2017 Posts

Faces of The Mission :: Thomas

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“I woke up to a girl screaming.” Thomas says. “I sat up to see what was going on, to see where [the screaming] was coming from. She was getting beat on. Two of my friends bolted over to help her. Then, more guys came running from the side and started jumping on my friends. I pulled one guy off my friend. That’s when he stabbed me, twice; once in the chest and once in the thigh. I got a large portion of the blade stuck in [me]. That’s when I really got permanence into the family, though. Until then it was just…I was there, they helped me, they accepted me, they watched out for me, but [the stabbing] is when I got inserted into the family permanently.”

We’re in a bakery at the corner of 22nd and Larimer. Thomas is across from me, mid-sip of his orange juice. “I don’t like being out on the street. It’s a big blow to the pride to ask for things.  I was more or less raised to work for things. I have to rely on the shelter for a lot, but it’s necessary, and I’m grateful for the bed… [But, in a way,] as far as growing up goes, being homeless is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I sit back and think this doesn’t sound like the best thing to happen to someone. Perhaps he’s joking, I think. I expect laughter to ensue, or at least a smile and a “just kidding.” Instead, his eyebrows are beginning to furrow. He looks up, then to the right. His movements are slow and thoughtful. He’s trying to remember his past, a past he’s chosen to forget.

“[I had] a lot of trauma in my childhood. I never really had a true family. I don’t talk to my parents, my relationship with them is complicated. I have one person I consider family back [home], in Mississippi, but he doesn’t even know where I’m at. [Out here, on the street,] I’ve actually got a family. There’s 10 to 15 of us; it’s a pretty large connection. They’ve definitely made it easier because they are people who help watch your back. Plus, they are people to talk to. You can’t do the homeless thing alone. Being homeless and alone, you go crazy. That’s when you get the people on the sides of the street screaming and [talking to themselves, saying crazy things like], ‘Pumpkins are the reason the government is flying to Africa!’”

Thomas’ comment about pumpkins and crazy people causes him to laugh, at least for a brief second. “Ugggggarrh, that hurts!” he says, grabbing his chest. “Every time I [laugh] it feels like my stomach is being ripped open.”

Thomas pauses, trying to catch his breath.

“And every time I breathe it feels like I’m being stabbed again. He nicked my diaphragm when he slashed my chest. I’m all sorts of screwed up right now.”

He lifts his shirt up, revealing what Thomas calls his “holes.” We didn’t ask to see them, but to Thomas these wounds are not just soon-to-be scars; to Thomas, his wounds are sacraments, remembrances to those around that he is committed, and connected, to something greater than himself.

“You lost everything, and this experience (I point toward the window, to the street) is the best thing that’s ever happened to you?”

“Yeah, just yesterday I lost everything in my storage and I could not care less. It was all material things I lost.”

I take a sip from my coffee. I’m trying to put the pieces together, trying to make sense of Thomas’ experience on the street. I set my latte down. “In losing your material life, you’ve gained family,” I say.

“A true family,” Thomas says.

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Shrinking But Still Growing :: An Update From Harvest Farm

This past November, our beloved Garden Supervisor Kelly Ballantyne resigned from Harvest Farm so that he and his family could pursue some new and interesting opportunities up in Alaska. During Kelly’s time here, our garden took on a life of its own and became one of the most integral aspects of our operation. We were able to grow abundant amounts of fresh produce not only for our kitchen that feeds our New Life Program participants, but for other partners in the Wellington and Fort Collins area as well as for the local food bank. Most importantly, we offered our garden participants good work, work that had value with a tangible goal in mind: feeding hungry people.

Now, however, we do not have the Garden Supervisor position at the farm. When word of this got out, my phone began to ring off the hook. Friends and allies of the farm came out of the woodwork, wondering what they could do to keep our garden afloat. We had offers of donations, both of money and time, in the hopes that we could keep the garden open.

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Of course, I loved the garden as much as anyone, if not more. I had seen firsthand the benefits of our garden program, witnessed lives of men transformed as they scraped out the soil from beneath their fingernails after a long day of weeding. But, without someone staffing it, things needed to change and we had a choice: Either keep on moaning or get creative.

We chose to get creative.

Led by our Agriculture Supervisor, Brian Newman, and our Maintenance Supervisor, Ben Bender, we reduced our allotted garden acreage by almost 2/3, consolidating growing space to a more manageable scale. We planted our now unusable garden spaces with perennial native grass for our Jersey cows to graze, and they don’t seem too chagrined with the new arrangement. Newman started reading up on greenhouse growing and immediately enlisted the help of local volunteers to start seeds in the greenhouse that are flourishing as I write this. We built a new mobile hoop and we are able to supply farm fresh produce—Swiss chard, spinach, romaine lettuce and more–to our kitchen every day to feed our New Life Program participants, staff, guests and volunteers. The garlic is sprouting, the tomatoes and peppers are thriving in the greenhouse, and every day all of our seedlings and sprouts are tended to by the men in our Agriculture Department.

 

So, while it’s true that we can’t do what we did the past few years with Kelly here, we haven’t stopped our passionate pursuit of growing healthy and delicious food at Harvest Farm.

There is opportunity in every event if we choose to get creative. Sometimes, complaining is easier than taking action, because there is nothing to lose when we complain, except perhaps our capacity to hope. If the felon is convinced that he will never get a job due to his criminal record, then he will probably be right. If the addict believes that grace and healing can never come to him as a result of his past behavior, he will probably be right.

But at this Farm, I’ve seen numerous felons get jobs and countless addicts find freedom and wholeness. How? By refusing to despair, by maintaining focus and determination, and by viewing every event as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

So, if you’re ever in the Wellington area and want to see a farm abounding in opportunities and grace, swing on into the dining hall around lunch time and we’ll show you what we’re all about. We’ll be here, still growing.

To learn more about Harvest Farm and the work we do every day, visit www.HarvestFarm.net.

Are You Happy?

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“Maybe this is a stupid question,” a young woman said timidly. “But I was wondering, how are you doing now and are you happy?” The question came during an afternoon class at Mountain View High School in Loveland, Colorado, after about 40 minutes of New Life Program participants Ben and Jaime sharing their stories of what brought them to the Mission.

For Ben, experiences when he was a child and the influence of drug addicts in his life led him to choose the same lifestyle. But after 30 years of violence and dealing drugs, Ben realized it was time to change. He read a message from his mother to the class—something she had written to him, pleading for him to stop his drug-ridden lifestyle. She spoke about how the kind and gentle boy she knew had been overcome by someone angry and willing to steal from his own family just to get high. It was an emotional letter, one that Ben keeps as a reminder of how far he’s come.

Jaime had a different experience. Coerced into a gang at just 11 years old, most of his childhood was spent dealing drugs, fighting and committing crimes. He described what it was like to watch friends die, to watch other friends turn their backs on him, to get shot, and to spend time in prison.

The tattoos across his face were a pretty clear indication of the type of life he’d lived in just 24 years, but the smile on his face showed something changing underneath. With all the weight of their stories hanging heavy in the air, the question from this student was fitting.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Ben answered. “I have nothing, but I have everything.”

Jaime chimed in next. “Prison didn’t teach me anything. When I got out, I didn’t know what to do so I went back to dealing drugs,” he explained. “At the Farm, I’m learning how to deal with the struggles in my life instead of running from them.”

The visit was part of a regular community service opportunity for men in the New Life Program at Harvest Farm. As these men experience change in their lives, they are given the opportunity to give back and share their story with students during a critical time in their lives. “If even one of you gets something out of us being here today, it’s worth it,” Ben said.

This was the first time Jaime had shared his story with kids, but he says he wants to do it again. He’s glad that his negative experiences can be used to positively influence someone’s life as he learns from his past and builds a new future.

For more information about our New Life Program at Harvest Farm, visit HarvestFarm.net.

When Seeking Help Is The Smart Thing To Do

Many people shy away from counseling; they think that if they seek help with their lives that others will label them as “crazy”. In fact, the exact opposite is true! Scripture tells us that:

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.  –Proverbs 1:5

and

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. –Proverbs 19:20

In other words, asking for help is the smart thing to do! Seeking input from others as we go through the seasons of our lives is an important part of becoming – and staying – mentally fit.

Not everyone needs to see a professional counselor. But if you or someone you know is feeling depressed, having difficulties in relationships or struggling in some way, a visit to your pastor, a chat with good friend or talking to a professional can make a world of difference. And, like a cavity in your tooth, if you handle things sooner rather than later, the problem will stay small and be more easily resolved.

However bleak the present may appear we can always have hope for better times ahead. That is one gospel promise that we see played out daily here at Denver Rescue Mission.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we acknowledge that mental health is an important component of overall health and wholeness. The STAR Transitional Program Counseling Department sees its mission enfolded in the Mission’s overall mission statement: we “meet people at their physical and spiritual points of need” to address their unique challenges. This includes helping them with life issues and problems like depression and anxiety as well as in their relationships with themselves, with others and with God.

In our Counseling Department we support people on their way to becoming self-sufficient. We meet with each person or family in the program and see how we can help them individually with their mental and emotional challenges.

Through workshops, individual sessions, groups for teen girls and teen boys, and play therapy for children, we have the joy of watching participants grow and flourish in their relationships with God and with others. Along the way, we also help future professionals get the real-life experience they need to hone their skills through our intern program. In the future, we hope to add to our list of services by introducing group counseling as well as support groups for those who need extra encouragement.

Our counseling department is a place where our guests and program participants can find help, hope and healing as the Holy Spirit continues to form them into the image of Christ. And we are so grateful to serve this community in need.

To learn more about how you can help #breakthestigma around mental health and get involved in your own way, visit www.nami.org.

125 Years Strong: Lon Gregg

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In an effort to highlight the Mission’s 125 Years of Changing Lives, we wanted to spotlight a very special employee. Lon Gregg started at Denver Rescue Mission in 1989. He is the Mission’s Spiritual Director and has been here for almost 28 years.

Lon had a huge role in creating what is now called the New Life Program. Years ago he spent some time at a Rescue Mission in Chicago when he needed help with his own addiction and getting his life back on track. Lon has a huge heart to serve those experiencing homelessness, and we wanted to ask him a few questions.

How does it feel to be Denver Rescue Mission’s longest standing employee?

“Standing” is the key word. I’m thankful to God for the health to be still active in this great work. I’m glad every (or, almost every) day to get up and come to work here

Can you share what brought you to work at Denver Rescue Mission?

After leaving a pastoral position in a church, I worked for several years in a condo management company. My wife Janet saw a position listed in the newspaper for a couple to be houseparents at a new program at the Mission in an apartment building on Champa Street. By the time we answered the ad, the concept had changed, and they were instead looking for someone as director of the Lawrence Street Shelter. I thought I could be more useful working in a ministry than on condos, so I applied, and began at the Mission in August 1989.

What has changed the most since your first year?

Mostly, size. There were somewhere between 8 and 22 people on staff when I began and we had only two operations, the Lawrence Street Mission and Harvest Farm. (Champa House was not yet open.) In Denver, everything that’s now housed in the Ministry Outreach Center, The Crossing, and the Admin and Education Building all took place in the confines of the Lawrence Street Shelter. Things were cramped, and things have mushroomed!

Is there a particular person who has helped you grow in your career or influenced you in your ministry?

This may sound like an overly pious answer, but I think my years in getting to know Jesus better has had the most effect on my career in ministry. I have only very imperfectly followed the Savior, but His life (past and present) has impacted me most deeply.

What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened at the Mission?

Many strange things have happened! The sitar music outside the walls of our downtown facility comes to mind. I was in my office at the corner of 23rd and Lawrence one day around lunchtime and heard loud Indian music coming through the air conditioner. (There was no window in the office in those days.) Investigating, I found a Hare Krishna van parked at “Triangle Park” across the street, loudspeakers blaring. The van was manned by folks in orange robes, handing out sandwiches to the needy folks gathered across the street. I remember thinking later with pride that our message, the “Jesus saves” sign, had hung outside that same corner for so long. We had a message to proclaim, underlined by years of commitment, telling the world that our Christian faith was concerned about our needy neighbors, a faith that was determined to do something about it for the long run.

What is one of your best memories at the Mission?

My best memories are transformed lives. Some years ago I led a small group of New Life Program participants in a discipleship program. One of the young men, a heroin addict with a lengthy criminal record, graduated and has now gone on to be a leader and evangelist in his church. He has maintained this strong testimony for Christ for a number of years. He holds promise of being a Christian leader in his home (he is now married with a child), and in his community, and maybe beyond, for a lifetime. Stories like this bring great joy; what more could one want in life?

We’re so grateful to have Lon at the Mission. He is a calming presence who makes an impact every day by encouraging our program participants and other staff members to find strength in our Lord and Savior. Here’s to another 28+ years, Lon!