In one of the more memorable stories about Jesus in the Gospels, a woman comes to where Jesus is staying, and anoints His head with an exorbitantly expensive aromatic oil. Seeing such a valuable commodity spent in this way, the disciples became indignant, exclaiming that so much good could have been done if the oil had been sold instead. Jesus’ response remains shocking even today; He replied, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:10-11, ESV)
Whether the first clause of that last sentence was prophetic or merely stating the obvious, we do indeed still have the poor with us, perhaps more so now than ever, as 14 members of GRC’s youth discovered last week. These young people (along with a few selfless adult volunteers) left behind the comforts of their homes, beds and unlimited Wi-Fi to go deep into the heart of New York and serve people who are the very personification of down and out at the historic Bowery Mission.
The Bowery Mission, now in its 138th year of serving the poor, homeless and addicted, is a special place. At its longtime home on 227 Bowery, subtle miracles take place every day. The Bowery Mission has 3 chapel services a day, where the Gospel is proclaimed in its beautiful 100-year-old chapel. After each of these services, a meal is served to anyone who is hungry. Every Tuesday and Friday, showers are provided and donated clothes given to men who would otherwise go unwashed. For those addicted to drugs, alcohol or any other life controlling issue, the mission offers a residential recovery program that is both Christ-centered and trauma-informed. There is a lot going on at The Bowery Mission.
It was into this chaotic and unpredictable place that our youth and adult volunteers stepped out of their comfort zones and into the overwhelming work of running a rescue mission. Our day started at 5:30am, when we would drag ourselves, in some cases under much protest, out of bed. After a short prayer, we would head down to the kitchen, where we would be for the better part of the next 10 hours, preparing, cooking, serving and cleaning up after meals. There was hardly an idle moment, and our volunteers threw themselves into the work with a gusto that could only be defined as Spirit-inspired. With joyful exuberance, our team helped the dedicated kitchen staff tackle their daily herculean task, and somehow managed to do so energetically.
When we were not in the kitchen, we were leading chapels and ministering in Word and song, unloading trucks, sorting donations and helping out with the shower program. In all of our work, we were repeatedly face-to-face with the horrors of extreme poverty on the smooth and innocent faces of children, the hardened faces of the chronic homeless and the wrinkled faces of the elderly.
Not a day went by where one of the team did not comment on the overwhelming nature of the need. When we left on Wednesday afternoon, the staff were busy preparing the next meal, and I could not help but think that, though we may leave, the work will go on, and the line of people needing something as basic as a hot meal, will never end. But though that line may grow longer and longer, the church of the Anointed One will continue to show love and compassion as lavishly as it was shown to us, that they may know and worship the only One who satisfies their deepest hunger.