An Enduring Tradition in the Burg-Bethesda Mission, House of Mercy
To “bear up under hardship, persecution, suffering” (2 Timothy 3:11); “to be strong, firm” (Hebrews 11:27); “to persevere beneath a heavy burden” (Matthew 10:22)—each verse helps us better understand what it means to endure.
This speaks to our hope for our guests as they enter Bethesda Mission’s doors in search of meaning, wishing to experience a life worth living. In light of the hardships, suffering, and heavy burdens they have faced, both from bad decisions and from the terrible treatment they receive from others, their lives have been derailed to the point of exasperation and desperation. Many are on the verge of giving up.
Every board and staff member, every volunteer, and yes, every donor, each exercising their role, enters into this enduring process on behalf of these hurting men, women, children, teens, and families that God graciously draws into our lives.
At our wonderful Women’s Mission Celebration in August 2022, Milton Loyer, Ph.D., of the Society of American Archivists, graciously gave us a copy of the Sixteenth Annual Report of Bethesda Mission, dated 1930. I found it fascinating to read through it and will share a few poignant quotes and pictures.
Our New Home: “We still have faith that our friends will appreciate the needs of our Mission work and give us a new building fully equipped and fitted to suit every phase of mission activity.” (Note: four years later, in 1934, Bethesda Mission would purchase the 30,000-square-foot Railroad YMCA on Reily Street, built in 1902, for $10,000).
Superintendent’s Report: “Day after day they trudge in hungry, homeless and tattered, sick in body and soul, coming from every conceivable station in life.”
Winter Free Bunks: “warm and free of vermin—no springs, no mattresses, no pillows; men sleep on wooden bunks using their coats as pillows.”
Everlastingly at It: “Dry Dock of a Thousand Wrecks.” (Note: a popular, early twentieth-century book that shares how men and women, broken in will and despairing in heart, were lifted out of debasement into moral strength and beauty; these thousand wrecks have not only been taken into dry dock and repaired, but they are out again on high seas, invincible to the tempest, and engaged in scouring the seas for human ships that have been dismantled in moral disaster, and towing them into the harbor of divine love and grace).
Many things are changing rapidly before our eyes every day. Unfortunately, hurting people in various stages of homelessness have been a constant since 1914, when Bethesda Mission began, and will likely be here for decades to come. That being said, our Mission endures. We have and will continue to adapt to the changing culture while staying true to our foundation. This led us to serve women by constructing our Women’s Shelter in 1983; to reach children, teens, and families by creating a youth and community center in 1990; then a food bank, a medical clinic, and a mobile mission during the 1990s decade; and a dental clinic in the early 2000s. This network of compassion is built on the mission of the founding members and their desire to help the hopeless.
Our traditions are built on the solid rock of the gospel message: that there is a God who truly loves us and offers His grace and mercy to all who will receive His precious gift. This message has endured for 107 years in the Burg, offered from the House of Mercy called Bethesda.
The Green Cross at the Men’s Shelter serves as a poignant example of how our message and tradition has endured. The powerful story is this: an orthodox Jewish family, upon hearing about our desire to place a green cross at the front of the shelter, offered to pay for this symbol. When hearing this, we were overjoyed, but we asked this family, whose beliefs about what the cross represented are not the same as ours, why do you want to do this. Their reply: “Bethesda Mission saved our son’s life—one that was on a path of destruction. Now, he has a life full of hope.”
If you’re more of a facts and figures person, here are some reasons why Bethesda Mission is a worthwhile investment:
•We are completely community-funded; no money comes from the government.
• Your donation stays local; you are investing directly into the community where you live.
• 88% of funding goes straight to programs, helped by hundreds of volunteers.
• We’re seeing results: men and women are graduating from our life recovery programs every year and going
back into society as independent, contributing members.
• Our impact is growing:
o We take preventative action by investing in Harrisburg’s youth in exciting new ways;
o We provide quality medical and dental care for all of our guests as well as client referrals from other agencies;
o We distribute over 1,500 bags of food and household items every month throughout the region to address the needs of the hungry outside of our facilities;
o And we take basic supplies, food, and encouragement straight to the streets every weekend.
Most of all, we are committed to seeing permanent change take place in the lives of men, women, and children in Harrisburg. May their road to life recovery be one where they can say, “Oh to see the dawn of a New Day, when those darkest days are gone,” and they find peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is only possible through God’s grace and the generous donations of members of our community like you.
May God bless your lives this Holiday Season!
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