Compassion on Steroids
“Life Recovery is a long process, not for frail at heart, there are no quick fixes; it’s expensive to deliver, but far outweighs the price tag.”
Our story this time comes from the Director’s office of the Men’s Shelter. Bill Christian has been on staff with Bethesda for upwards of 20 years and has sat in the director’s chair for 4 of those years. He has “compassion on steroids” for the men he serves.
He moved to Harrisburg from Florida in the 70s originally to start an inner city church and worked in financial and insurance fields. A long-time friend of his was the Director of Social Services at Bethesda in the 90s and he was the one who recruited Bill to start at the Mission as a house supervisor. “I fell in love with helping the guys and seeing what they went through,” Bill said.
At that time, Bill’s brother, a veteran, was struggling with mental health issues, and through helping his brother, Bill saw how challenging it was for people to get connected and receive needed services. Bill became Director of Social Services and played a big part in expanding our Social Services program by working with other agencies. The majority of the men that were coming in were staying 20 days and leaving. Now, each guest that comes in is assigned a Life Coach who helps him set goals for his time there. Close to 70% of guests that come in have mental health challenges.
One of the reasons he is so effective in his role is that Bill truly loves his job. “I’ve never gotten up and not wanted to go to work. I’m blessed because I have a front row seat to watching God change people’s lives,” he said.
Because of his brother and Bill, himself having wanted to go into the military, he is passionate about helping veterans who are in need of services. “Social Services is finding what benefits the individual qualifies for and keeping them in a safe environment until they get those things. Our ultimate goal is that they never come back here again except to tell us they are doing great.” For guests with substance addictions, the measure of our success isn’t that they stay sober while at the Mission, but that they stay that way when they leave our care.
Since becoming Director, his interactions with guests has changed since he has more managing of staff and administrative work to do. However, he still loves walking the halls and talking with guests. “I have the freedom to implement new ideas that are helping to meet more needs.”
Drugs and alcohol are nondiscriminatory, it doesn’t matter your gender, race, or religion. A wide range of people end up at Bethesda, including people with Master’s degrees, doctors, professionals.
One of Bill’s Bible passages of choice for his ministry comes out of the Message translation: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Bill has seemingly endless stories from his years of service but a few particularly stand out. One is a man named Dave who stayed with us 3 different times. He is a veteran who had developed schizophrenia. He is very intelligent and while at the Mission, created a complex Excel spreadsheet system for keeping track of the food inventory. On his third stay, he got stabilized and moved on from the Mission. He is now remarried and owns his own business. Every once in a while he sends Bill a note to let him know that he is still doing well.
“I’ve learned that for some, they may not have a theological background or understanding of doctrine but they know that Jesus loves them. I’ve always felt that way but I never really experienced it until I came here,” Bill said. Bethesda provides a safe haven for guests of all walks of life to experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Everybody has a story and if you take the time to sit and listen to them, you would be surprised who can minister to you.
Bill’s adult son Israel has special needs and often comes to the Mission with Bill to volunteer. “If everyone in the world treated people like Israel does, there would be no wars, fighting, divorce. We can learn a lot from him about how to treat others,” Bill says with a smile.
Bill loves the fellowship of sharing a meal, and if you show up at the Men’s Shelter around lunch time, chances are he will invite you to the cafeteria to eat. “One of the most equalizing things that humans do is eat,” he says. It’s been difficult for Bill and his staff to be unable to offer community meals since the pandemic began and they look forward to being able to offer that experience of fellowship again.
Certainly we all have things we look forward to being able to do again. We are praying for an end to this virus and the hardships it has caused. We are so thankful for your support throughout this pandemic. If you’d like to continue helping the work Bill and all our staff are doing to offer “compassion on steroids” to those who need it most, please renew your partnership with us this month.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Isaiah 61:1
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