Caring Speaks Volumes

“I didn’t always understand what they were saying, but I just knew they cared about me. That’s why I stayed in the program.”

The annual fall snapshot survey conducted by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions consistently reveals that up to 80% of those coming to rescue missions do so because they prefer the spiritual emphasis in the services they receive.   If we compare secular and Christian social service agencies, the most significant difference is the people who serve as staff and volunteers.

Before coming to Kansas City, I spent several years as director of licensed, Christ-centered residential treatment facility.   Each year in our annual follow-up of program graduates, the comment we heard most was that they knew our staff members sincerely cared about them —and that knowing this truly motivated them to work hard at getting better.

The great “Love Chapter” of the Bible is 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, was written by the Apostle Paul.   By looking at verses 4-7, we can see how his definition of love is expressed every day at rescue missions:

A.             Love is patient, love is kind…   Becoming homeless in some ways amounts to becoming a non-person.   It means, essentially, having no social support network. Most homeless individuals have worn out their welcome with family and friends.   For them, the patience, kindness and support found at rescue missions is like a breath of fresh air to a suffocating person.   A plate of food offered to anyone who is hungry, shelter form the cold, a caring touch from a staff member or volunteer; all of these say “we are here for you.”   These simple gestures are often the first connection to a whole new way of life.

B.               It is not rude, it is not self-seeking… To those who live on the streets, public scorn and rejection are a daily experience.   At rescue missions, no matter where an individual’s problems have taken him or her, they can count on being treated with love and respect.   Why?   It’s because rescue mission workers don’t just see homeless people as just being where they are today; they also see them as where they could be tomorrow with Christ in their lives.

Over 12,000 people work full-time at AGRM member rescue missions.   Additionally, nearly a half million volunteers share their time and talents at rescue missions.   Most would say they are there because they have been called by God to serve Him by helping the homeless and needy.   This notion of calling, recognizing themselves as conduits of God’s love, makes their service so much more than a job.   It makes them instruments in His hands and hurting people are being reached; there were over 130,000 spiritual decisions at rescue missions last alone.

  C.             It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs… At rescue missions abundant grace is much in evidence.   It is shown in workers who express great patience and forgiveness.   AGRM surveys have shown that about one out of five staff members are formerly homeless themselves.   As a result, it’s not hard to find someone who has experienced the difficulties of street life — and someone who has been able to move from that lifestyle into a productive and satisfying Christian life.

  D.             Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth…   Too often , rescue missions are viewed only as places where lots of good deeds are practiced — but where the real issues of troubled people are not being addressed.   Rescue mission workers know that people usually remain homeless because of addictions, mental problems, and other life controlling issues.   So, along with an abundant supply of love and acceptance, most rescue missions have definite strategies in place to help them overcome bondages and other problems.   Last year, 14,000 men and women graduated from long-term life-change programs at rescue missions.

  E.               It always protects, always trusts… One of the fastest growing sectors of the homeless population is children.   Now nearly 60% of AGRM member rescue missions have family programs that offer shelter and other services to hundreds of homeless children everyday.   At the same time, hundreds of thousands of kids from tough, inner city neighborhoods participate in summer camps and youth activities at member rescue missions.   In a very real way, this is homeless intervention, keeping these young lives from future problems that could put them out on the streets.

  F.               Always hopes, always perseveres…   Rescue missions are in the business of serving God and the needy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.   That’s perseverance!   Today across North America thousands will line up for meals.   Thousands more will sleep in a clean, safe bed, hear the Gospel, study the Bible, and receive needed counseling.     As long a Jesus tarries, rescue missions will continue to provide creative and effective help to those in need.   It is all done with an eternal purpose in mind, knowing that there is hope for a new and better life through Christ.

See most recent AGRM Statistical Study at

Some Tips for Making Good Referrals

patient_referralsWhen homeless people look to rescue missions for help, they come with a wide variety of needs.   These include:

  • food, clothing and shelter
  • job counseling and training
  • legal assistance
  • literacy training and other educational skills
  • parenting skills training
  • family and couples counseling
  • medical care and family planning services
  • social support services
  • child care during treatment
  • psychiatric assessment and mental health services
  • help to move into permanent housing

No program has staff with expertise in all of these areas   Also, when there is simply no more room in the facility to take additional clients, it is time to make referrals.   And, even if a program participant is dismissed for using alcohol or drugs or other disciplinary reasons, making an appropriate referral is a great way to minister to them.   Therefore, rescue mission workers need to understand the principles of making good referrals.

A.    Knowing When to Make a Referral — Referrals are most commonly made when a client has a need and there are not resources in-house to handle it.   Therefore is important to develop an inventory of in-house resources and expertise.   Do this by listing the various problems and needs of the people who look to the mission for help.   For each area noted, determine who can best assist clients with that particular need.   Are their staff members or volunteers who have experience or expertise in financial counseling, for instance.

B.  Identifying Referral Resources — People become homeless when they don’t know how to access the resources that are available to them.   So, we need to teach our clients how to access needed resources when they encounter problems in their lives.   If they learn to do this while staying at the mission, they are more likely to access needed resources once they complete the program. A community referral directory or computer database — complete with phone numbers and contact persons — should be available to rescue mission workers who work directly with program participants.   This should include social service agencies, along with churches that are receptive toward mission clients, local professionals, and support groups.  

C.   Working with Other Agencies   – It is always good to list specific individuals at various agencies with whom your ministry has had a favorable contact in the past.   Often, asking for a person at the agency by name can help the staff member making the referral to cut through the “red tape” encountered at some agencies. Other rescue missions are important referral resources that are often underutilized.   This is especially true for new and smaller missions without established residential recovery programs, other member organizations offer specialized help to people struggling with addiction or families in need of long-term assistance.   Using the online directory of missions that are part of   the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions is one way to become familiar with some of the innovative programs offered at member rescue missions. Developing an effective referral directory — and keeping it up-to-date can be time-consuming. Therefore, it should be a responsibility assigned to one staff member who will add new resources and confirm the accuracy of current listings.

D.  Following Up on Referrals — When referrals are made, there should always be a follow-up contact to the agency.   This helps build relationships with referral resources and gives us a direct line on the services that were provided instead of relying on information from the clients themselves.   This also keeps clients from being dishonest or manipulative, playing the referral against the program (an visa versa). For the sake of confidentiality and to comply with privacy laws, clients will usually need to sign “release of information” forms that grants the referral source permission to share information with workers at the rescue mission program.   To make this sort of arrangement work, all parties involved must have an understanding ahead of time.   Tell the individual to whom you are making the referral that you expect the client to grant you this permission.   And, tell the client you will be asking them to give it to the mission staff, as well.

These types of arrangements have be benefit of giving mission workers important information about the services clients receive in order to better assist them.   It also helps to further develop relationships with other agencies and organizations in the community.


Is Relapse a Normal Part of the Recovery Process?

Doesn’t saying “relapse is normal part of the recovery process” give clients the ability to abdicate responsibility for behaviors that lead to using –practically giving them permission to relapse?

People who work in the addiction recovery field pour their lives into troubled people day after day.   Nothing is more discouraging than to see these efforts met with little or no long-term results.   When an individual who is a graduate of a long-term residential program falls back into drugs and alcohol, those who have been helping him or her often take it quite personally.   For these people, it is important to remember that a temporary or occasional “slip” does not mean that all their time and efforts were wasted.

I would almost say that the real test of how successful we are with graduates is not whether or not they use alcohol or drugs again. What happens when they do relapse really shows whether they have, indeed, started on the path to recovery. The main issue is to make sure that they don’t stay stuck in a downward cycle of destruction, but, instead, get back on the road to recovery.

So, how can we help newly recovering people to use failure as a “springboard” to successful recovery?   Here are a few points to keep in mind:

A. Don’t Condone or Project — Prepare! —Without condoning relapse, or even expecting them to fail, every program graduate needs to know that it is not uncommon for newly recovering addicts to relapse.   We need to let them know that we will not be shocked or disappointed by a failure to remain sober.   The doors of the mission are always open to them — whether that means returning to the program, seeing a counselor on an outpatient basis, or being referred to another program for help.   The last thing we want is for them to end up full of shame, think they have let us down and not reach out to us in their time of need.

B. Help Them “Own” Their Own Choices —Failure to stay sober is always a consequence of the individual’s own actions and choices.   He or she must be held accountable.   Returning to alcohol and drugs after a period of sobriety is evidence that there are still significant issues in the realm of denial that need to be addressed. He or she probably needs a lot of help to “connect the dots” in order to make sense of how these decisions and behaviors came together to cause the relapse.   That is the purpose of creating a detailed “relapse map.”

C. Keep Quitting — For most addicts, staying clean and sober is not a “once and for all” proposition.   Few people with long-term sobriety “got it” right the first time they made an initial resolve to forsake alcohol and drugs. I like to use Jerry McAuley, who founded America’s first rescue mission in 1872, as an example of this principle.   We know that Jerry backslid over seventy times before he finally found lasting sobriety. The key to his eventual success — and his tremendous legacy as a servant of God – he “kept quitting.”   The Lord always honors an attitude of humility coupled with godly perseverance.

D. Never Waste a Good Crisis! —This was some of the best advice I have ever received from a fellow counselor.   When are people most likely to change?   It’s in the midst of a crisis when they are bewildered, and full of self-doubt and pain.   It’s basic human nature to keep doing what seems to be working as long as it seems to be working.   So, give the person lots of time to sort through all the feelings associated with the failure.   Then, help him or her to use that pain as a motivation to renew a commitment to sobriety.   If viewed correctly, the crisis of relapse will create a healthy sense of self-doubt that leads the addict to admit in his “heart of hearts” that he is powerless over his “drug of choice.”   This acknowledgement is the where the road to successful recovery begins.