Bethesda News

A Place of Refuge

When attending the groundbreaking ceremony in 2018 for the new federal courthouse at 611 Reily Street, entrance into the event required being frisked since this is a homeland security site (I was let in!). I couldn’t help but peer across Reily Street to Bethesda Mission’s iconic landmark Men’s Shelter as the celebration was taking place and reflecting on these thoughts.

The juxtaposition of the two buildings is striking. The courthouse will be 243,000 sf at $190M, 10 stories, 8 courtrooms, 250 employees. Our Shelter, fully renovated in 2009, stands at 30,000 sf, cost $4.6M, 20 employees and 100 guests.

Nearly all of our men and women guests have had experience with the criminal justice system. Their chaotic, desperate, and destitute lives have resulted in judges, attorneys, and governmental agencies making decisions meting out punishment for violating laws, committed by them or against them. They come to our Men’s and Women’s Shelters seeking a refuge from life’s storms.

What came to mind is the song “You are My Refuge.” “I have found a place I can call my own, here in your embrace, where mercy overflows; it’s here that all my doubts and fears just melt away, I lay my burdens down and look upon your face. You are my refuge, you are my sanctuary, when I feel afraid you’re my hiding place; you are my refuge when the storm is raging, underneath your wings I rejoice and sing – you are my refuge!”

A soft pillow, a warm meal, and peace from life’s storms are what Bethesda offers the men and women who walk through our doors. Our walls offer safety from chaos-filled homes and noisy streets, and our hospitality returns a small portion of the grace we’ve been given to the people we serve. To some, this welcome means the end of painful abuse. To others, it’s a fresh taste of freedom from addiction. But to all, it means a free gift of God’s love.

Those initial days when a man or woman enters our shelters, our refuges, are immensely crucial for staff to intensely listen and discern the guest’s story in an atmosphere of love and understanding. For many, they turn around and leave in those first days and weeks as the time was not right. However, some stay and allow God to begin a wonderful work in their lives.

Earl, a former Men’s Mission guest, described his first day here: “When I came here, I was skeptical; I was scared. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do. I was looking around and couldn’t find a place to live. I came here and I remember the house supervisor said, ‘Don’t worry, we got you.’ That was my first day, and I met a couple of friends that day. One guy said ‘Just follow the rules and take your time. Absorb everything, and you’ll see in the end that it’ll work out.’”

Doesn’t this remind you of what Jesus does for us? If we are afraid of a situation, an unknown outcome, the next step in our path, He says that He has it in His hand. He takes care of us, and makes all things work together for our good.

The other thought that came to mind peering across Reily Street from the courthouse site was a very practical one. Since this is a homeland security site, there were rifles, sniffing dogs, who knows, maybe a few Dobermans. A few months prior to the groundbreaking ceremony an active shooter incident occurred at a rescue mission in Amarillo, Texas. Looking across the street at our Men’s Shelter, what a contrast realizing our Shelter was one more easily penetrated by someone wanting to do harm to our guests and staff.

Security improvements for our Men’s Shelter have been funded by a foundation and will be completed this fall. No sniffing dogs or rifles, but cameras and a restricted access reception area will be installed. Our upcoming new Women’s Shelter will also incorporate these security measures. These improvements will ensure that our guests and staff have a safe and secure place in which to reveal the love of Christ in tangible life-changing ways.

Our foundation at Bethesda Mission, for all who donate, volunteer their time, and faithfully pray for this “house of mercy”, is to welcome desperate and destitute men, women and children into an opportunity to experience gospel-powered life transformation! That is the vision and value of this 104-year-old pillar of the Harrisburg community.

As the weather is turning colder, will you consider giving a gift that will help us provide refuge to many men, women, and children this holiday season?

In Him,

Scott Dunwoody
Executive Director


God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

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