Sometimes it’s tempting to define homelessness, and even this ministry, by the numbers: 1,295 people on the streets. 97,000 nights of shelter. 303,000 meals. 1,295 medical clinic appointments. 4,323 items of clothing. Numbers are important – they help to show the magnitude of the need as well as the impact you’re making – but sometimes numbers tend to blur the faces.
Bill, 60, was a big man, bald, looked a bit like an old sailor. The men who knew him while he lived at the Mission described him as friendly, easy to get along with, eager to help. He liked detective fiction and frequently exchanged books with another guest. Bill had a lifelong struggle with alcohol. The last time he came to the Mission he said his doctor had told him if he drank any more, he would die. Bill had a clear choice before him – drink and die or stop drinking and live. Bill chose to drink, and in August of this year, he died on the streets of downtown Spokane.
In Deuteronomy 30, God says: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now, choose life, so that you and your children may live.” It doesn’t seem like much of a choice. Why would anyone choose death over life? Curses over blessings? It doesn’t make sense. And yet, we do, in big and small ways, every single day.
Michael Dye*, who wrote the text that serves as the basis for our recovery programs, said that human beings are the only creatures who willingly choose self-destruction. In the Bible, Paul asks, Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Something is terribly wrong – with our hearts.
Here’s where the numbers can be dangerous. Big numbers make us start to think in the direction of sweeping solutions, but in matters of the heart, sweeping solutions won’t work and the only number that matters is one. One person searching for meaning and purpose and love. One wounded heart. One God with the power to heal.
Your gifts to the Union Gospel Mission empower us to think big, but they also enable us to think small – one person, one heart at a time.
*Michael Dye will be presenting a Personal Healing & Change Seminar on October 26-27 at the UGM Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene. Registration is open to the public. Call 509-532-3807 for more information.