That simple slogan still glows in neon outside the downtown Wheeler Mission for the homeless in Indianapolis.
Stretching back to the late 19th century, the mission has modernized in many ways over the years. The building at 245 North Delaware Street has been renovated, and the mission has absorbed another rescue mission downtown in expanding its bed space. But Wheeler still aims primarily at homeless men, often suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, sometimes mixed with mental and emotional problems that go back to childhood.
The "Jesus Saves" sign is a fitting symbol that medical advances have not invented a substitute for getting right with God in recovery. The abuse of the bottle is a problem of soul and spirit, as well as an addiction that afflicts the body.
Eric Gardner developed the addiction gradually in his teen years, growing up in the suburbs of Indianapolis, looking for peer approval with drugs and alcohol. He doesn't blame his parents or a horrible life at home. "My parents were disciplinarians, but I would evade the consequences," he said.
At Ball State University he indulged in even more. "It went from marijuana to pills to LSD to cocaine," Gardner said. "By the age of 21 I started smoking crack cocaine and shooting heroin."
His parents tried to help, and he tried some rehab programs, never getting serious enough to recover. "I was sick of that life," Gardner said. "I was a slave to that stuff."
His mother heard from a friend about Wheeler Mission's Hebron Center in a rural part of Indiana. "It sounded pretty radical to me-a whole year. I was thinking of a week or two," Gardner recalled. "I had nowhere else to go. I was basically homeless."
Hebron Center counselors did not restore low self-esteem when he complained that he could not stop his heroin fixes. "That's not your problem, Eric," said his counselor. "You're self-centered and think only of yourself."
Gardner had a more favorable opinion: "I thought I was kind, witty, and smart. All my girl friends' parents loved me. Behind the scenes I was a terror. But I didn't think I was inherently evil."
After some intense discussions and teaching at the Hebron Center, he came to a different perspective. "I was an evil person, a thief, a liar, a drug dealer," Gardner said. "I had hurt plenty of people, especially my family."
He repented and came to a serious commitment to Christ, realizing that Jesus had paid the penalty for his wrongs by dying on the cross. Gardner was reconciled with his parents and took the second year of the Hebron program, training to help others.
Now he's married to Leslie, having met her at the camp, and they attend Indy Metro Church. Eric now works with men in the Hebron Center ministry, trying to help them find the freedom in Christ he now enjoys.
Yes, Jesus still saves. The old neon sign hanging outside the mission still belongs there.