It’s interesting the reaction I get when people learn I support the Nashville Rescue Mission. After hearing my views on the radio of not giving panhandlers any money they’re sometimes confused. “If you think some of these people are not worthy of your money,” they ask, “then why do you support the Mission?”
The answer is simple. As a Christian, I am called to love everyone. This doesn’t mean I’m called to be a sucker. I actually had an experience where a panhandler at an off-ramp knocked on my window asking me for money to buy some food. I told him the Nashville Rescue Mission was just a few blocks away. He said they had stopped serving dinner. I looked at my watch and said, “Actually, they’re serving for 30 more minutes.” He gave me a stunned look for a moment and asked, “Can I have the money anyway?”
This was one of those teachable moments as I explained to my kids why I didn’t give him the money. How is the Mission different from a handout? For one thing, the Mission is not giving individuals more tools to use for their own self-destruction. Sure, there’s always a free meal waiting for anyone who needs it, but there’s also nourishment for the soul. Those who partake in the physical sustenance are also required to at least expose themselves to the spiritual nutrition the Mission has
No one can force someone to reach out to the Mission. It takes hitting rock bottom before people are willing to make a change in their lives. That rock bottom is different for everyone. What the Nashville Rescue Mission does is provide a loving alternative to the street and a place to turn your life around whenever you’re ready. Are they going to save everyone who walks through their doors? No. What they’re going to do is be there when those who need them are ready to save themselves.
That man at the off-ramp is not the face of the Nashville Rescue Mission. The true face is the person who, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, finds him or herself without a home and without a future. The Mission is not a facilitator of drifters, grifters and bums. It is a lighthouse in the sea of despair. It is a beacon of compassion when people have nowhere else to turn. It is the face of God to many who have never seen that face before.
That man at the off-ramp may very well show up at the Mission one day. Instead of handing him a buck to buy more booze they’ll be offering him his life back.