Friday, December 16, 2011

Love is the reason for the season

12/14/11 Chatterbox        
Betty Kaiser

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35

Shortly after we moved to Oregon I began hearing about the Eugene Mission. This organization practices what the above scripture preaches—the Mission is love in action.  A small donation one year at Thanksgiving put me on their monthly newsletter list and I quickly gained respect for a place that really does respect, feed, clothe and shelter homeless men and women (and now their children).

This May, several ladies in my Bible Study Group (mostly from C.G. Presbyterian Church) were welcomed on a tour of the Mission. I am happy to report that none of us were disappointed with the quality of the ministry that we witnessed. In fact, I don’t know what I was expecting but I’ll tell you this—the reality of their loving care far exceeded my expectations.

On any given night the Mission has about 400 guests sleeping on the premises in warm comfort. About 200 use the day services that are available. All of this started over 50 years ago by a band of men who just wanted to love their neighbors as themselves—specifically the homeless population. They had faith but only $5 in the bank and no property or buildings. That changed.

Longtime director Ernie Unger and his praying board saw the ministry grow exponentially over the decades. This May he handed over an established work with a dozen buildings, nearly 7 acres of land, a staff of 20 and a bank account based on contributions and other income to Executive director Jack Tripp.

My notes from that visit fill me with awe. It’s like a small city—busy and bustling with hope. It’s a place where people come as a last resort. They’re out of money, they have no place to go and they certainly have nothing to eat or anywhere to sleep. But they’re in the right place. Food, Bed, Gospel and Restoration has been the mission’s mantra for over 50 years.

So on this cold December day, I’d like to share with you a few snippets of things that I saw and learned that warmed my heart.

All of the homeless guests that come into the Mission are hurting in some way. Some lost their jobs and homes in the economic turndown; some are newly divorced or their spouse has died; others suffer from lack of direction and addictions. All need hope and love.

Some of the Mission employees have lived on the streets and they know the dynamics of homelessness. They can relate to the need. Or, as our guide Lloyd said, “Basically, we just love them.” He also said that most guests come by word of mouth: “I’ve been down there. They’re good people. They will help.”

One of the Mission’s largest sources of revenue is picking up and recycling newspapers from collection boxes. The original 1954 Chevy pickup that started this project is proudly on display. Today seven large trucks pick up 3,000 to 4,000 tons of paper per month. Men participating in a rehab program tie them in bundles along with recycled mail, books and magazines and they are sent to Portland in a 40-foot semi-truck.

After three nights, a bed ticket for men costs $2 or they can work in lieu of payment. Lloyd stressed that most men don’t want a free ride. They want to help and do something. Individuals will be barred from the mission for repeated drinking or drugs. They are asked to leave for seven days to get their act together and then return.

The men’s Day Room was very impressive. The guests can read a book, play a game, receive mail, get a haircut, do laundry, take a shower or come and go as they please until evening. It was a nice place. But the expression of fear and hopelessness on faces was palpable. I wanted to give them a hug and say, “It’s going to be alright” but I didn’t know that.

Single women and women with children are the fastest growing numbers in the homeless population. At the Mission, these populations are separate from the men’s area. The women’s center is a 100-bed facility and has welcomed ladies up to 86 years of age.

Denise guided us through the women and children’s area. When the mission started welcoming children they soon learned the depth of hurt that children suffered with loss of home, pets, school and dad. Each child is assigned their very own set of pajamas, quilt/blanket and stuffed toy to take to bed with them and when they move on.

Residency at the Mission is 60 days. The first three nights are free or after that (for the women) a five minute chore around the building. The rooms are warm and homey. Not sterile and institutional. While they are there, Social Services tries to get them into housing and moms are encouraged to get their GED at Lane Community College.

And if you’re a quilter you’ll be happy to know that fresh, hand-made quilts adorn every bed—men’s, women’s and children.

The kitchen was an impressive place. Seventeen men on the Rehabilitation Program prep meals and clean up. The chef presides over four ovens, two grills, two French fryers and a 60-gallon soup pot. The day we were there he was serving lunch to about 150 transient men—vegetarian soup, rolls and ice cream (all donated).

There are rules: can’t leave the property after 5 p.m.; bedtime is 9 p.m. And the Mission openly shares the love of Jesus Christ in nightly services put on by local churches. The Mission newsletters are full of the good news that turning to God has changed lives.

The “Mission News” writes that this Christmas their guests will enjoy “a delicious homemade dinner, a hot shower, a change of clothing, a warm dry bed, a special gift package and the Love of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that, my friends, is love—the reason for the season.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart 
and is published in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

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