Friday, December 23, 2016

One Chapter

Christmas is such a special time of year. I am always amazed at the amount of people who see Christmas as the perfect time to give, not only to those they love but also to those in need. At the Mission, we receive a large number of donations and calls for volunteering, and we are always appreciative of the overwhelming abundance of generosity.
But have you ever wondered why it is that Christmas seems such a special time of year? Why do hearts feel more generous? Why do we want to draw near to those we love? Why does even the most "grinchy" heart seem to grow when it looks beyond the tinsel and the wrapping paper?
For those of us who profess Christianity, Christmas is a special time simply because of what it represents: the greatest gift ever given to mankind. We celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. For us, the hurt and suffering cries of humanity were answered that night with the shrill cry of a baby. Immortality wrapped itself in mortality so that God could walk among His people. No longer a "voice from the heavens" or a message through mortal prophets, He stepped down from a heavenly throne and chose instead the humble manger in Bethlehem.
The beauty of His sacrifice is unquestionable. The purpose of His coming, unfathomable. He didn't come to restore the military might of King David or the material wealth of King Solomon. He didn't come to heal the sick, though He did that. He didn't come to feed the hungry, though He did that. He didn't come simply to conquer death, though He did that. He came to fulfill the greatest miracle ever conceived: "To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
This was a miracle that only one could accomplish: Immanuel. God with us. And His birth is only one chapter in His Story.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you experience Christ, as He is, the Savior, the fulfillment of the promise that sang through the hills of Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14)
Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Serve God with integrity..."

September and October seemed to disappear in an instant and November is already half over! The year has been one of unexpected challenges, I'm sure, for many of us. I thought this quote from Charles Spurgeon was especially helpful and wanted to share it as an encouragement to you. This is a reminder that we are not to be weighed down by the cares of the world...or by its so-called successes. As he says, "Serve God with integrity, and if you achieve no success, at least no sin will lie upon your conscience. Trusting God, you will not be guilty of self-contradiction. Be a [person] with living principles within; never bow to the varying customs of worldly wisdom. Walk in your path of integrity with steadfast steps, and show that you are invincibly strong in the strength which confidence in God alone can confer. Your heart will be fixed, trusting in the Lord. There is no more blessed way of living than a life of dependence upon a covenant-keeping God. We have no care for He cares for us; we have no trouble because we cast our burdens upon the Lord." I hope this is both an encouragement and a challenge to you, as we face a new year full of potential. As Spurgeon said so many years ago, walk with integrity.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

You helped me...

I can't say that helping people ever becomes ordinary. Truthfully, however, the Mission has been "in the business" of rescue for over 100 years. That adds up to a lot of people being helped, a lot of lives being changed. As the numbers add up and the years roll by, you can lose sight of the importance of the individual.

Our guests have the opportunity to write post cards expressing thanks to those who give to provide food, shelter, and hope. As I was sorting through these cards, I noticed a simple message:
"Thank you for helping me."
It suddenly hit home to me that every one of the hundreds we serve is a "me," an "I," an individual whose life is being touched by the compassion of others. That person knows on a real-life level the difference your gifts make.

Please keep this in mind as you give and volunteer and support the Mission. This is one-on-one change. Your gift goes to a real person who has real needs. Thank you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

"how beautiful are the feet"

At a recent staff meeting, our executive director shared with staff how important the "every day" moments they experience at the Mission really are. To us, it's "ordinary" but the truth is that even seemingly mundane tasks accomplish extraordinary things in the lives of our guests. The floors are clean; the food tastes good; security keeps guests safe... We take on these responsibilities to enable guests to focus on the message of love and hope that we share, not just with our words but also with our lives.

After the meeting, one of our security staff was doing the usual rounds and decided to send me a photo. Her email said, "This morning Mark said he wanted pictures of ordinary things, so can't be more simpler than feet doing rounds during the day or night." When I saw the photo, I smiled but I admit that my eyes also misted up. The role of overnight security can seem tedious, but it's so important to the safety of our guests. In addition to checking cameras, security also provides early morning wake-up for those who have jobs or meetings, and they deal with late-night arrivals, those guests that police bring as a result of domestic violence or having found them homeless and on the streets.

Those feet are not ordinary. They lead the way so that the message can be told, and sometimes, in the watches of the night, when discouragement sets in, security staff are the ones to offer encouragement and provide comfort.

I emailed the staff person back and told her that a verse I was reminded of was from Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Ordinary? Yes, we may be. But when we bring good news and glad tidings, when we proclaim peace and salvation...we are extraordinary. We carry the message of Hope. Let us never falter.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cucumber Sandwiches and Funnel Cakes

Sometimes, it's the little things that say so much. Recently, I was talking to a guest and he described the meals the Mission serves as "miraculous," not because they are always amazingly delicious (though we do have some pretty good food) but because it never tastes "clinical." That is, our cooks do their best to go beyond merely quantity. And, when you think about it, "miraculous" is a great way to describe all the services the Mission provides. We serve about 300 meals a day. That's an average; so some days we serve more, some less. We never know how many. We also never know what donation might come in the door, and we exist on donations. Our cooks sort through the inventory of donated items and transform those donations into enough to feed anywhere from 30 people (at a lunch meal) up to about 150 (for a dinner meal). It has to be a meal that appeals to men, women, and children. It has to be able to "hold" well without breaking down (so it still looks and tastes good). It has to be as nutritious as possible and as filling as possible (as for some this is their main or only meal of the day). It can't be too spicy, but it has to have good flavor. It has to appeal to as many different palates as possible.

With all these expectations, we still see the occasional cucumber sandwich or funnel cake: the unusual item, the special treat, that "little thing" that says our cooks are doing more than going about a task. Their focus goes beyond merely putting food on a plate. They take the time to give more. And that's the soul of the miracle. It is amazing how much food is donated during a year. It is humbling to see the number of people who volunteer to help prepare and to serve those meals. Beyond all these great things, it's the small ones that say we're not just here to fill your belly. We're here to give you hope. To offer you the Bread of Life. To show you the love that is eternal. That sees you in your need and gives...more.

...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—  to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
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 in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:17-21

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


In February of 2014, one of our longest serving staff members retired from the Mission. Robert had served faithfully for many years as security, and he had seen many people come and go through the doors of the Mission. He had seen triumphs and tragedies. When we talked with him shortly after he retired, he shared some of the stories of people he had known. People who were forgotten by almost everyone else, people who were friendless, homeless, poor, and alone... He also told stories about former volunteers, staff, and supporters, most of whom had since gone on to glory. All of their stories now belonged to the past...and, in a way, to the Mission. As Robert set down his mantle of service, he too became a part of the legacy of the Mission, a legacy that spans more than a century.

Recently, I was reviewing old video footage, old in the way "standard definition" has now become old. I began to see faces on the screen, faces of people who were guests or who had volunteered. Some of the faces belonged to people who still come to the Mission. People who serve meals or give donations. People who occasionally come for a meal or for a bed. But some of those faces belonged to people who are now only memories. Volunteers who are no longer able to serve for whatever reason. Guests who drifted out of the Mission the way they had drifted in. Some of those guests and supporters alike had passed on...

It is amazing to recount the changes to the Mission just in the decade I have now been serving here. To see and talk about volunteers, guests, and staff, and to know that there are people I work with today, who don't know those volunteers, guests, or staff. Because, truthfully, the Mission is a building of bricks and mortar, but the heartbeat of the ministry is the people who come through its doors: people who serve and people who are served.

Thousands of people and thousands of stories, and all of them with one shared truth, one commonality: God brought them to the Mission. I believe and every day become more convinced that God has a purpose and a plan for my life and for yours. We all get to play our part, whether we are giving or receiving that cup in His name. So come through the doors...and be blessed.

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity..." Psalm 133:1

Friday, March 25, 2016

"Put up your sword"

This week has seen some desperate tragedies. Violence and hatred have resulted in the deaths of innocents. These were horrific events occurring on what is a holy week, when we celebrate two great Christian holidays, the foundations of the Christian faith: Good Friday and Easter. Watching the news, the message of Christianity seems even more clear.

We read in the Gospels of Jesus in the Garden. He knew that He was already betrayed by a friend. Guards would soon be coming to take Him to His cruel and ignoble death on a Roman cross. He had suffered through that night, alone and in prayer. He was ready to die on our behalf, to pay the penalty for our sins. This was the role for which He had come to earth. He was the only one who could fulfill His mission. Isaiah had prophesied that He would "open not His mouth," that He would go willingly to the fate that awaited Him.

His disciple, Peter, had a different plan. Peter was a hothead. He was big and strong, but a fisherman not a fighter. He knew there would be trouble, and he'd prepared himself. As the guards came to take his Master, he swung wildly with unskilled hands and wounded a servant of the High Priest.

Jesus' response was not a commendation. It was not a command for Peter and the other men to take up arms. His message was one of peace. "Put your sword away!" He had come to reconcile humankind to their Creator, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

There have always been two paths open before us: the path of hatred and the path of love. Today, the difference between those paths has never been clearer. As a wise Godly man once said, we must choose whom we serve. The choice is yours. My prayer today is that you choose to "put up your sword" and follow the footsteps of the Man who gave up Glory to die in your place.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thank you, Waverly Laundry!

Recently, we were asked by the manager of Waverly Laundry if we would be interested in offering a "laundry voucher" to our guests. Currently, we have a laundry room at our women and children's shelter for guests there, but there is none at Michigan Avenue for our men. Providing a place for these men to clean their clothing is a great need, and not one that most people think of. Waverly Laundry has already reached out, through Homeless Angels, to meet part of this need, so their generosity in expanding that service to try to reach more people is just an example of a true heart of compassion. This new opportunity produces a new need for detergent pods for ease of transport for those men utilizing this opportunity. Our donation drop-off site is 607 E. Michigan Avenue, with preferred hours of 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thanks again, Waverly Laundry, for your heart of compassion! Thank you for being a rescuer!