Yes, 50,000 is a really big number regardless of what you are counting … 50,000 dollars, 50,000 pennies, 50,000 steps, 50,000 cupcakes, or 50,000 light years. These all represent a large amount of something. When we equate it with people though, we might think of a huge sports stadium, a music concert, a town or a city.
Seldom would we equate the number 50,000 with the number of unique homeless men, women and children that have sought shelter at the Topeka Rescue Mission in the past 31 years, but that’s a fact. To put it into perspective, the state of Kansas has approximately 628 cities and towns of which only seven are larger than 50,000. In other words, through a community of compassionate citizens I have witnessed love those who suffer, Topeka Rescue Mission Ministries has sheltered more people in the past 31 years than the populations of the majority of towns and cities within our state! As a matter of fact, over 250 Kansas communities have fewer citizens residing in them each night than an average night’s shelter population at TRM Ministries.
Last month I reached my 31st year as the executive director at the TRM Ministries. My goodness how things have changed since that first day I walked through the doors on April 21st, 1986! We’ve gone from one small building housing 15-20 homeless individuals each night to supporting ten ministry locations throughout the city, with nine distinct but interwoven divisions working together to bring help and hope to those who suffer the devastating effects of poverty, homelessness and hunger.
One of these divisions is our shelter ministry to the homeless which shelters over 250 men, women and children each night and over 2,000 different individuals annually. Adding up the numbers from the last 31 years, our shelter operations have been an open door to more than 50,000 people who, for a time in their lives had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn and little or no hope of a tomorrow. However, through God’s amazing grace and countless generous individuals like you over the decades, the door of hope has remained open.
While the numbers tell an amazing story of the magnitude of challenges that has existed in the lives of some of our neighbors, they also tell the story of a continued level of compassion that spotlights the love and care that exists in our community – one of which I’m honored and humbled to be a part of. This compassion goes far beyond a bed to sleep in, a meal to fill an empty stomach, warmth on a cold winter’s night, or relief from a stifling summer’s heat. The story is one of hope that a broken soul begins to embrace when they realize that someone really cares.
In Matthew chapter nine, Jesus is found healing a man who could not walk or stand, opening the eyes of a blind man, sharing God’s truth and power to forgive sins, sitting down to have a meal with sinners and even raising a little girl from the dead. Then in verses 36-38 we read, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’” Even after all that He had been doing to help, He encountered even greater need. He saw the crowd before Him. Those who were “bewildered and helpless” due to the many hardships of life, truly without hope. He could have looked the other way. After all, He had already done some pretty amazing things. But He stopped, turned to His disciples and told them to pray that God would send more helpers to bring help and hope to those in need.
50,000 unique individuals—Men, women, children and families—sheltered, fed, clothed and comforted. All combined, this is a wonderful story of a community of compassionate soldiers serving those in need. One could ask, “Haven’t we done enough? This never stops. Why haven’t we fixed the problem by now?” What’s easier? To get in a spacecraft, travel 238,900 miles to the moon, land on it, walk around, pick up some moon rocks, pack up and travel back to earth. Or, solve poverty? In January of 1964, the war on poverty was declared by the President of the United States. Five short years later in July 1969, we successfully landed on the lunar surface and safely returned home. However, 53 years after this war on poverty was declared, poverty still exists. But the good news is this, we haven’t turned our back on our 50,000 neighbors over the past three decades and we won’t turn our back on the next 50,000 either. The reason is because of God’s amazing love for each of us and a dedicated team of staff, volunteers and generous supporters He has assembled who have been asking an important question in Topeka, Kansas since 1969. One that was started by Pastor Charles Sheldon of Topeka and has traveled around the world and back: “What would Jesus do?” Yes, here in the heartland of this great nation, we have seen the compassion of Jesus exemplified as we have encountered the bewildered and helpless and attempted to love as He loves.
Today I can walk around our community and pretty much count on seeing one of the 50,000. Their gratitude is heartwarming and humbling. At times they even share with me about how their lives were transformed because we sheltered, fed, clothed and gave them hope one day. Many of them are now sharing the compassion of Jesus with others. I’m so grateful for them, for God and for each one of you. Thank you for standing with us as we encounter our neighbors in need and give them help and hope through the eyes of His compassion.