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Youth go 'underground' to do what Jesus did

Pastor Rob Cook and youth who are part of 252 Underground, a ministry he founded after churches closed their doors to the author and radio program co-host. Cook wrote Regener8 and is working on his second book Illumina8
Pastor Rob Cook and youth who are part of 252 Underground, a ministry he founded after churches closed their doors to the author and radio program co-host. Cook wrote Regener8 and is working on his second book Illumina8
Rob Cook

Pastor Rob Cook has taken the popularized What Would Jesus Do? slogan and turned the multimillion dollar phrase into a personal call to action. And he hopes other Christians will do the same.

Author, speaker and radio show host Rob Cook is a magnet for youth desiring to do what Jesus did.
Rob Cook

“I never see people following through with What Would Jesus Do?," Cook says.

“It's a cop-out because knowledge without action is useless,” says Cook, who is a pastor to teens and young adults unwelcome inside most churches because of their reputations.

Do What Jesus Did, on the other hand, is Cook's motivation for life and 252 Underground, an outreach to youth who have criminal records, hate the church scene, or are judged as troublemakers by pastors who've told Cook “don't bring them here.”

“I felt like I had to go underground with these kids people had given up on” including some Christians who closed their church doors and withdrew financial support for the unconventional ministry in Lansdale, Penn., Cook says.

Instead of a traditional youth group that meets in a church, Cook leads a nomadic tribe of young adults who have met in his home, a large rented building and currently in a restaurant – all considered safe places by some of 252 Underground's 12- to 30-years-old followers who don't “do church” or, sadly, aren't allowed inside one because they smoke cigarettes or hold onto other vices.

The ministry, which takes its name from Luke 2:52, has reached 1,100 teens and young adults since its founding in 2004, including the original 100 who packed into Cook's home the first three months of 252 Underground's existence. The Bible verse states that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Three weeks into the ministry, one teenager showed up at Cook's front door on a Saturday night with two friends. Cook and his wife, Stephanie, immediately recognized the teenager whose face had been badly scarred by his mother's cigarettes.

He'd brought a friend whose father had committed suicide to Cook's home for help. Another teenager – hearing Cook talk about the love of Jesus Christ with his grieving friend – was the first of the three who all prayed to receive Him as Savior and Lord late that night.

Rather than preach a sermon that asks WWJD?, Cook instead plays, eats and models DWJD with young adults who, by following his example, would rather perform a good deed than listen to messages that reminds them of how bad they are in the minds of some.

Like the time 20 teenagers helped find and furnish a house for a family who's 250-year-old rented home burned to the ground. A video of the burning structure – recorded by Cook as flames engulfed it – was a DWJD call to action for 252 Underground.

With Cook leading them, the teens devoted their high school senior project to helping the homeless family transition from a hotel to a permanent residence equipped with new appliances and a laptop computer. Cook paid for out a range and refrigerator out of his pocket.

A major retailer's store manager was so moved by Cook's generosity in providing the family new appliances that he drastically reduced the prices on the items.

“It was extreme home makeover – God edition” that land 252 Underground on the front page of a Pennsylvania newspaper, says Cook, an author, blogger and radio program guest.

The publisher of Cook's first book, Regener8, will be among others who profited from the catchy WWJD? slogan when Cook speaks instead about DWJD at the 17th annual Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park May 14-17. Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas published Cook's controversial, in-your-face manuscript after meeting him at a similar writers conference.

"Rob Cook doesn't just talk about what would Jesus do; he does what Jesus did,” says Marlene Bagnull, an author and director of writers conferences in Colorado and Philadelphia. “He goes to those who are angry and hurting and lost - to tough teens who hang out on the streets and would not be welcome in many churches.

“God is using him to make a difference not only in their lives but in my life as he challenges me to do what Jesus did," says Bagnull, who has written five books of her own and contributed to four others.

Cook's keynote address, Regener8ted, is adapted from his book subtitled “Straight Talk For Street Smart Teens.” An eight-week devotional for young men, the book is relevant to young men in today's sex-saturated culture, dealing with pornography in its first chapter.

“It' a blue-print for life that has no preservatives and no sugar-coating – definitely not your parents' devotional,” Cook says.

A husband and father, Cook will have plenty examples of DWJD when he speaks in Estes Park on Jesus' parable of four types of ground. He will challenge writers and publishers at the conference with what it means to live a rich life for God, producing 30-, 60-, 100-fold harvests with good spiritual seed and fertile soil.

They'll hear about the time Cook stopped an MTV2 host and freestyle rapper from hosting a sexy bikini contest and dance party geared to 12- to 18-year old girls after investigating and taking his concerns to law enforcement.

DJ Anticz, the Philadelphia artist and cable television show personality who promoted the show, later pulled the plug on the event when police and prosecutors began probing advertising for the event. It featured a buxom woman in a dance pose with the words “No dress code.” Anticz is known for his CD “Sex, Money and Drugs” produced by Murdagram Records.

Hearing from God and experiencing miraculous provision are other themes Cook shares with his audiences.

Like the time Cook heard God tell him that he needed to buy groceries for a family of four because the husband was sidelined with a back injury. With two boys, ages seven and 10, the wife didn't know where to turn for help. “She had been praying about her empty refrigerator the very morning we showed up with $150 worth of groceries,” Cook says.

Then there was the time when a video game shop owner showed up with a XBOX 360 and PS2 at a 252 Underground event. The previous machine had just died, and Cook decided to pray about a new one rather than round up money to buy a replacement.

Recently, Cook believes the Lord connected him to a father of a 14-year-old who wrote a suicide note and was subsequently hospitalized after being disciplined by his parents for issues related to a his cell phone use. After meeting Cook, whose brother committed suicide, the teenager told his new pastor and friend, “I'll be burning up your phone with calls.”

“I was amazed when I met Rob because I had been praying for wisdom in dealing with my son's situation. It seems that Rob is somebody my son can talk to because he told his psychiatrist that he's scared of me.

“Somehow it helped him,” says John Williams of his son's new relationship with Cook. “He saw that God's looking out for him.”

The Cook and Williams families will spend Memorial Day together, getting to know each other around a campfire n Pennsylvania's outdoors.

“I literally hear from God on a daily basis and see him moving in the ministry,” Cook says.

“My goal is to help the church see itself being like the one described in the Book of Acts, where people meet basic needs by leaving our convenient, comfortable holy huddles inside a building.

“We know as Christians that we are the hands and feet of Christ,” Cook says. “But I sometimes want to say 'Yeah, but he's not a quadriplegic'” to those who are comfortable sitting in the church pews.

Cook will give one of six keynote addresses at the writers conference in Estes Park. He's currently working on his second book, Illumin8, and contributes a weekly devotional on Clash Entertainment. Cook also co-hosts a Skyped radio program on REMEDYFM called “Seriously Serious,” which is aired in 78 countries. The ministry website is robcook252underground.com and 252 Underground is on Facebook.

The pastor and author lives 40 miles north of Philadelphia in Coopersburg with his wife and 10-year-old son Christian. There, Cook also owns and manages a small painting business in addition to leading 252 Underground.