The Atlantic City Rescue Mission  

By William R. Southrey

[Fall, 2003]  

   The agency in which I serve is the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, which is a place that gathers in the community’s lost and lonely homeless people.  In terms of Tolstoy’s story, “Three Questions,” in which a king asks for wisdom in discerning the right time to begin everything, the right people to listen to, and the most important thing to do, the Mission is a wondrous place through which we have the opportunity to learn such profound lessons.  Everyday, we serve men, women, and mothers with children who have been broken by the pressures of this world, whether by the transgressions of others, or by choices that they have made themselves.  For whatever reason, they have become disenfranchised from society, utterly hopeless, and in many cases, very near to death.  

   The right time at the Mission is always now, because the people come through the doors in such a condition that necessitates immediate attention.  They need hope – now.  This presents a considerable challenge to busy staff members that are already providing care to hundreds of others in the course of a day.  The Mission is unique in that it offers hope, in its purest form, to people who have no hope.  The hope exists in the many and vast lessons in life that shape up our inner most parts, our souls, into the proper image – that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Such pure hope is realized through the process of theosis, that innate desire to partake of the divine nature; the desire to know intimately that God became man that man may become god.  It is what we offer to those broken souls that end up at the Mission , and it is why we do what we do.  We must do it when the opportunity presents itself, which is often; we must recognize that “I” am the right person to offer the hope because I’m with the person now; and I must offer the most important thing, the hope, in order to bring goodness and life immediately to the soul before me that currently has no hope and is facing death.

    At the Mission , we’ve many stories that demonstrate Tolstoy’s questions.  One in particular happened during this past winter, which was very severe and brought us many more people to care for.  A man that came to us with feet so frozen that they were literally dying off of his limbs, put staff members to the test.  This man was sent to the Mission from a hospital in another county of New Jersey that gave him some medical attention, but they sent him to us for further care because he was indigent and couldn’t pay his medical bills.  The Mission is not a medical facility, so we addressed his needs the best we could.

    We discovered right away that the hospital had left the man’s frozen feet attached to his warm body, and they were dying slowly, painfully on him.  They blackened and became gangrenous, full of dead tissue, and a pungent odor.  This poor man was given to us with no help, no hope, and it seemed at that point, no immediate opportunity to get the help he desperately needed.  He was from Poland and did not speak English well, which also presented a language barrier.

    As I observed staff members attempting to care for the man, I noticed that they were most concerned at first about the overpowering odor from his dying feet that turned their stomachs and the potential transmission of disease.  I understood their concerns, however, a person who needed care and encouragement was attached to the black ugliness.

    This is what unfolded:  Our man needed help from us “now.”  He needed the touch of human hands and the compassion of their hearts.  One staff member, although still concerned about his own well being, donned some gloves and began to redress the man’s feet.  Quickly he learned that he had to be extremely careful, because the toes were about to snap off and any pressure on the feet caused them to bleed profusely.  Soon a transformation took place in both men.  They could feel the love that was not just of their own hearts, but also of the very heart of God.  I even witnessed glances of appreciation between them.  That staff member realized that the immediate time, “the now,” was the most important time to love and care for an ailing and rejected man with body parts withering and dying before his own eyes.

    The decision to provide help had a ripple effect.  A man in a bed nearby suffering in another way with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma, began to assist by cutting bandages and tape to apply to the feet.  Just moments earlier he had been complaining about the very presence of our new guest because of the stench.  Soon another staff member came over to help, and still another took it upon himself to check in on the man on days off to ensure his proper care.

    All of these staff members, to speak to Tolstoy’s second question, became the right people for this man.  And the man was the most important person for them at that moment as well.  Sure, staff members went on to care for many others throughout the day and into the following days.  No doubt they were challenged by others to make their hearts respond in the fondest way, and in the most genuine and loving way to each person, at every moment.  It’s a constant opportunity, and if we don’t take time for it we risk completely missing the goodness we might present to another who may be someone to learn from, someone in whom we see ourselves, and someone in whom we can see the image of God.

    Finally in the third question, Tolstoy presents the purpose, which is to do good for one another.  What drove those Mission staff members to put aside themselves and care for the man that had thrown them back repulsed?  It was the desire to fulfill the purpose of doing good to another.  They had learned to do what is good in love.  They had learned to offer hope in its purest form to another, so they might know intimately that God became man that man may become God, and that our God has done so in goodness and love for us.  What might have happened if God waited to receive just one person?  It would have crushed our hope.

    I challenge you to take this to heart and look at the person with you right now.  Realize that this is the most important person in your presence right now.  Offer him or her some goodness, because now is your right moment to do so!

 [For more information about the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, call 609-345-5517.  If you would like to make a donation, a check may be made payable to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 5358, Atlantic City, NJ 08404.  Or visit our website at: ]





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