Twas the Week Before Christmas at the Rescue Mission
I circled the block of the rescue mission three times looking for a safe place to park. The building is conveniently located in the poorest area of town. After all, that’s what the mission is for: to help the less fortunate, homeless, and the poor. And that was why I was compelled to go there. God has been working on my heart ever since I met a homeless young man who’d been kicked out by his abusive step-father. So there I was, a week before Christmas with not a clue what the Lord wanted me to do. Last week I’d spoken over the phone with Mike Meyer, the very kind Outreach Coordinator for the mission. I figured I could start with meeting him face to face.
After parking on the street around the corner from the mission, I locked my doors and was on my way by foot. A disheveled woman with wild gray hair pushing a shopping cart sang loudly to no one in particular. I kept my eyes on my destination, passing a group of four men who paused their conversation momentarily as I passed. I felt out of place.
Who was I kidding? I was out of place. A white middle-aged, middle-class women walking alone on these streets was probably not the norm.
Once inside, my nervousness quickly subsided. The building bustled with life. There were men and women busily sorting, stacking, and piling hundreds of boxed toys. It looked more like Santa’s workshop than a rescue mission. I was directed through a narrow passage around the toys to Mike’s desk. A tall fellow with kind blue eyes, stood reaching out to shake my hand. Instantly, I no longer felt out of place. Mike welcomed me as though he was greeting a friend.
Mike got down to business right away. He knew from our phone conversation that I was there to learn. He began explaining the obvious—the reason for all of the toys. The mission was collecting for its annual Christmas Toy Giveaway that would be taking place in a few days. So far they had received 1,458 toys that would help 428 families with children from the ages of 0-12. This is only one way the mission reaches the community, but it is by far, the most popular. There would be anywhere from 150-200 volunteers. The local fire department and many businesses would donate and volunteer as well.
Mike showed me a map of our city fairgrounds where the event would take place.
“Right here…”  Mike pointed his pencil at the map. “Is where the families will enter what we call, Santa’s Village. The toys will be sorted by age and gender.” He glanced up at me, a grin stretching from ear to ear. Then he looked down at the map again saying, “and over here is where the fire department will be and over here is for crafts and face painting.” The pencil moved from point to point on the map. “And here…here is where the kids can get their picture with Santa!” Mike’s excitement was contagious.
I listened and took notes as Mike explained how the families came into the mission at the end of November and filled out a form to pre-register for the toy giveaway. The form would help the mission determine which families would qualify. The mission is careful to do its best to ensure that qualifying families are of limited income, state residents with an address and that they have at least one child from the ages of 0-12.
Mike took me on a tour of the mission, all the while giving me a crash course on its many facets such as the food pantry, men’s ministry, farmers market, transitional housing program, recovery program, shower program, hot meals, and thrift store. He even created a file with information I could research later regarding the operations of the Rescue Mission Alliance. I was introduced to Director, Bill Edwards who was kind enough to take a few moments for me to ask some questions.
It became clear to me after meeting the director, the employees, and volunteers that for the mission to work effectively, it must be based on the care and relationship with individuals. And isn’t that exactly what the ministry of Jesus looked like? The key word being RELATIONSHIP. That’s what I witnessed taking place at the mission: people caring, loving and establishing relationships. And you know what? ANYONE WILLING TO HELP FITS IN. 
After taking the grand tour, we headed back to Mike’s desk. I looked at the clock, realizing I had been there for two hours. Boy, how the time had flown by! As Mike and I talked, the volunteers had loaded all the toys into a large truck that was serving as Santa’s sleigh—at least for that day. And it would seem these volunteers were his elves. No, scratch that. These people were not elves. Maybe just maybe, they were God’s angels, or at least His ambassadors. With tears in my eyes as I drove away, I was determined to learn how to become one of them!


Inside of the truck, over 1,400 toys!

How can you help? I wrote an article on the ways the average person can help the homeless and poor without enabling. See last week’s post, Homeless at Christmas:

I will continue to research issues that prevent the average person from helping the homeless such as mental illness. Hopefully together and one relationship at a time, we can shine our lights to “the least of these”.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.”Matthew 5:14

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and suggestions on this subject.

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