled with the car, I began to recognize, like, Man, I did need it, you know? Wow, all my kids all have a seatbelt. I’m a dad. Shouldn’t that be a concern of mine? That’s crazy Craig supplied that. But I’m like, I don’t know about church, but this guy, he’s got something in him that I want.
Repaying Kindness with the Gift of a Song
Craig: We were five years into the church plant, and I was really discouraged because I had taken a ministry retreat the weekend before. And I came back for various reasons from that retreat, just really doubting my own calling and whether or not anything that I was doing was making a difference in people’s lives. I was just really discouraged.
So I took a walk in downtown Franklin, and I stopped in the middle of that walk and just poured my heart out to God. And I said, “Lord, I try to encourage other people, You know that. I need You, please, to encourage me. Is anything I’m doing making a difference in anybody’s life? Please show me that You have me where You want me.”
“I said, ‘Lord, I try to encourage other people, You know that. I need You, please, to encourage me. Is anything I’m doing making a difference in anybody’s life? Please show me that You have me where You want me.’” – Craig Allen Cooper
I had emailed the leadership team of the church, saying, “I’m not sure I’m in the right spot.” And that night, Laura and I went on a date, and I was just telling her how discouraged I was. She’s sitting in the passenger side. I’m right here. Her phone buzzes. And I was a little irritated that she looked down at her phone. And I’m like, “Who is that?”
And she says, “It’s Laney, Walker’s wife.”
I’m like, “Oh, can you tell Laney that you’ll talk to her later?”
And she’s like, “Well, it’s got an MP3 on it.”
We were accustomed to receiving MP3s from Walker. I love everything he’s written, and we just love to hear anything new he’s working on. But Laura said, “It’s got your name on it. I think we need to play it.”
I was like, “Oh, let’s just do that later.”
And she said, “No, I think this might help.”
That’s when she played the song through the stereo speakers.
Craig: I was just absolutely undone. I lost it, just a puddle of tears. I couldn’t talk. And I sat there stunned, you know, overwhelmed, speechless. At that moment, I felt like God was singing over me through my unbelieving friend Walker, and I was gone. And I had this peace that the Lord was was saying, “I’ve got you right where I want you.”
Walker: To me, that’s just a Holy Spirit thing. I had no idea what Craig’s discouragements were. You know, I think he was a little hesitant—like, here I am a nonbeliever. The last thing he wants to do is be like, “Hey, church is getting me down too,” you know, I didn’t know those things. I didn’t know that literally the song was like a grand slam for God to speak to Craig…
Craig: It was.
Walker: …which is wild. That’s wild to think a nonbeliever just dumping my heart out, honestly, knowing nothing about scripture or anything and it meeting you in a place—that’s just nuts.
You know, looking back as I wrote the song, I’m just trying to thank Craig, but I can hear me in the lyrics now, and with what we know now about our friendship and where it would ultimately lead and where it’s going. I was confused, you know. I was going, “Hey, world, I don’t believe in Jesus. But there’s this guy who does, and the love radiating from his heart, it’s perplexing me.” And the song was really my heart.
I think the world tells us cope in other ways, you know, go isolate and hide in yourself. Don’t let anyone know, don’t show weakness, that type of thing. And now I’m a little more—especially with Craig, it’s like you said in your post the other day, known and loved. I mean that’s what it means to really be known. Jesus already knows you, we just don’t accept His love all the time. But He knows. And that’s kind of how I feel about Craig. Craig knows and he loves no matter what, you know, it’s this great thing. And I think God was kind to show me Christ in another human, and I’m so grateful for that.
“I think God was kind to show me Christ in another human, and I’m so grateful for that.” – Walker Hayes
Narrator: You can find Walker and Craig’s book, Glad You’re Here, at your favorite retailer.
Stay tuned for Evan Dougoud’s story after a brief message.
New Web Series! Find Peace in Prayer
You’re going to love our newest video series called “Jesus Listens: Stories of Prayer!” Hosted by singer Susie McEntire-Eaton, the YouTube series features interviews with people from all walks of life sharing their touching stories of how prayer made a powerful difference.
Watch inspiring stories from the author and creator of The Simplified Planner® Emily Ley, entrepreneur Stephen Miller, and author and influencer Kim Douglas, plus many more.
New videos debut each month, so subscribe today so you don’t miss an episode!
Narrator: Our next guest is Evan Dougoud, founder and president of the Beheard Movement, a non-profit organization that provides mobile drop-in centers with laundry, showers, haircuts, case management, and resources for those experiencing homelessness. Evan shares a little bit of his own story and how the Beheard movement came to be—and how he looks at the work he does today as a combination of “soul work” and “social work.”
Evan Dougoud: So my name is Evan Dougoud, and I’m a founder and president of a nonprofit called Beheard here in Tulsa, in Oklahoma City. And we help those experiencing homelessness with our mobile drop-in center. We love to get to love on our neighbors and those in need here in our community.
Combining Soul Work and Social Work
Here in Tulsa, there is an abundance of faith-based organizations, an abundance of churches. And what we notice is that typically people would focus on the soul work aspect, which is definitely needed, or only on the social work aspect of resources, mental health, and things like that. We believe that both go hand in hand, right? We need soul work and we need social work together to make an effective change in this community. And so we love getting to cultivate needs, spiritual needs. We love praying for people. We love seeing lives transformed and heaven benefitted, right? But we also love people getting a house, people getting case management services, and people getting therapy. And so they both go hand in hand. That’s the vision, that’s the goal is to do both enough, like, doing both is going to help solve a problem here in Tulsa.
“We need the soul work and we need social work together to make an effective change in this community.” – Evan Dougoud
Growing up, there was definitely some trauma, and some tough situations. I grew up in a house where we loved Christmases, and birthdays. We were huge on family. And then when I was around fourteen, fifteen, that all got stripped away from me through divorce. My dad ended up leaving the house. My mom, she ended up leaving as well. To this day, I didn’t know where she went. I was at home alone, just taking public transportation everywhere, and just going through a really rough time as a fifteen-year-old trying to survive.
Lunch at school was always a problem. I went to a private school for basketball, and the teachers started to notice what was going on. They allowed me to sleep in their classrooms to catch up on some sleep, they allowed me to do homework in the classroom. They gave me extra support. And during that time, my cousin was shot and murdered. When I was sixteen, my uncle died, and I didn’t have a bed throughout most of the high school. I slept on the floor. I ended up moving in with my grandma. It was a three-bedroom house with five of us, and so I slept on the floor.
It’s very, very tough to, one, try to focus on school when you’re trying to focus on surviving. But my teachers, I believe to this day, they saved my life. They are a Godsend. And so my teachers allowed me to just be myself. They allowed me to cry. They prayed for me. They loved on me. But most importantly, they listened to me. As a fifteen-year-old, you feel like you know everything, right? And so when people who are older don’t listen to you or try to belittle your voice, that can really cause you to spiral and value just your own voice or self. I lived there for a little bit, but because they listened to me first, I believe that saved my life by listening to me, helping me out, and supporting me, that really saved my life.
“It’s very, very tough to try to focus on school when you’re trying to focus on surviving.” – Evan Dougoud
And so with that, I wanted to kind of present that to those experiencing homelessness, right? So by listening to them, listening to their stories, elevating their voice, I believe that because it saved me, it could help save thousands of other people. And I’m standing here today as a walking miracle. But most importantly, God saved me—and I want to help and go and do the same for somebody else.
“I’m standing here today as a walking miracle. But most importantly, God saved me—and I want to help and go and do the same for somebody else.” – Evan Dougoud
Discovering God’s Plan
It was never, ever in my plans to come to Oklahoma. My dad left after the divorce, moved to Tulsa, and moved in with my sister. I was really just kind of just upset and struggling as a young man, and so I ended up playing basketball in Pennsylvania. I was really going through it, making some wrong decisions. I ended up leaving college, I was working three full-time jobs, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
And then my sister called me and said, “Hey, your dad’s actually in the hospital. He might die, he’s sick.”
That kind of shook me. I was like, “You know what, I’ll come to Oklahoma for three months to make sure he’s okay, check on him.” And so I ended up moving to Oklahoma in 2018. And when I moved there, my dad ended up getting better.
Then I got a job working at Youth Services of Tulsa. They serve homeless youth. And while working there, something just poured on my heart just to help. And a lot of them told us, like, “Hey, we feel overlooked. Nobody’s hearing our story. Nobody really cares about us.” Kind of how I felt when I was fifteen.
And so I told them, “Hey, I got this broken camera. I can record your story.”
And they said, “Okay, cool, let’s do it.”
So we went under a bridge and called it “Bridge Talk.” But my camera was so bad, the audio was so trash that you couldn’t hear what they were saying. And so we ended up taking this camera and going back to the homeless encampment, and we start recording their story. And it was just a phenomenal move of God. Then I said, “Okay, what should we call this?”
And they said, “Let’s call it ‘Unseen or Be Heard.’” And I said, “Oh, I love ‘Be Heard.’” And so that’s how our nonprofit name came about, was through the voices of those homeless youth.
It kind of gets me every time—like, what if I didn’t move to Tulsa? There are people on the street I would’ve never met, who may have died on the street if I didn’t move if God didn’t use my story if God didn’t redirect my steps.
At the time going through it, I mean, it did not seem like that. I was very upset at God. But looking back, it’s like, “God, thank You that You saw an answer to a problem through me.”
So because we said yes to God, God is literally changing the community of Tulsa in Oklahoma City. And it’s people getting housed, people getting digital services, people getting showers, only because of God’s yes and God’s hands. So we’re very thankful that we get to do this. And it’s just been a powerful, powerful story, not just for me, but for those on the street. And so they’re very thankful as well.
“What if I didn’t move to Tulsa? There’s people on the street I would’ve never met, who may have died on the street if I didn’t move, if God didn’t use my story, if God didn’t redirect my steps.” – Evan Dougoud
Prayers for Essential Human Needs
So when I was helping the youth who were experiencing homelessness, one of their top needs was a shower. But I only knew that because we listen first, right? A lot of times if you assume the need, your assumption blocks the real need. So if I assumed, Oh, they just need therapy. They need some other help. No. “I just need a shower right now.” And so by the fact that we listen first, we knew what to pray for, but we knew what to go after. Right?
And so we end up doing some research on how we can bring showers to Tulsa. And come to find out, there’s mobile shower trailers. I said, “Okay, cool. Let’s try to get one.” So we wrote the vision down, made it plain, and we prayed to God for a mobile shower trailer.
And so in December of 2020, we were at Transformation Church in Tulsa and they brought us up on stage and Pastor Mike was like, “Hey, Beheard, y’all are getting a mobile shower trailer.” And I was crying, right? We’d just prayed for one four months ago, and now we’re getting one in December of 2020. And I was crying not because I got something, but because people who are praying and fasting for a shower get to experience that shower for the first time. In Tulsa, people haven’t showered for up to three weeks. Some up to three months. Me? I shower every day because, you know, I feel good. But people were just not showering, which hurts their mental health. It just causes depression. And being honest, if you haven’t showered in a week, it hurts you, right? You just feel like, “Nobody touch me, nobody smell me.” It can really hurt your self-esteem. So the fact that God provided a mobile shower trailer in four months, that was huge.
And so the shower trailer was set to be delivered on July 31, 2021. However, we had no truck to pull it. I said, “God, I know You wouldn’t just provide a shower trailer, but now we’ve got nothing to pull it,” right? So we prayed for a truck. We tried to fundraise all we could. We raised like $10,000, but that could not buy a truck, especially during COVID.
So I traded my car, and we got a truck and I owed $30,000 grand on it. Our first payment was August 1st. And I get a phone call from a church called World Outreach Church. They say, “Hey, can you come to service on Sunday?”
I said, “Sweet. Yeah.”
They brought me up on stage and paid off—before our first payment—our truck. And once again I’m crying again on stage. I’m like, Man, God, this is so awesome.
So I stopped putting God in a box of how He will provide for us. And so our very first shower was July 31st, and it was such an impactful moment. We did about forty showers that day. It was just me by myself with some crazy volunteers just wanting to help people. It was so phenomenal.
“I stopped putting God in a box of how He will provide for us.” – Evan Dougoud
And so a month later we get a call from TC [Transformation Church] saying, “Hey, we want to give you all $100,000 for the next three years.” And that was incredible because we took some of that money and bought the bus, and now we have a mobile shower trailer, a mobile laundry trailer, a mobile barbershop bus. And wow—this is in less than a year. Look what God has done. This could only be God.
Consistency Creates Trust
I’ve learned that trust is gained in buckets, but lost in drops. By being consistent, by being people of our word, by just showing up, it’s created a unique, trusting relationship to those who are unhoused. So if I’m unhoused, I don’t trust anybody. People are trying to steal my stuff. People are trying to tell me what to do. But if I’m being consistent and I’m there not to judge, I have my arms open and I just want to help them, after a while they see the consistency that creates a trust relationship. With my teachers, by them asking me how I’m doing, by them being consistent, it created a safe place for me to vent to, to cry to, to laugh to. And that really helped me out in life.
“I’ve learned that trust is gained in buckets, but lost in drops. By being consistent, by being people of our word, by just showing up, it’s created a unique, trusting relationship to those who are unhoused.” – Evan Dougoud
One of the most powerful things you can provide somebody is your ears, right? So by listening, by affirming to them, by allowing their voices to be heard, by allowing their testimony to be heard, that really is breaking barriers, but also creating a solution of trust. And so trust is key, right?
One thing I know is people on the street, when they’re homeless, they struggle with the calling of God on their life. And the fact that we have this book called Jesus Calling, it’s almost funny, but it’s like God sees you. He has a calling for you even though you’re sleeping under a bridge. God sees you. He loves you. And He’s doing that through that book.
Actually what’s crazy is that when I was fifteen, my teacher would read one every day. She would always take out this book and read it. And a lot of us didn’t know why she would do it. It was a good transition for me to focus throughout my day, but also like little words that I would remember, like, Oh, my gosh, Jesus loves me. He actually is there for me through the light, through the dark, He’s there for me, He’s present.
It’s just been very cool how in my need, in my trauma, the Jesus Calling book was there to help me as well, to start my day off and things like that. And then now we hand out Jesus Calling devotionals to people on our caseload, and it’s been so cool to see the fruit that comes from that. Those gems [my teacher] was dropping, I mean, it planted seeds, right? It planted seeds in my heart, in my mind when I’m going through all this hard trauma. And now look at the fruit. Now we’re doing the same thing for other people, and now it’s helping thousands of people.
Jesus Listens, December 27th:
Help me find Joy in the midst of brokenness. One of the hardest times for me to be joyful is when I’m dealing with multiple problems—seeking solutions but finding none—and then suddenly I’m faced with a new problem. I’ve found that if I focus too much on searching for solutions, I start to sink under the weight of all my difficulties. Please remind me at such times that You are present with me in the midst of my various trials. I need to trust that You’re at work in my situation and that You’re able to bring good out of evil. Your matchless wisdom and sovereign strength enable You to outsmart evil with good.
Narrator: To learn more about Evan Dougoud and Beheard, visit www.beheardmovement.com.
If you’d like to hear more stories about maintaining faith during times of hardship, check out our interview with Krispin Mayfield.
Next week: Jeff Henderson
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Jeff Henderson, a member of John Maxwell’s Leadership Thought Leaders, and a professional who built a marketing career working for Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta Braves, and other notable organizations. Jeff shares how he finds purpose and personal meaning in his life and career, and how he leaned on his faith through the highs and the lows.
Jeff Henderson: You don’t know what door God will open up if you’re faithful in the small things. So be faithful in the small things. Be faithful where you are, because God’s paying attention.