When I was a Stranger
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The year was 1987 Nancy had come to the Capital City just six months prior with the promise of a good job and a new life. Everything was going well until serious health problems set in and her employment was terminated. When she found herself unable to pay for her utilities and rent, she got the horrible news of eviction.
New to the community with no family or friends, Nancy knew of nowhere she could go to find refuge. It was a cold and wet October evening when she packed all of her belongings into her small car. A neighbor saw her hopeless state and told her about the Topeka Rescue Mission. Nancy began her journey to the North Side of Topeka. In her distress, she had forgotten to ask the neighbor for an address, phone number or more clear directions.
As darkness began to arrive, she found herself wandering throughout the streets of Downtown Topeka feeling hopeless, fear and despair. To add to her already heavy burden, the condensation was continually building up on the inside of Nancy’s little car. Her defroster was broken and it was impossible for her to see where she was going through the dark and the rain without continually wiping a small circle on her windshield for which she could peer through.
As she drove, the questions began to torment her.
“If I do find this Rescue Mission, what will it look like? Will they have room? Will they be friendly? Will I be safe?”
She knew none of the answers but continued her desperate search for this only hope of shelter from the cold. Nancy would later recount,
“I never felt so lonely, frightened, forgotten and hopeless.”
In a desperate plea, after hours of searching and with tears streaming down her face, Nancy cried out to God and said,
“God, do not forget me… Please save me and show me this place called the Topeka Rescue Mission.”
Not knowing where she was in the darkness, rain and fog, she turned the corner and through the small circle in her foggy windshield saw the words “Jesus Saves” shining in the distance.
The old neon cross that was transported on the roof of a car by the former director of the Mission in 1959, stood strong and bright 28 years later, conveying a message of hope. Through the rain, fear and tears of desperation, Nancy now knew that God had not forgotten her. Not only would she find the shelter she had been seeking underneath that cross, but also she would find the eternal message that God loves her and Jesus saves.
Fast forward this story to a cold evening in March of 1989. A large group of people had gathered to explore the possibilities of building a new homeless shelter. The old building that had sheltered so many for years was crumbling. One of the attendees in that meeting said, “When you tear down the old building, what do you plan to do with that old neon cross?”
I paused, not sure of how my audience would respond to the message of the cross, nor keeping something that old and putting it on a new building. During my brief silence, a woman sitting in the back stood up and asked if she could share her story about the cross. Nancy came forward that night and shared what that cross had meant to her. By the time she was done, there was not a dry eye in the room.
I then asked the question of the crowd, “What do you think we should do with that cross?” Without knowledge of political views or personal understandings of the cross of those in attendance, there was a resounding and unanimous, “Keep that old cross! Refurbish that old cross! And make sure that old cross is on the new building!”
Now, decades later, that old cross continues to light up every night as a beacon of hope to show people where they can find refuge and to share the message of God’s unfailing love through His gift of Jesus Christ, who still saves today. That cross led a broken, hopeless and scared stranger named Nancy to shelter, safety and refuge. Thousands have followed in her footsteps since.
Thank you for being a part of this ministry of rescue which has assisted countless individuals through the years. In doing so you are responding to the words of Jesus when He said, “I was a stranger and you invited Me in… for whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” (Matthew 25:35, 40)
May the timeless message of the cross bring you the same comfort, peace and refuge that it brought to Nancy so many years ago. God has not forgotten about you and Jesus still saves.