Cover Story

Into the arms of God

"Into the arms of God" Continued...

The wealthy fled to the safety of Ravenna or even faraway Constantinople, but one son of an old Roman family, Gregory the Great, became pope in 590. Building on the existing infrastructure, Gregory set out to restore life to the city. He revamped rural papal estates to provide food for citizens, pilgrims, refugees, and urban poor, all in fair and orderly ways.

Gregory also made peace with the invaders. He provided soup kitchens for the sick and infirm. He set up welfare offices or diaconiae in populated areas within the walls, administered by monastic congregations.

"The Church rather than the Byzantine state . . . was responsible for providing for the urban population," historian Richard Krautheimer wrote in his classic Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308.

Gregory's concern was not unique. Nearly 900 years later, in 1521, the Bavarian city of Augsburg faced a housing crisis for its working poor. The Fuggers, Europe's most powerful banking family, a Catholic family, responded. The Fuggerai, the first low-income housing development in Europe, provides housing for the poor to this day.

Through history, the pattern is the same. Trinity Christian Community stands in that line of Christian responses to crisis. Turner remembers what happened after Katrina and what is happening now: "The church poured into the city. Here it is two years later, and who's still coming? The church." -Roberta Green Ahmanson

What Christians do: Part 2

NEW YORK CITY-The Bowery Mission since 1879 has served New York City's dire side, its thousands of homeless men and women. Three branches of the mission have developed over the years: A men's Transitional Center and a Women's Center serve alongside the oldest branch, still called The Bowery Mission, located in the Lower East Side.

The oldest branch is known for giving people such as 20-year-old Sergio Reyz a chance to walk away from a world of drugs, gangs, and death, and into the arms of God. At age 16, Reyz had by dealing cocaine become richer than his parents. His mother gave him a choice: Move out or stop dealing. He left home, continued a gang life of drugs, sex, and violence, and figured he would die. He called his mother to say goodbye-but she challenged him to get help from the Bowery Mission.

"Every day the Lord has to remind me of what I left so I don't go back," said Reyz, the youngest man at the mission. He has earned his GED, walks with a joyful step, and smiles when he talks about his mother: Their relationship has grown as he has proceeded through Bowery's Discipleship Institute six-month program of counseling, addiction recovery, relationship restoration, career education and training, and required chapel.

Many of the 70 Discipleship Institute participants started out in a Compassionate Care program that provides chapel services, meals, clothes, showers and haircuts, counseling with a chaplain, and medical care. The program has only 25 transient beds: Bowery President Ed Morgan said the mission's biggest failure is not offering more.

Morgan measures Bowery success in Positive Life Outcomes, an idea he took with him from his 20 years of work at General Electric. Last year 149 men left the Discipleship Institute exhibiting PLOs, defined as restoring relationships, remaining clean and sober, establishing positive goals, continuing an education, and exhibiting Christian character.

Bowery funding comes from private donors, only 40 percent of whom profess faith in Christ, but the board of directors is made up of Christians and emphasizes continued biblical commitment. The mission staff is made up half of program graduates and half of "people who have the gift of mercy." Morgan said staff members have "the chance to see lives change. Not many people can do that for a job and get paid. They are also doing it for spiritual reasons-God commands us."

James Macklin, Bowery's director of outreach, is a Discipleship Institute graduate; before coming to Bowery he owned a business in New Jersey but lost it to cocaine. He said he has done every job in the mission, from kitchen staff to maintenance, and spent five years as assistant director of the program: "Ed Morgan saw more in me than I saw in myself. I proved myself and by God's grace I made it."

When Macklin, now 67, walks through the halls of the Bowery Mission, residents greet him with respect-they know he has been where they are. He wears a suit but no tie, and a smile. He knows the men and their stories, shares meals with them, and strives to be the "father figure" many of them never had: "Your attitude can determine where you might go in life. That's what I like to give to men: I don't care where you start, it's where you end."


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