How We Got Here
I heard the following story in 1986 while attending my first Director’s Meeting through the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM). The current president relayed it to us in attempts to share the foundation of the AGRM and who the man was that was responsible for the shelter ministry consisting currently of near 300 Rescue Missions, like the one we house in Topeka, KS.
Jerry McAuley was well known as a thief and an alcoholic who lived in New York City in the late 1800s. Jerry was an extremely hard core and rough guy. He was known as a “river boat thief” because of his tendency to assault and rob people as they were coming on and off of the riverboats.
He was finally caught and sentenced to Sing-Sing Prison. He had been there for some time and was filled with much bitterness and anger. As he walked past a room filled with men, he noticed his former cellmate standing in front of the crowd speaking. Out of curiosity, he walked in and found this man talking about how Jesus Christ had come into this life, saved him, helped transform his thinking and gave him a new life. Jerry never heard such a message before. He listened to the entire presentation and that night God’s Holy Spirit touched him and Jerry gave his life to Christ. This began a remarkable change in Jerry’s life. He started attending Chapel and began acting and thinking differently.
Some Christians from the outside began coming into the prison and began ministering to Jerry. His behavior became so noticeably different that the person in charge of parole made the decision to release him before his sentence was up. The people who helped him asked Jerry what he was going to do with his life. He was not sure but said that he knew there was a great need and that he would like to get involved helping men like himself. He knew that many individuals like himself ended up homeless because of their decisions and he voiced that he would like to perhaps start a shelter of some kind for men who were homeless and addicted. Back in those days, there were no homeless shelters or recovery services like we have today.
As people from the churches encouraged and prayed for him, Jerry began developing a plan to develop a homeless shelter. He had positive supports, God in his life, a good outlook, a new life, a new purpose and was doing great… all until an old friend showed up. “Mr. Al”…. Alcohol. He and Jerry hooked up and Jerry was quickly drinking heavily once again. The people who had gone into the prison and supported him were going to all of the places they thought Jerry might be when they found him one day in the gutter in Skid Row. Instead of judging him or calling him a drunk and a manipulator, they reached out in compassion and showed him love. They picked him up and helped him to get his life back on track.
Everything was going great for a while until Jerry and “Al” met again. Jerry started drinking and fell in the gutter once again. The same people went out and looked for Jerry, helping him to get cleaned up and start over once again. It went great until he started drinking yet again. But the same folks reached out and got him back on track. The same scenario happened over and over again. As reported to me, it actually happened more than 60 times before Jerry had a consistent and complete change in his life.
At the end of that long journey of starts and stops, successes and failures, Jerry McAuley was able to be used to successfully give birth to the very first Rescue Mission in the USA in 1872. Today the AGRM provides an annual average of 42 million meals, more than 15 million nights of lodging, bandages the emotional wounds of thousands of abuse victims, and graduates 18,000-plus individuals from addiction-recovery programs.
As we saw with both Jerry McAuley and the man mentioned in our story, it is so important that we never give up on the individuals who are placed before us, regardless of what kind of state they are in. God shows each one of us such an abundance of grace and mercy. It is up to us to show that same grace, mercy and compassion to the men, women and children before us who suffer, who have made unwise choices, and who need our help. Thank you for consistently partnering with us to do just that. Your support and generosity extends far beyond what you can possibly know.