Bethesda News

To the Streets: Our Mobile Mission

While Bethesda Mission mainly serves the homeless and hurting of Harrisburg through its shelters, there are many men and women who are unwilling or unable to stay with us that are in desperate need of help. For them, we have our Mobile Mission.

The Mobile Mission began taking food, clothing, and other necessities to the streets in 1997. Together, volunteers and employees stop at homeless encampments throughout Harrisburg.

This year-round service is especially important during the winter months, when temperatures often drop below freezing. In 2007, Mary Burns wrote about her experience riding with the Mobile Mission on one such cold night.

After loading the van and praying over the night, the Mobile Mission departed at 9:15 PM. “First stop: 401 Market—the address affectionately given to the bus shelter at Fourth and Market Streets by the homeless men and women who often inhabit this location. ‘You’re late,’ yells one of the regulars as we pull up to the curb. ‘Is the coffee still hot?’ It is . . . . We meet [their] needs and give coffee to a couple of passers-by as well. Then we take a few minutes for fellowship and prayer before we move on.”

To many, the ungrateful reaction of the homeless man would be off-putting or angering, but Mary and the others respond instead with grace and compassion. They meet his needs and offer fellowship and prayer. What a Christ-like love!

As Mary’s recount of the night continues, it becomes clear that the men and women who serve with the Mobile Mission care deeply and intentionally for the people who need it most.

“Next stop is the train station. We see that Charlie is not in his usual spot yet. A note is made to swing by later, because Charlie is probably staying warm for a while in Wayne’s Bar on Fourth.”

They drive around and stop several more times to help those in need. Before returning to the Mission, they stop back to find Charlie, give him some food, and leave him a few pamphlets. “By the time we unload the van, finish the reports, and put everything away, it was shortly after 1:00 AM.”

In a little under four hours, Mary and the others provided help and hope to many in Harrisburg. This same compassionate outreach still continues every Friday and Saturday night.

Larry McNeil, one of the house supervisors at the Men’s Shelter, currently manages the Mobile Mission. He ensures that the van travels weekly to the main encampments around Harrisburg and that the mission vehicle is fully stocked with clothing, food, sternos, medicine, and other items for those in need. When it comes back to the Men’s Mission, the van is almost always completely empty.

Volunteers have the opportunity to see firsthand how homeless people are living and truly recognize their need for help. Larry said that these trips are especially eye-opening for first-time volunteers.

“The homeless that we help are generally struggling with mental health issues, drug usage, or both,” Larry stated. “While they are invited to come back to the Men’s or Women’s Mission, most are unwilling because they do not want to be bound by the Mission’s rules. When they stay out, they can do whatever they want.”

Despite this, the homeless are excited to see the Mobile Mission. “They will call the Men’s Mission and make sure we are coming,” Larry said. “If they see me driving around, even on my own time, they shout, ‘Brother Larry! Brother Larry!’”

And transformations have happened. Larry recalled one man who gave himself to Christ right there in the camp, came back to the Mission, and graduated from its program. Miracles like that drive the people who volunteer with the Mobile Mission to continue to support its efforts.

“Churches have continued to partner with us,” Larry said. “Three church vans recently passed out items they collected. It was a great help.”

Ultimately, these people are in urgent need of help. Someone died a few weeks ago from an overdose. Children were taken away from their mother by the State. Every day, these people struggle to survive and overcome, and they are fighting a losing battle. They need a safe place, away from drugs and other negative influences, where they can reflect and learn to live again. Larry concluded, “We need to meet them where they are, as Christ has done for us.”

Would you like to volunteer with our Mobile Mission and bring help and hope to the streets of Harrisburg? The van leaves at 7:00 PM on Friday and Saturday nights. To register, contact Kristina Depew at kdepew@bethesdamission.org or call (717) 257-4442 ext. 229. You can also support the Mobile Mission by dropping off clothing and other items at our donation center or by donating online. Thank you.

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