Walking in HIS Steps
Hundreds of dedicated staff and volunteers have served humbly and sacrificially at the Topeka Rescue Mission over the years. Each one is unique in their personalities and ministry, but each share the common trait of compassion and love towards those who are homeless and poor. While it would be impossible to pick just one who stands tallest amongst the rest, there is one whose exemplification of Christ I believe shines true as an illustration of all those who serve…
I met Donna Martin around 1991 when her husband, Bob, was serving on the Mission’s Board of Directors. She came to me with a servant’s heart and desire to assist as we moved from the old Mission facility to the new. Though she was in her retirement years, Donna had a great youthfulness about her and the strength to tackle more than most. Quickly Donna assumed a gamut of responsibilities. Most significant at the time was her oversight of the food service operations in the kitchen.
When we first moved into the new building there were no cooks in place. Our faithful cook of so many years had assumed the role of facilities manager and there was no one else to fill his shoes. Seeing the need, Donna eagerly stepped up. In no time she had cultivated a team of faithful guests to both cook and serve the meals.
The best way to describe Donna is that she loved God and feared no man. Her crew of cooks consisted of a former embezzler, a former heroin addict, a man who had eleven children from different women that he took no personal responsibility for, and another individual who had spent the majority of his life in prison for multiple crimes. Donna fearlessly took this motley crew and helped form them into some of the most obedient and diligent servants we had ever had. Donna always had the unique ability to take what seemed quite impossible and make it work.
Perhaps the true heart of Donna shone best through her relationship with Beth. Beth was a homeless woman who had come to us after suffering from Huntington’s disease for several years. Once a registered nurse caring for people in need, she now found herself homeless and at the mercy of those around her. While all of us tried to do our best to minister to Beth, no one could reach her quite like Donna.
Beth spent her days constantly shaking uncontrollably. Her arms flailed, her feet shook, and her head twisted back and forth. Because of her unsteady hand, she could not wash herself well and the result was a persistent odor that streamed from her body. Her mouth often drooled and her speech was unintelligible. Few could understand her and even less tried.
Every month Beth received a disability check to help sustain her in life. Victimized time and again and unable to defend herself, the monthly theft that took place after she cashed her check left her homeless and wandering the streets. She began shoplifting to try and get by but even in those endeavors, she failed. Her shaking hands couldn’t hold onto the products she was attempting to steal so she would instead be arrested and thrown back into the streets.
With nowhere else to go, Beth eventually found her way to us. She stayed with us on and off for years and embraced her new family, especially Donna.
Beth remained extremely challenged physically and unable to effectively care for herself. After numerous attempts, we finally found a more appropriate place for her to live. The plans were made and the day arrived when we would be transporting Beth to a new group home where she would receive full-time care and the support she needed.
Though Beth knew she needed the support, the thought of leaving her home at the Mission terrified her. Just hours before we were leaving to take her to her new home, she shook and cried uncontrollably; this time more from hysteria and fear than the effects of her disease. She was so distraught and her symptoms so severe she couldn’t even sit in a chair without falling to the ground. I’ll never forget the moment when Donna walked into the room and saw her.
Without hesitation, Donna ran to her side, got down on her knees and scooped Beth up in her arms. She poured out all of the love she possessed and hugged her tightly, wrapping her arms around her trembling body.
As Beth continued to travail, the mucus from her nose, the tears streaming from her eyes, and the uncontrollable saliva that flowed from her mouth began covering Donna. Donna didn’t blink; she just continued to love.
The scene in front of me was amazing, like one I have never witnessed before. There before me I watched as a woman, who nobody wanted to touch, was embraced and consumed by another to such a degree that the love and compassion of Christ was all I could see.
Donna rocked Beth and held her close while gently assuring her everything was going to be okay and that she’d never be left alone. As Donna continued to embrace her tightly and pour out her love, Beth’s entire demeanor began to change. What had been a body in horrid travail turned into one of peace and calm like never before. For the first time since I had known her, Beth’s body quit convulsing and I watched as she melted in Donna’s arms.
Before me I saw a vision of Jesus Christ. He had come up to a woman who was hurting so badly, put His arms around her and assured her it was going to be okay. Donna’s were His arms now. As she held her close, the words of the Savior spoke to my heart, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Beth could be likened to a modern-day leper who led an extremely lonely and miserable existence here on earth. People were afraid of her, they scorned her, they rejected her and wouldn’t go near. The Mission took her in but, without the Donna’s inside, we are nothing more than a building. It is people like Donna who make us a home. We’re not afraid of the tough guys who require discipline and structure, but we are also not afraid to throw our arms around the lepers and tell them it’s going to be okay.