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Beyond full bellies

"Beyond full bellies" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," Sept. 2, 2006

Ironically, Beenblossom cannot ride the bikes-he damaged his ACL ligament in a car accident and wears a brace-but he works without complaint and talks about his plans to go to college and become an auto-body technician. Or maybe a child psychologist. Only, he wonders how he will fight the lingering temptation to smoke marijuana once he graduates from Crossroads. Will the spiritual truths gleaned in morning devotions and counseling stick with him?

Michael Merritt, 41, the culprit who had jammed the gears and now held the bike steady while the expert operated, called the shelter and its caring staff the best thing that has ever happened to him, but agreed with Beenblossom that the strict rules-like the 7 p.m. curfew-can be frustrating. Sexual activity, indoor smoking, or a failed random drug test lead to immediate eviction. Other infractions detract from the "points" residents must maintain to advance through the program. "They have a lot of rules," Merritt said, "but they're good rules."

During dinner in a small cafeteria brightened by a mural of a flowery countryside, a staff member scolded the men for beginning cleanup before everyone had finished and then demanded that someone confess to phoning a tanning salon and asking for a woman named Mona. The men talked quietly among themselves, complimented the chef's chicken, and generally avoided the staff member, while one resident walked away with a blatant look of disgust.

In the evening came "video night," with attendance required. The 12 men and 16 women gathered on sofas and chairs in the paneling-walled lounge to watch a Christian end-times movie, The Moment After, and to hear announcements from program director Dan Ruff. Raising his voice above noisy children playing with Legos in the back of the room, Ruff awarded Beenblossom with a certificate for having completed a set of workbooks and reminded him that his next task will be to memorize Scripture verses.

Jacob, who had arrived the evening before, hadn't said anything in group meetings, but he appeared to listen to stories such as Walling's about his destroyed family life. Without introducing himself, the stranger had taken a seat across from the biker and watched him while he talked. Jacob's eyes moistened, and maybe he had been touched by a broken man's story of redemption. Or maybe not; only God knows.

And others are watching. Because 8 percent of its $627,600 budget comes through the Nebraska Homeless Assistance Program, Crossroads walks a fine line between state-funded secular interest and state-funded religion. Case in point: Residents may choose to skip Bible studies, but they earn bonus points for attending. The same goes for church involvement (any denomination will do) and the use of Christian workbooks. Executive Director Paul Spence does not worry about losing state funds, because Nebraska has conservative leaders who, he believes, care more about the results than the method.

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