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Why bother with homeless addicts? Jesus bothers, seminarian answers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–City Union Mission, only blocks from Kansas City’s skyline, provides a beacon of hope for the homeless, the addicted and the down-and-out.

The mission, now located at 10th and Troost, has been offering needy people physical and spiritual food for more than 75 years.

Every evening the hungry and homeless make their way to City Union Mission for a meal, a bed and a gospel message. Since many of the men who come face deeper struggles than poverty, the mission also offers a 13-month Christian Life Program to give them an opportunity to break the grip of addiction and tap into the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. At any given time the resident recovery program ministers to 40-50 men.

“The Christian Life Program is a Christ-focused time of recovery for men who want to get their lives right with the Lord and want to get past alcohol and drug addiction and other things keeping them homeless,” said Greg Gay, a second-year master of divinity student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a passion to reaching these men. He has served as assistant administrator of the Christian Life Program at City Union the past seven months.

“We are bringing these men into God’s Word,” Gay said. “The Christian Life Program’s main goal is to show that Jesus Christ is real and to give the gospel message. Christ restores hope to these hopeless lives. We want them to know Jesus Christ is the one to bring healing to them.”

CLP residents have a time of Bible study and prayer each day before they start their work assignments. On Thursday night they attend “Mountain Movers,” a Christ-centered 12-step recovery study utilizing material from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. All are required to attend chapel services on Wednesday evenings and worship services at area churches on Sunday mornings.

The program also involves an academic element to help the men gain employment after they are sober. They have learning center times with computer training along with exercises to develop logical and critical thinking skills. City Union Mission also encourages outside learning opportunities. The Claycomo Ford plant recently began offering employment training for some of the residents that could lead to fulltime employment after completing the program.

The thought of individuals coming away from the mission clean and sober with job opportunities is deeply satisfying to Gay. “The Lord is helping the men change and giving them opportunities to become salt and light in the world,” he said with a smile.

Gay is no stranger to the inner city. Growing up in the Uptown section of Chicago, he encountered the addicted, homeless and down-and-out on a daily basis. Early on, God gave him a love and compassion for these people; as a member and later as a youth pastor at Uptown Baptist Church he was able to see Christians reach out to the hurting people of his neighborhood in a positive way — an outreach that made a lasting impact on him.

Gay spends about 15 hours of his workweek counseling men in the program. For many, the addictions they are battling are only a secondary issue. According to Gay, most of the men had terrible childhoods and suffered physical and even sexual abuse and abandonment by one or both parents. They have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the traumas of their lives.

“Ultimately to deal with the past hurts, people need a relationship with Christ,” Gay said. “They need his love and forgiveness. For many of the men, this is a new revelation. When they come to Christ they find a new purpose in life. That doesn’t mean they won’t face struggles every day, but they will have the presence of Christ.”

His ministry can be discouraging at times. Many of the men who come to the Christian Life Program do not stop their addiction. The nationwide average for programs like this entails only a 5 percent success rate. The numbers cause some to ask, “Why bother?”

Gay answers that question this way, “Jesus bothers. That’s why bother. The percentages are not what you look at, it’s the individuals. It is frustrating to see the failures, but it is the ones who come away knowing Christ and serving him that make it worthwhile.”

Mike Durst is another Midwesterner who is being used by God at City Union Mission. A 1983 Midwestern graduate who now pastors Gladstone Baptist Church, Durst has been at City Union for 12 years. He currently serves as the men’s counselor for the Christian Life Program. Years ago, Durst began a bout with drug addiction that ultimately landed him in prison. It was during that time in prison that he heard the gospel and accepted Christ.

“I feel that I can have empathy for them,” Durst said of the men and their struggles. “I have really seen God use me here.”

Gay and Durst are not the only Midwesterners making an impact for Christ at City Union Mission. Current students ministering at the mission include Matt Aernie, Regina Barnett, Mike Ferris, Terry Megli and Rodney Penn. Liz McMullen, wife of church history professor Michael McMullen, also serves at the mission.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CARING IN K.C.