WRITTEN BY CARISSA YOUSSEF
After 14 years on staff with FH Canada, Ben Hoogendoorn is ending his long-time tenure as president. Carissa Youssef sat down with Ben and with incoming president Bernie Willock to learn more about the two leaders, their involvement with the organization, and what they see as the future of FH Canada. In the interest of full-disclosure, Bernie was well past his daily coffee intake (he disciplines himself to two cups a day!), but Ben, true to form, had a fresh cup in hand.
CY: To start, why don’t you each tell me five words that could be used to describe you.
Ben: I’m passionate about things I believe in and about seeing others realize their God-given potential. I’m consistent, quite reflective, and disciplined in following through. Also, I’m loyal. Oh, that’s a lot more than five words.
CY: How did you first get connected to FH Canada?
Bernie: My daughter Jen was looking for some field experience and was travelling to Guatemala because she had previously studied there. So she was starting to do some groundwork in the country while I was starting to look into NGOs in Guatemala from here at home. I did a web search and found that FH Canada was working in Guatemala. I was going down to Guatemala so I contacted FH Canada about visiting the FH Guatemala staff and communities as part of my trip. Together, Jen and I visited the FH partner communities in Nebaj and were impressed with what we saw.
I came back from Guatemala just a little jazzed up. I’ve always been about transformation: transformation in the business, transformation in the field. Mutual transformation was kind of my mantra. The development and partnership model were hitting on so many of my hot buttons, I just couldn’t believe it. Ben asked me how the trip went, and I was like, “Ahh! It was so great!”
But, well, because of my experience with some NGOs and their inability to deliver on their brand promise, I was still skeptical when it came to NGOs and what they say they do versus what they actually do. After my positive experience in Nebaj, I thought, I really need to go to Africa. Turns out Ben was going that November and asked me if I wanted to come.
CY: What about you, Ben? How did you first get involved with FH?
Ben: My love of other cultures and my sense of adventure took me to places that are very remote, where few westerners had been. My first trip is what changed my worldview, actually. I went to Thailand and Cambodia with our youngest daughter in 1994 and the magnitude of global poverty was beyond that I had fully understood before. My whole sense of normal changed.
My story is quite similar to Bernie’s. I was on an international trip and met someone at a church who was working with Food for the Hungry in Asia. She introduced me to David Collins, who was Food for the Hungry Canada’s founding president, and within a month David had called and asked me to go on a Vision Trip with FH.
So I came back to Asia with FH and saw how FH was very different in their approach to addressing poverty. It was not about material things, it was not about, “We have stuff and you don’t, so we will just give you some of ours to fix your problems.” It was about empowering people. It was about relationships and about developing the church and local leadership. It was all about worldview and this really resonated with me.
So like Bernie, I also came back kind of jazzed and wanted to learn more. I went through a week-long training program here with FH and then started taking teams—donors, pastors, church leaders and the like—to Asia. I did one or two trips a year and that really messed with my life. I had always been very, very involved with my career in business, so much so that it had almost cost me my life, my family—everything. My business was what gave me my identity, meaning and value, and all of a sudden my passion for it was starting to wane. And I started to get an increase in passion for this new type of work.
A lot of people told me I was crazy for giving up a good business and a good income, but I just didn’t feel that was the right place for me. It was not until I had totally closed that door a few years later that I got a call from FH, asking if I would engage on a staff level.
CY: And here we are, 14 years later. Looking back, what stands out as something you’re most proud of—or most grateful for—from your time here?
Ben: The thing I’m most grateful for is the people. The staff team here, the people who prayed, the people who offered words of encouragement and the people who gave financially. Still, I would say it’s the people internationally who have changed my life the most. I’ve consistently recognized so much of God’s character in people who are living in very difficult circumstances. I have probably learned more about God through walking with people we would consider poor than I have through church, school, and my personal study.
CY: Bernie, we’ll finish with you. What’s next for FH Canada?
Bernie: Under Ben’s leadership, the FH Canada team has built a strong organization fiscally and relationally. I really sense I’m coming into a team that truly understands who they are and how they all contribute to this journey of mutual transformation. I know I dream really big, but if you were to think five years from now, the number of communities we’ll be walking with and the diversity of the people who will be our partners—I think it will take our breath away.
So here I am. Still with some fear and trepidation, because I’m following in the footsteps of a man that I respect a great deal and I know the impact he has had on so many lives. In my view, Ben is truly an elder statesman and the more I am with him the more I am going, ”No, Lord, you’re kidding, right?” This is probably the biggest challenge the Lord has called me to yet—and trust me, there have been some big ones!
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THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN HOPE NOTES, ISSUE 16.