Rescued at the Rescue Mission
For over ten years, our youth have served at the Rescue Mission by providing chapel services once a month. They offer greetings, readings, brief messages and music. Its a tremendous opportunity for them to develop their leadership gifts, and they are all forced out of their comfort zones.
The hardest part is getting them there. Often they come straight from a game or practice. One time one of our boys arrived in his baseball uniform after pitching a game. To me it looked funny to have this boy in leggings and bright red cap playing his pink electric guitar up front. But as I chuckled to myself, I came to realize that nothing looks crazy at the Rescue Mission. It is a place full of obvious brokenness and pain. In the midst of addiction, poverty, mental illness and homelessness, the last thing the visitors are worried about is what we look like. Unlike everywhere else I go in this beach town full of beautiful people, no one at the mission sizes me up when I walk in.
Another time, a young girl of fourteen from our group was set to share. Ideally, when a student volunteers to speak, their small group leader meets with that student to help them prepare. But sometimes that doesnt happen, and this was one of those times. This girl walked up to the rickety podium and said, Hi, my name is Sherry (not her real name). Today Im going to talk about temptation. Now I dont know how familiar you are with temptation You heard a murmur rumble through the room of 90 or so. Given that one of the primary factors of homelessness is substance abuse, this was definitely a group familiar with temptation. I gritted my teeth. Sherry described how tempting it is for her to fight with her younger brother over using the computer or watching her shows on TV. Oh dear, I thought to myself. These folks are going to be so offended by our privileged, easy lives.
Yet the exact opposite happened. As Sherry talked about fighting her desire to hit her brother, people shouted out encouragements like You go, girl! or Keep tryin, Sherry! She shared verses that helped her in her struggles and thanked them for listening. Everyone clapped as she headed back to her seat.
This is the best part of the Rescue Mission for us it is not merely a place of service for our students; there is true give-and-take. The visitors minister to us by offering encouragements and welcome. They are the most accepting and forgiving audience our youth have ever faced. Teenagers voices can be off key, beats can be off tempo, messages can lack polish, and these folks simply do not care. They are so pleased our kids want to be with them that mere attempts are more than enough. It has been a delight and frankly, a huge surprise to me.
It is not hard to find scriptural support for this ministry—but the passage that best expresses our time there is found in Mark 5, when Jesus encounters the hemorrhaging woman on his way to heal Jairus daughter. Jesus is pressured by a large crowd; nevertheless, he stops to listen. Keep in mind, she told him the whole story. Think how long it takes to recount one trip to the ER! Imagine how long it would take to sit through twelve years of treatments, doctors, hopes dashed, etc. Jesus extends intimacy and relationship to an outcast. He doesnt write her off. She is worth time and relationship.
For us the Rescue Mission has in fact rescued us from our mistaken notions about who the homeless are. We have discovered they have something to offer us as well. As Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Bring teachable hearts, and youll never be the same.
Note: a longer version of this post appears as an article in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of YouthWorker Journal. See a preview online.
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