Some time ago, I was on a Christian radio station for a discussion on homelessness. We took calls from listeners. Many asked what they could do to help them.
We discussed changing the life of someone struggling with homelessness. We wanted to paint a picture of what God could do in someone’s heart and life.
There was a caller who asked this question, “Can you really change someone’s life who is struggling with homelessness?”
We did our best to explain that God wanted to change someone’s life. But I was deeply disturbed by the question. What the individual was really saying is that all we are called to do is take a worn-out suit, put it on the person, brush off the dust and say we have done God’s will. I think God has a bigger vision for individuals caught in the crisis of addiction, poverty and hopelessness.
Our passion at Charlotte Rescue Mission is transformation. With a focus on individuals struggling with addictions, we uniquely work from the inside out to address the root cause. We accomplish that by providing professional, Christian, residential, recovery services. Our vision includes returning our graduates as contributing members of society.
We have a building on our campus that was built in 1920. We used it as a thrift store until 2001 when it closed. The roof was collapsing, and it had other significant issues. The board of directors wisely did not want to invest money in it and made the decision to demolish it. A friend of the mission loved old buildings and offered to address the structural problems at his own expense. While the building was spared from being demolished, it sat as a vacant shell. You would wonder what good was it accomplishing?
Yet, just like the people the rescue mission serves, God saw a greater vision for this building. God’s purpose for the building began to unfold. We were selected to participate in a social enterprise competition where we pitched the idea of converting that building into a coffeeshop and restaurant. The purpose was to teach life skills to graduates of our Rebound and Dove’s Nest addiction recovery programs. We won third place.
I would like to tell you the building was renovated overnight, and the coffeeshop/restaurant opened immediately. But it was a process. It took time. There were architectural plans to be made, funds to be raised, and staff to be recruited. It’s also a process to take someone’s life who has struggled with homelessness and help them achieve their God-given potential. I mentioned working from the inside out to address the root cause. For many, that deep-rooted issue is shame. Understanding the message of God’s love while feeling like damaged goods is a challenging process.
What were people expecting when they came into our café? They expect to see paper napkin dispensers, ketchup squeeze bottles and foam cups. Instead, there are no paper napkins, only cloth ones. There are no ketchup squeeze bottles.
Community Matters Café has become the trendy place for coffee, breakfast and lunch. Yet, it is housed in a building seen as worthless, disposable and of no value.
The men and women who serve in the café face the same challenge. Some might see them as worthless and of no value. Yet just like the café, God has a plan to redeem not only the years that were lost due to their addiction to drugs and alcohol but to allow them to achieve their God-given potential.
I’ll be back soon. Until then, live well my friend.
The Rev. Tony Marciano is the president/CEO of the Charlotte Rescue Mission.