Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Abundantly Above All We Ask or Think

If you look in the news, you’ll have to search hard to find anything that will bring you hope. Job loss, economic crisis, foreign wars, internal conflicts, all this exists, and very few believe that the oft-touted goal of “world peace” is even achievable. I’m a bit of a skeptic myself, I admit. More “glass half empty” in my view toward the world and strangers I have yet to meet. But you can’t work for the City Rescue Mission, or volunteer here for even a day, without being overwhelmed by the truth that compassion does exist. I wish I could transport everyone to that moment when you’re being run off your feet by people desiring to give to others in need. To be there to scratch your head and wonder where we can put the food that is donated to pack the pantry and fill baskets for those who are struggling this holiday season. We’re all struggling, and that’s the truth. The recession has touched everyone in some way. But when things seem the darkest, that’s when you find the true measure of a person’s character. And the character of a people defines the character of a a nation. From where I sit, we really have very little to worry about.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory..." Ephesians 3:20, 21a

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Can of Pringles

I hope I never stop being surprised by life. Or overcome by generosity. Caught up in joy.

Today, a little girl arrived with her mom. Clutched in her hand was a Pringles can. But the jingle inside wasn't from chips. For the whole of this year, Makayla had collected part of her allowance in that Pringles can. "For the homeless," were the words carefully printed on yellow paper and taped to the side. She was so excited.

"Some of the bills are a little crushed," her mother explained, and the words brought to mind the image of an eight year old carefully counting and re-counting every dollar and every coin, for a whole year.

Earlier this week, another girl named Emily had stopped by to donate money raised from cards she and her sister handmade. A sweet smile on her face, she proudly posed for her picture.

What a blessing to be able to experience their joy and excitement and that innocent pleasure that comes from giving to someone else in need. We are grateful for both these girls, their hard work and sacrifice, and also for their parents, who are teaching them already the lesson of compassion.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What are you thankful for?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and, right now, the thing I seem most thankful for is the opportunity to sleep in. A purely selfish pleasure, I admit, and one that invariably leads me, this holiday season, to be thankful that I don't get to sleep in more often. That when my alarm goes off in the morning, I have to get up, because I have a job to get to.

In Deuteronomy 28, we are told that, if we obey the voice of the Lord, His blessings will "overtake" us. I can't think of a better blessing than being able to serve the Lord and to serve others. And while we open our doors to the lost and hopeless, the hungry and homeless, we are able to offer them food and shelter, physical and spiritual. Because of the generosity of so many people. The bounty of God and the compassion of our community never ceases to amaze me.

So this Thanksgiving, while we follow the pattern set by the pilgrims in 1621 and thank God for His "harvest" bounty, I'll also be thankful for His everyday blessings. For a job and my health. For a working vehicle and the ability to go to nearly any corner and buy gasoline for it. For our country and the men and women fighting to protect it. For the freedom to express our faith and to stand for our principles. For government, yes, even government, and that we live in a democratic republic, where we have a right to a voice without fearing imprisonment or worse should we choose to exercise that right. For our family and friends. And for our neighbors.

And my prayer is that I never again take these everyday blessings for granted.

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Burdens are Lifted

I've been thinking a lot lately about burdens. John Bunyan, in his classic portrayal of the Christian walk, describes his "hero" carrying a heavy burden of sin until it is left at the feet of the crucified Christ. I have a copy of the illustration in my office, and it encourages me to think that the work we do every day at the Mission is bringing some person a step closer to the freedom of laying down his burden.

But when you become a Christian, you lay down your sin and selfishness and pick up a new weight. A cross. The weight of the world. If you ask to see the world through Christ's eyes, you begin to feel the heaviness of sin all around you. People you love make decisions, choose paths, that lead only to tragedy and heartbreak. And your heart breaks with theirs.

We read over and over again in the gospels of how Christ was moved to compassion when he saw the crowds, hundreds, thousands of people in need. Seeking and pleading for something more than physical healing. Looking desperately for hope. For rescue.

The need is so great. And sometimes the doubt may creep in that your tiny candle will never make much of a difference in a world so dark with despair. Then the doorbell rings. A woman stands there, hesitant even to give her name. With a broad smile, she hands over some folded twenties.

"The Mission helped me when I needed it, and now I want to give back."

Someone calls on the telephone, excited at the opportunity to participate in our holiday barrel drive. The volunteers arrive to serve the meal, as they do faithfully every day.

And the tiny candle flickers into a flame, as you realize that you are not alone. There are so many people around, holding their light high in the darkness. Doing what they can to make a difference. Each dancing light is a reminder that Christ promised our burden would be light if we shared it with Him. Because He knows the darkness of the world. And He has overcome it. We are not alone and together we can make a difference.

Thank you for helping us help others.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Backpacks of Hope

So, the weatherman had hinted at rain, and with this summer the way it's been going, it seemed as though it were a certainty. However, early on a Saturday morning, in spite of the dreaded forecast, hundreds of people were lined up outside the doors of Lansing Charter Academy. They were all waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m.; some of them had been waiting for over four hours.

Inside, volunteers for the City Rescue Mission and Lansing Charter Academy were also waiting for the doors to open. Russ Kinyon, CRM Director of Volunteers, was explaining the process each family would need to go through to be eligible to receive a backpack from the Backpacks of Hope giveaway. An annual event, the City Rescue Mission collects backpacks and school supplies and distributes them to school age children of families in need. With the economic forecast nearly as gloomy as that of the weather for the giveaway day, this extra boost was greatly needed by many families.

At the rate of over 12 bpm (backpacks per minute), all the backpacks filled with school supplies were distributed within a few hours. The volunteers then collected remaining school supplies in plastic bags and gave them out as they were able.

Altogether, over 1,300 children received help through this much needed program. The City Rescue Mission is grateful to the many volunteers and supporters who made the 9th annual "Backpacks of Hope" giveaway a reality. We're also grateful to Lansing Charter Academy, for offering their new building to us, and to Christian Services, for their help as well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

That's Why...

We just had a young woman leave the Mission. She stopped by the office, trembling, bruised, looking for help. She needed some place to stay until she could go to work because she was afraid to go home. Then a place to stay tonight for the same reason.

Fortunately, the timing worked out so that she could spend an hour filling out an intake form at the women and children's shelter. But it makes you think of those other women where the timing isn't so fortunate. Sitting in the cars. Waiting in fast food restaurants. Hiding out in the library. Thinking. Frightened. Wondering.

That's why Maplewood can't be finished soon enough. A place of safety and shelter for women and children during the day. Please continue to pray for this project and the new opportunities it will bring to meet physical and spiritual needs to the most vulnerable.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speaking of something to eat...

This past Sunday, Mary's Homestyle Catering and the Mega Mall held the first ever "Drive Against Hunger" car show to raise non-perishable food items for the Mission. In honor of their generosity, I'm focusing on photos of food from years past. The Mission has served food, in some form of another, since it's founding in 1911. Our "Soup Kitchen" was formed in 1932, during the very beginning of the depression. When Thomas Dolton had the foresight to recognize a need and the determination to meet that need.

This is a photo of Nancy Kellogg and, I believe, either Jessie Aleo or Elizabeth Kellogg. (I apologize for my lack of information in this area.) Notice the wholesome and delicious breakfast of bacon and grapefruit. As you can see, in the background, Tide hasn't changed much since this picture was taken in the early 70s.

Apparently, "no shirt, no shoes, no service" didn't apply to this youngster. Then again, how many of us cringe when our child attempts to eat spaghetti sans mess.

I just put this in because I found it somewhat disgusting. Can't complain about health department standards after seeing this lovely sight. Some strange, bearded guy sucking the air out of a plastic bag covered head of cauliflower. Yummy!

Staff, board, and family enjoying a day at Victory Harbor or a Lansing area park. I'm not sure which. There's always someone who has to gesture to the camera, isn't there? Leon Kellogg is the gentleman entering from the right of the group.

Last, but definitely not least, a picture of Ira Putter peeling potatoes. The Mission has had several faithful cooks who served thousands of meals during their "career" at the ministry. Ira served through several superintendents (former name for directors) until his death in the mid 70s. A great but humble life of service.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Men at Work

So, today our guys (i.e. Mission staff and program men) are cleaning out the overloaded basements at the houses on Clear Street. This inspired me to go ahead and show some views of men at work through the ages, at least the Mission ages. Most of these pics took place during the 70s, when the Mission underwent heavy renovation under Superintendent Mal Hoyt. Captions are below their corresponding pictures. (If you should happen to recognize any of the following people, please let us know.)

I'm pretty sure that this happy fellow is standing on the roof the current kitchen (behind 609). Notice that he's wearing slacks and a button up shirt to clean wood shards off a, probably somewhat questionable, rooftop.

He sure is hard at work. I remember my brother doing much the same when he was knocking out a wall. I hope that's what he is doing, because otherwise he's probably knocking down plaster to make way for the "faux" wood paneling that dominated Mission interior decorating for the next three decades. I'm not sure if this is Michigan Avenue or Larch Street, and the same can be said for most every renovation picture taken inside a building.
My first guess would have been that this was Larch Street, since I think they were converting an old storefront/warehouse. However, I know that the 600 block buildings have very high ceilings, hidden above the drop ceiling we have now. This picture does make me wonder just how concerned they were with safety. Did OSHA exist back then?

I love this picture. I perfectly understand that feeling of starting a project and looking down in dismay at the mess you'll have to take care of before you can move on to the final step. Either that or he just realized that he laid his lunchbox down somewhere...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"What Wondrous Love is This?"

I'm working on a grant request for Maplewood, and it's helping me think about our "mission" and why we do what we do. And what it is we're actually trying to do.

And I can't help but be grateful that it's not our job to judge between the "deserving and the undeserving poor." In Pride and Prejudice, the wealthy lady of the manor admonishes the pastor's wife to be sure she learns to tell the difference. But for us, this law, by God's grace and Jesus' sacrifice, does not apply.

When a man or woman shows up at our door, we can't tell, just by looking what manner of person he/she is. We don't know their condition, whether it be societal, economic, educational, moral, or spiritual. We are just to reach out the hand of Christ wherever we see a need.

How could we do less? When He, with His dying breath, called down forgiveness on those who crucified Him?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Peek in the Past

For a change, I thought I'd show some of the pictures we've discovered on old slides/negatives. Most of the people are unknown, other than that they were guests of our Mission at various times in the past.
You gotta love this guy's hair. Classic 60s... This picture is taken in the alley that runs behind the 600 block of Michigan Avenue. Most likely close to the Mission, though I don't recognize the windows. They could have disappeared with the massive remodeling that happened during the 1970s.
I love how this picture looks almost like it could have been taken yesterday...except for the guy's swinging hat, groovy coat, and cool shades. Not to mention the appearance of "Lansing City Rescue Mission," a name adjustment that occurred sometime in the 70s. Maybe because the sign painter put up the wrong info. Gotta love the yellow counter top too.

What beautiful curtains, huh? I don't know why I like this one so much. Maybe because of the light streaming in through the windows. When the remodeling happened during the 70s, they closed up a lot of the windows and put in a lot of dark, fake wood paneling. The result was a very dark look and a closed-in feeling in much of the pictures later than this. Fortunately, with the recent remodel, we've let back in the light.

Who wouldn't love this black and white of the old neon cross. The Jesus Saves sign (in some form or another) has hung above the 600 block longer than any other "business" on that block, I believe. Maybe longer than most any other business on the street.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Exciting Arrivals

Lots of changes coming up at the Mission and for Mission staff. Julie, our executive director's dog and one of our Mission Mascots, has just had a litter of puppies. We all are excited at the thought of seeing the little guys (and girls). Some of the Transformation Program men even volunteered to "puppysit," should the need arise.

Tim, our director of maintenance, is expecting his first child. He is pictured here with his wife on their wedding day a few years ago. He met his wife through the Mission, and we are all anxiously waiting to welcome this new little girl into the world.

Today, we're in the process of giving the chapel a facelift. Pictures are finally going up, and I will post photos of the completed project on the Mission facebook page (search City Rescue Mission of Lansing), once everything is finally on the walls.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The One Who Came Back

On occasion, when you're in the "business" of rescue, you think back to a face, a name, a person who came seeking help. We do our best; however, sometimes, the person disappears back onto the streets and you never know if they began to apply what they learned. Did they make the positive changes in their life? Were they just "saying the words and going through the motions," until they could make it out the door and back to their old habits?
Recently, one of our night managers shared a praise. A call came in to the Mission long after the office had closed, from a young man who wanted to donate the food from his wedding. It was a catered affair and, as often happens, some of the food remained untouched and still in sealed containers. Per the health department, we can take food that is from a licensed kitchen and has not been served from, and we were grateful for this donation to add to our daily meals.

The young man arrived with his bride and began unloading their vehicle. Then he shook the night manager's hand. "I used to stay here," he said. Now he's married and getting his life back on track. What a blessing to realize that, through the donations and compassion of our supporters, this man's life has been changed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So That's What I Smelt...

Dining at the Mission can be an educational experience. Through the years, we've served an astonishing array of interesting dishes, besides the normal "Mission fare." Because at least 90% of what our cooks serve comes from whatever arrives in the form of donations, anyone serving in the Mission kitchen has to learn how to be a little creative with their recipes. It wasn't until I began to work at the Mission, for example, that I learned that such a thing as smelt even existed, let alone that people ate the little things. I've had many culinary firsts here, swordfish, collard greens, asparagus (what can I say, I had a sheltered childhood), and even buffalo (not that I tried that dish. Does anyone remember Elvis from Fenner?).

It is actually pretty amazing when you think that in 2008 alone, we served enough meals to feed a family of four, 3 meals a day, for over 19 years. Much of that food comes from regular families, like the one pictured here! Do those few extra sale items you pick up and donate make a difference? Just ask the hundreds of men, women, and children who will get a hot meal tonight because of your compassion!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thoughts on Liberty

I'm working on the front page article for July. That is to say, I'm avoiding working on the front page article for July. My measure for whether or not a story has merit to be printed as the cover article is whether or not I feel an emotional connection with what I'm writing. Do the words come alive to me? If they don't come alive to me, I can hardly expect anyone else to be impressed or interested in casual words slapped into some kind of order and slathered over blank, white space. We're a month ahead, always, so the newsletter has been in process since the end of May, as soon as the June newsletter was sent on to be printed.

And July, well, July is sort of a special month to me, even more so since I began to work at the Mission. Here, every day we strive for an Independence Day. For freedom to finally come to those struggling under the weight of poverty, selfish choices, addictions, parental neglect, mental or physical handicaps, and the myriad of other circumstances that can lead a person to our doors.

I decided to start eating healthier. I only say this because today was day one, so, of course, I stopped at a fast food restaurant for just a small indulgence. While inside, one of the workers recognized my Mission shirt and mentioned one of her relatives. I knew the women she was talking about, knew her testimony and the changes in her life. And I was struck again by how one woman's triumph over a life of selfishness and addiction affected more than herself. Her family also found freedom.

What a blessing to be part of that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

It's always a blessing to spend time with friends, especially friends we haven't seen in a while. Wednesday, Jim, our former volunteer coordinator, had some time to spend with us during a trip to Lansing. Jim "wore a variety of hats" at CRM (serving with our ministry for over a decade) before accepting a new position with the Lenawee County Mission near Adrian. We are pleased to hear that things seem to be going well, and Jim is enjoying his new responsibilities as Assistant Director. Wednesday was a good opportunity to catch up with Jim, as well as to hear how the Lord is working in the hearts of men who have come to the Mission for help with their addictions. Those of you who remember Jim from his many long years of service, please remember to say a prayer for him and his new work in Adrian.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Emptiness of our Hands

Working at the City Rescue Mission is, at one time, both highly rewarding and incredibly humbling. I wish I could find words capable of fully transmitting the feeling of opening a courtesy reply envelope and seeing a check and a note, "I wish I could give more, but I'm currently laid off from my job." Or how many people express a desire to give more or the regret that they can't give at this time.

I have an app on my desktop that allows me to receive internet headlines for the day, and one of those linked to a map showing the economic climate of every state during this "recession." I highlight that word because I noticed something as I scrolled over the fifty states. The earliest any other state began to fall into a recession was listed as October 2007, that I could find. Michigan was listed at April of 2006.

It amazes me, living in Michigan and seeing the state of our economy firsthand, how much our citizens still manage to give, even from limited incomes. D. L. Moody once said that character is what you are in the dark. When things are down. When it doesn't seem to matter any more. When no one is looking.

But we have so many who give, without recognition and in spite of personal sacrifices. So that is our good news for the day. The need is great, but through God's providence, compassion is greater.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Just Another Friday...

Papers are sitting unattended. They clutter my desk, but I'm too interested in the slow ticks of the clock to notice. Summer is finally here. Warmth, or what passes for warmth on a May day in Michigan, is beckoning from the front office picture window. That large light in the sky, that it seems I haven't seen in months, is smiling benignly on the world below. A sunny Friday afternoon. Is there anything sweeter? Anything with more promise? All the weekend potential for relaxation and fellowship with family and friends is building with every slow tick of the clock. Any minute that tick will be the last tick, and I'll gather my things and head for home.
But all the weekend happiness is always bittersweet, when you know that even when you lock your office door and get into you beat-up old car, the realization remains that life at the Mission continues day-in and day-out. For too many the days melt together into one long stretch of growing frustration and despair. They don't have all their paperwork. The landlord couldn't wait any longer and rented the apartment to somebody else. Grandma can't put up you and the kids because she doesn't have room, or she can't put up anyone because she stays in an assisted-living facility. The first check you'd planned on doesn't come until next week.

And what would I do if it were I? If I were the one staring at another denial letter. Or facing the fact that the groceries are almost gone and the paycheck just can't stretch to cover another week of breakfast, lunches, and dinners. I guess I would go the Mission and hope to see a friendly face. So we do what we can with what the Lord provides through the donations of compassionate groups and individuals.

And we take care of the paperwork and come back on Monday and do it all over again. We can't do everything, but we do what we can with the best that is in us. After all, that's all we're asked to do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

They did it again...

It's always amazing to see the dedication and faithfulness of our volunteers. So many of them love the Mission and our guests as much as we do. Today, Pam brought in cookies for the guys on the program. Pam comes regularly every Wednesday, along with several others. Joyce, one of our volunteer receptionists, unexpectedly popped in to cover the front desk for an hour or so, while her car was being worked on across the street. On Tuesdays, right after leaving her regular job, Elizabeth covers the phones for a couple hours, and I am humbled at the thought of someone who gets out of work and, instead of relaxing with some time to herself, gives that time to us. After all, it is in large part, the volunteers, their compassion, dedication, and spirit of self sacrifice, that makes this place one of the best places on earth to work. And also a blessed place for our guests, at least we try our best to make it so. We couldn't survive without them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Movers for Moms

Two Men and a Truck, in collaboration with Windemere Park Charter Academy, recently helped collect clothing, personal need (hygiene) items, and non-perishable food for City Rescue Mission of Lansing. The items, specifically to help homeless and/or low income mothers, were collected and brought to the Mission, in time for mother's day.

In an article for the Lansing State Journal (written by Kathryn Prater), Wayne Lake, general manager of Lansing's Two Men and a Truck, was quoted as saying, "A lot of these mothers, they probably don't get anything for Mother's Day. They're just barely getting by." He rightly stated that young people, like the students at Windemere Park, are the future.

It is a great blessing to see the management and employees of Two Men and a Truck, as well as parents and teachers, living an example for the students at Windemere Park. The Mission, and the moms who need our services, are very grateful for their compassion.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cleaning up the streets of Lansing...

Today, the City of Lansing held its annual "Clean Sweep" event. The Mission helped sponsor the effort, as well as sending out a group to help sweep the streets of trash and litter. The guys worked hard, and we appreciate their efforts on behalf of our city and its citizens. The photo shows the men gathering at the corner, at the "end of their labours," before they head for home and some much deserved relaxation. Or back to class for some of our program men, who also generously donated their time and worked shoulder to shoulder with staff.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Day at the Ballpark

Last Saturday, staff and some of our program men were able to attend "Home Plate" and see the Detroit Tigers play. Home Plate is a special time of fellowship and renewal, where some of the players share their testimonies. It was a great "field" trip for our guys, a chance for them to see staff in a different light, an opportunity to hear from others who have committed their lives to the will of Christ, and some time to relax away from the strict 24/7 routine they experience during their year at the Mission.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Beware of Men Selling Flowers to "Raise Funds for the Mission"

A vigilant Mission supporter just called to say she and some friends were approached by a man selling flowers "to raise funds for the City Rescue Mission." When she asked him for some documentation, he said he had to "get it from his car," at which point he left and never returned.

The City Rescue Mission of Lansing does not solicit funds in this manner. This man was not authorized by us and it is very doubtful that any of the money, which he managed to collect from the unsuspecting compassion of capital area citizens, will ever reach the Mission or those we serve.

This occurred on the southside of Lansing just this afternoon (04.03.09). If you are approached by anyone soliciting funds for the Mission, it is best to either ignore the person or to call your local authorities.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The difference a little love makes...

"Greg" came with his mother and younger brother to stay in our women and children's shelter in 2008. Even for young children, who don't understand all the implications of being homeless, having to leave your home and move into a house full of strangers must be intimidating. Children desperately need security and stability; the world is so much bigger than they are.

In the fall of 2008, our Executive Director began bringing his labradoodle, Azan, to visit the women and children in the shelter. In Hebrew, Azan roughly translates as "listen." The implication being the importance of "listening" to the message of the gospel which we present.

At first, "Greg" would only stare at Azan from a distance, but Azan is basically love wrapped in a fur coat. It didn't take long, and the dog's patience won over even "Greg's" fear and skepticism. Our hope and prayer is that all children, like "Greg," who come to our shelter are shown enough love and patience to make their time with us more of a stepping stone and less of a stumbling block to their, and their mother's, future.
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guests vs Clients

Last week, members of the City Rescue Mission staff went on a field trip to visit Mel Trotter Mission in Grand Rapids. They were very welcoming, and it was interesting to tour the facility and see the impact that ministry is making in Grand Rapids. It was also interesting to see how two ministries with so much in common can also be very different.

One of the things I found most confusing was the different "language" they spoke. They referred to men and women on their addiction/rehabilitation programs as residents. At CRM, we tend to call them program men ("men" because we don't currently have a women's program); sometimes, we just refer to them as program guys. We call anyone who uses our services, our "guests." To our neighboring Mission, they are referred to as "clients." Neither is more "right" than the other. It was just humorous how we could be talking about the same thing and not really understanding each other.

But, then again, isn't that more common than maybe we realize? Miscommunication based, not on a purposeful desire to deceive, but due simply to differing vocabularies. I don't know how many times I talk to people, and it's almost like we're speaking a foreign language because of how they are "interpreting" what I say rather than just listening. What a different place the world would be if we would try to learn our neighbors vocabulary and interpret from that, rather than judging his words against our own assumptions and world views.

"...For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What do you say?

So, today's blog is more of a question... What do you say to a mother who calls about donating her son's belongings because he has passed away?

We get a lot of unusual and interesting calls at the Mission and donations come in a variety of ways, but there's always that hardship of being grateful for the "benefits" of a tragedy. A husband dies, and his wife requests that donations be sent to the Mission in lieu of flowers. A young man just starting his life is killed in a terrible accident, and his father calls to ask if we'll take the extra food from his son's funeral dinner.

Compassion wrapped in a blanket of pain and loss... And what do you say?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's different when you know his name...

I've always been fascinated with names. The meanings of names... Why people choose to be called by a middle name or nickname rather than their given name... The old hymn tells us that, when we're saved, there's a "new name written down in glory" for each of us, and I think this just emphasizes the natural feeling that a name has more meaning than just a word. A name infers knowledge. The more intimate you are with a person, the more "names" you know. As in, "Why, there's my old college roommate Sally Smith. I called her Snatch," said with a smile of remembrance.

The same is true even in the lowest levels of society. Maybe it's even more true. We all "know" enough of the inner details of the lives of a "Beyonce" or "Brittany," to call these strangers by their first names. But for the men and women living on the street it's "the guy with the bushy hair," or "the lady who always waves when she walks by the window."

If we take the time to ask their name, it shows that we see them as more than just faces waiting in line. They are individuals, with stories and lives separate and unique from our own.

Your attitude changes too, when you know a person's name. They do become less of a "face" and more of a person.

"Oh, there goes Joey!" We say, as we see him on the street. And we care when he's not there and wonder if he's okay.

I think back to around the new year, when a woman stopped at our door. She was angry and agitated, insisting that we were encouraging men not to work by giving them clothing and shelter without making them do something to earn our services. But she wasn't around when, a few weeks later, several of those same men walked across the street to help a driver whose car was stuck in the snow. They weren't asked; they saw the need and went to help. I doubt they asked for anything in return either. Just gave the driver a wave and watched the car on its way.

I wonder if the driver asked their names to thank them. I doubt very much that the angry woman had asked their names. Praise God that, in spite of the flaws and failings of our compassion, there is Someone who will never forget...their names.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ed's Shoes

I was going through pictures in our files, in an attempt to put things in order, when I noticed a picture of Ed's shoe. Ed was in our men's Transformation Program. The Mission has a one year, biblically based program which attempts to help men overcome their addictions. Men join the program, many of whom are desperate to change their lives. Sometimes before it's too late.

Ed was one of these men. He seemed to be making great progress. Though he'd been in a few other rehabilitation programs, he believed that ours would be the one he finally finished. The path from which he'd never stray. But, as with too many of these men, after a few months had passed, he began to feel so good and see things so clearly, that he believed he was ready to "go it alone."

Staff members tried to discourage this feeling, tried to encourage him to "stay the course," but Ed packed up his belongings and went home. He promised that he'd be all right. He left behind very few things. Among these was a stray, black dress shoe.

Only a few weeks later, his girlfriend called to ask if she could come pick up the shoe. She needed it for Ed's funeral.

We don't know what went through Ed's mind. If, when he left, he truly believed he was "cured," or if he was only so desperate for a drink that he had little thought of anything else. All we know is that, in the dark of night, Ed, being too drunk to stand, stumbled into oncoming traffic and was killed.

It's a dramatic story, and I wish I could say it was the only story like it I had heard. The tragedy is that Ed's story is not as unique or unheard of as we would wish it to be, and the real victims of this story include Ed's girlfriend and his mother. These two women held onto hope until it was too late.

The men on our program are fighting and struggling for a new life. Donations from our supporters enable us to continually hold out a hand of help to them and their families. Prayers from our supporters encourage them, and us, as they continue their fight. Thank you for helping us help others!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love does have a lot to do with it

It's all part of that feeling you get when you've helped someone. The euphoria that comes from knowing you really have made a difference. You've positively impacted the life of a loved one, or even a stranger. I think that's why we get calls from people every day who want to donate their time and energy to helping us help others. People who maybe can't give a lot but want to do something to "fix the problems" of those in need. It's a feeling and a spirit that the government can't force upon people. You can reward someone for compassion, but you can't generate it by simply telling him or her to be "nicer" to others.

We've heard a lot about "change" and "hope" lately. Beautiful words being repeated like a mantra that will make us forget all the ugly things that seem to be happening in the world around us. Things like war and crime. Robbery and selfishness. Foreclosures. Bank failures. Unemployment. The list goes on, and it all adds up to loss.
Some things never change, which is why we can never stop doing our best to overcome the gathering darkness. And the things we should put our hope in--things like truth and justice--don't really come by the creation or the will of men in power. They come through the simple act of an everyday person saying, "I may not be able to change the world, but I can do my best to make a difference in my little corner of it."

This is what we see every day, ordinary people making a difference. And we also see it "rubbing off" on the men, women, and children whose lives are affected. These actions of compassion remind us all that, though the darkness should cover us, God is still there (Psalms 139). He will and does provide.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Boys will be boys

Last Saturday, Jim, our Associate Director, and a few other staff members took guys from our Transformation Program on a "field trip." Yes, it was a very cold day. Anyone who stepped foot outside, in Michigan, on the last day of January 2009, can bear witness to that. Then again, there's cold, and there's the cold of whipping down a hill, wind tearing at your face, and snow blowing in your eyes. Sledding, of course, the great American winter pastime.

In spite of the cold, all who were in attendance had a great time. It was a good opportunity for the guys to get out of the Mission, to spend time with the staff men, and to interact with each other away from the stress of tight-knit quarters.

It is a great reminder, too, that sometimes we all need to step away, even from the important task of transformation, just to enjoy the world and the life we've been given by our great Creator. Praise God, there are even treasures in the snow (Job 38:22).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Never judge a book by its cover

At the Mission, we scan through the Lansing State Journal to see if there are any articles that will help us as we serve the needs in Michigan's capital area. I must admit a particular weakness for two sections of the paper: the comics and John Schneider's column. I read the comics because, let's face it, during these times a little extra levity is always helpful. I read John Schneider because he talks about things that are happening to average, ordinary people, like me, in the area where I live and work.

In today's article, he talked about a man who was shoveling the snow from his driveway (not an uncommon practice this winter), when a van pulled up beside him and a woman leaned out and offered him a Bible. Being a believer, the man enjoyed the brief discussion and took the Bible willingly.

"There is a reward inside," the woman assured the man before she drove away. And she spoke the truth, literally as well as figuratively, because tucked inside was a crisp $100 bill and a tract.

John managed, the way he always does, to track down the who, why, and wherefore of the unexpected generosity, but the important point was that the gentleman who called John was not the only one who was approached in this creative manner.

Knowing this, I can't help but wonder how many refused the offered Bible from a stranger. Or how many took the Book, out of assumed kindness, and never bothered to look inside.

I couldn't have made up a better metaphor for the work that goes on every day in our chapel, and in chapels and churches throughout our country and the world. A man or woman stands up before a group and offers them the Word. Not his or her word, but the message as written in God's Book. But it is entirely dependent upon the hearers as to whether or not they will take what they've heard and "open it," i.e. apply it to their lives.

There are probably several unhappy people out there, who read today's paper and realized what they almost had. But what joy for those who bothered to look inside. And what better joy for those who look further than the temporary blessing of cold, hard cash, and see the eternal transformation to be found within the pages of the Book.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Do not worry about tomorrow...

Monday I was in an incredibly good mood. Not a common thing for a Monday, I have to admit. But there it was, a good mood. Then I came to work.

It isn't that I don't love my job or the fact that I get paid to help people. It's just that sometimes the "troubles" of life start to weigh heavy on your shoulders. Even on days that you're in an incredibly good mood.

Not that most of these were even my problems. Difficulties with guys on the program means difficulties for the program manager and director of operations; often times even the executive director gets a goodly dose of the trouble circulating around. And, despite what we may like, those feelings of agitation affect everyone around you. You wouldn't think one or two individuals could cause so many people so much frustration. However, when you're passionate about transforming the lives of those caught in addiction, that passion pulls you into the daily drama that is endemic with an "old life" being shaped into a "new one."

This frustration, of course, isn't uncommon in our line of work, but it was only one point in an overall "bad day." It was a busy day, and we were short staffed. It seems that need doesn't know when someone has gone home ill or the receptionist is taking the day off. Sales people must have made a resolution to make more calls in the New Year, because there were plenty of those, as well.

The front office was getting a makeover, a fact with which some people were pleased and others were not. Pleased or not, one of the new cubicles had to be made ready for the receptionist's return the next day. And, again, the people calling or coming to the door, didn't realize that the majority of the time I had to hop up from crawling on the floor, sorting items, to answer their incessant calls.

So the day went. Things that needed to get done remained undone, but by the end of the day, I was too worn out to care.

Then, the miraculous thing happened this morning. On my way to work, I was recalling my unusually good mood of the previous morning, and I had a revelation. Instead of looking at my Monday and thinking how it had ruined my good mood, I thought how blessed I was that God gave me such a good mood to combat such a trying day.

There are so many circumstances clamoring for us to be afraid or angry. To be anxious or agitated. But there really are blessings all around us. In spite of our moods, hungry people were fed yesterday. In spite of problems, another step has been made toward "new life" for the men in our Transformation Program. A woman who needed food, despite the fact that she worried about the weight of the basket, received abundantly above what she, apparently, asked or thought. In fact several men, women, and families received baskets of food or bags of hygiene items. Men, women, and children, without home or help, were able to find shelter at the Mission. Because of the generosity of those who give to others. It is this generosity that makes it possible for us to continue to help others.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

Friday, January 16, 2009

Generosity and Compassion...not superiority

Recently, I heard of an article which ran as an op-ed in the New York Times. The writer of this article (SONJA LYUBOMIRSKY, in the interests of proper source citation) has this to say:

"...Findings like these reveal an all-too-human truth. We care more about social comparison, status and rank than about the absolute value of our bank accounts or reputations.
For example, Andrew Clark, an economist in France, has recently shown that being laid off hurts less if you live in a community with a high unemployment rate. What’s more, if you are unemployed, you will, on average, be happier if your spouse is unemployed, too.
So in a world in which just about all of us have seen our retirement savings and home values plummet, it’s no wonder that we all feel surprisingly O.K."

I.e. The reason we aren't panicking in despair and making a run on our bank isn't because we've decided not to make the mistakes made in the Great Depression, but instead it is because we're okay with being in a recession, as long as everyone else is hurting too...

The reason I am haunted by this article is that I am offended on behalf of every person who comes to the door with a donation. Today, for example, we had several calls from people concerned about the cold weather. They wondered if we had a need of coats for those who come to the shelter; they were going through their closets to get all the extra coats and warm jackets they could find. A man dropped by and left a blanket. He didn't want a receipt; he didn't leave a name. Just a blanket. A woman dropped off 71 hand crocheted neck warmers and made sure to point out some people waiting outside our doors who could use one right away.

This isn't an unusual occurrence. For us it happens every day. So I'm supposed to believe we live in a magic bubble where people are concerned about those who are less fortunate, no matter that they too are in need? Or am I supposed to believe that the woman living on social security who sends us two dollars every month is only doing so out of a sense of superiority?

Yes, I am offended. On behalf of all those who give so generously and with such compassion. The Mission may not have the voice of the New York Times, but we do want our supporters, and the many in this country who give so generously to service agencies like ours, to know that we see your generosity. We understand that our country is great because of that generosity. Thank you on behalf of all whom you help. And God bless you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The "Small" Things...

It isn't always easy working in a "service" agency. It isn't just the people who are difficult and expect you to be able to provide for their every need and want; it's also the people who truly need help in an area you don't offer services.

A few months ago, we had a woman come to the office who had just moved into the area. She'd come to Lansing to be with her daughter, who has some severe emotional issues. Before she left her hometown, she'd tried to find a job in Lansing but finally had to decide which was more important, her daughter or her job. So she arrived in Lansing with no job, no apartment, no friends.

It was difficult to tell her that we don't have job counselors who are available on a walk-in basis. Much of what we do is offered either for our guests or through another local agency. We gave her the number for this agency and also recommended Michigan Works.

She was so grateful that we took the time just to listen and do what we could, that we felt badly about sending her away with "nothing in her hands," so to speak. But she paused in the doorway.

"I saw your sign. Are you part of the church?"

We told her that we are a Christian organization but non-denominational. She leaned in closer, the door still open.

"Can you pray for my daughter?" And gave us her name. Then she was gone.

What an amazing and humbling reminder to us that, at times we feel the most hopeless, there is still something we can do.