Bethesda News

Even in a Virtual World, Recovery is Personal

Illustration courtesy of Elaine Elledge.

There was no room in the inn – the inns (guest rooms) in the town of Bethlehem were crowded with persons who had come to be registered there, some perhaps prideful, like Joseph, in being a descendant of David. Mary laid Jesus in a manger, simply a crib, grotto or cave where cattle were fed. To such a place it was, though already crowded, that Joseph and Mary resorted at Bethlehem. It seems that Joseph had no house of his own to go into, nor any relative or friend to receive him; it may be, both his own father and Mary’s father were dead, and therefore were obliged to be put up at an inn.

While we have opened things up at our Men’s Shelter, accepting new men guests interested in life recovery, and those who have jobs with employers that have COVID safety measures, we haven’t put out the green flag, indicating access for street homeless during the hazardous weather – hot days of summer or for very cold nights this winter; again to protect the existing guests and staff during this crisis. We’ve also opened things up for some limited new guests at our Women’s Shelter and began limited programming at our Community Center.

This wonderful story has stark similarities to what has occurred in the life of Bethesda Mission during many months of this unprecedented year of 2020. Many men, women and children seeking shelter from life’s storms in our facilities have encountered a NO VACANCY policy. Certainly the antithesis of this House of Mercy’s DNA, but one necessary to protect the safety of our existing guests and staff during the COVID pandemic, striving to be compliant with CDC and state guidelines.

Life recovery is still taking place mightily through God’s influence in the lives of those who are our guests. Lives like that of David, Denise and Byron, the three guests highlighted at our virtual Banquet Celebration in September. View testimonies at

David’s story is a wonderful example of many other men who have walked up those steps underneath the green cross. We celebrated the wholesale renovation of this historic Men’s Shelter in 2009, listening to a video entitled “If These Walls Could Talk.” And if they could talk, oh the stories of the thousands of men who have walked up those steps. Each seeking something or someone to help them escape from the chaos and destruction they’ve experienced.

What many of them eventually find, as David did, is that the green cross, which they may not have even noticed, provides the ultimate answer to a transformed life. And if these walls could talk, they would say, yes, I was in dire need of being renovated and restored, but all of my walls speak about a person.

“Examine the places we wish to be, and those we should walk away from, until we find the person for whom we are looking and longing for.” C.S. Lewis, who also said in his conversion, “I thought I had come to a place; I found out I had come to a person.” So many of those men who have come into this place, like David, have found that person, the person of Jesus Christ.

Denise’s story describes so poignantly the approach of our Women’s Mission for each woman coming through the doors of the Shelter. A soft pillow, a warm meal, peace from life’s storms; 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 guests we serve.

Denise and so many other women have experienced rejection, oppression, abuse, feeling discarded and broken. Our response looks to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This story revealed His tender yet determined task to help her voice the real cry of her heart. Almost like peeling off the layers of an onion, He steadily moved her away from her own fears and prejudices, from her own schemes for self-preservation, from her own ploys for hiding her hurts, to the radiant and thrilling source of her greatest fulfillment, Christ Himself. She had come to find water for the thirst of her body. He fulfilled a greater thirst, that of her soul.

Shelley and her staff listen to the cries of the hearts of every woman, helping each guest to peel back the layers of hurt in their society, in their experiences, that they may find rest, renewal, healing, lasting real hope, a new life, all within the foundation of a trust and relationship with the Savior.

Byron’s story magnifies the vital importance of relationships in the lives of children and teens. Building loving, mentoring, discipling interaction with impressionable kids is what our Community Center thrives on, what has been experienced by Byron and many others who have come to 15th and Herr.

Statistics we hear about on the news of the effect of this virus on kids and their parents are acutely being played out in the lives of those in the Herr Street community. Isolation, loneliness, abuse, violence, suicide, educational disruption, lack of structure, increased racial tensions, all have escalated from this pandemic, accelerating what has been occurring in the lives of the kids our Community Center serves for the past 30 years.

Perhaps you remember a movie a number of years ago, The Perfect Storm. In that film, a number of weather-related phenomena converged together at the same time to create a monster storm. A monster storm has converged on this generation of teens. This definitely sounds like a battle. So what do we do? What we’ve been doing for 30 years to impact the lives of kids and their families – We go to war. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds,” 2 Corinthians 10:4 says. We pray. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed,” 2 Corinthians 4:8,9 says. We engage, seeking deep and meaningful relationships. A vital part of winning this war for the hearts and minds of our children and teens is real communication and quality time with them. We seek to surround them with gifted adult mentors who model a godly life in front of them.

Here are some challenges and opportunities for your decision this season as to investing in the lives God has entrusted to our care, like David, Denise and Byron:

  • Men’s Mission – with COVID imposed restrictions, census dipped to 50’s with no new guests admitted; with accepting new guests interested in recovery in past few months, census has increased to 80’s and by the end of 2020 should be near 100; long term life recovery for men during COVID has been even more successful, bolstered by creating a more trauma sensitive environment; all “active shooter” safety measures have been completed – Shelter is secured! Could use volunteers to drive guests to appointments, work in and manage Donation Center, and mentor guests completing recovery program.


  • Women’s Mission – the demand/waiting list is great but we’ve limited access for new guests during COVID as we await completion of the beautiful new 4-story $4.1M Women’s Shelter; present capacity of 25 will expand to 50; expected completion by summer of 2021; remaining need for funding is approximately $200,000, so we’re close to reaching the total project cost.


  • Community Center – after celebrating in August 2019 the renovation of the former printing company into a teen center and beautiful full sized gymnasium, programs were growing reaching children, teens and adults – our vision of expanding our reach from 75 kids to 200 was materializing – then COVID hit and we shut down the Center; slowly we reopened with a Summer Camp for elementary and middle school kids, workforce development and discipleship for teens; programs will continue with limited numbers until the COVID virus is conquered.

With Phase I of the Community Center completed, our focus has been on raising funds to complete Phase II – demolition, approved by the City, of the 112-year old Youth Center, the former Shamrock Fire Station, and construction of a new 10,400 sf 2 story building which will allow for a functionally efficient structure for programs reaching elementary and middle school children, a brand new and expanded kitchen serving the entire complex, and space for programs and services for adults, including seniors.

We are on the threshold in the next few months of a determination regarding New Market Tax Credits (NMTC), a bank funded program infusing significant dollars into communities serving the underprivileged, over and above what is normally available in those areas. To date, $600,000 has been raised toward the $1.8M project cost. NMTC, if approved, would provide $1.2M and the project could be completed. Please be praying that God would open this door!

So, this holiday season, I am writing to ask you to renew your partnership with Bethesda Mission and to help us make an even greater impact on this community.

Here are some reasons why I believe 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
  • 90% of funding goes straight to programs
  • We’re seeing results: even in the midst of COVID, men, women and children are experiencing life recovery
  • Our impact is growing, we’re:
    • Taking preventative action by investing in the young people of Harrisburg
    • Providing quality medical and dental care for all of our guests
    • Distributing over 1,300 bags of food and household items every month, extending our reach to hungry families throughout the region
    • Taking basic supplies, food and encouragement straight to the street homeless every day and through Mobile Mission on weekends

Most of all, we are committed to seeing permanent change take place in the lives of men, women and children in Harrisburg. This is only possible through God’s grace and generous donations from community members like you.

This holiday season, please consider your gift wrapped to give hurting men, women and children the opportunity for a changed life. May I be so bold as to encourage your gift this season to be sacrificial?

Thank you for the support you’ve given our ministries in the past – we couldn’t have made it 106 years without you. May God bless your time with family as you celebrate together, and have a very Blessed New Year!


Scott Dunwoody
Executive Director

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)

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