Posted Mar 27, 2010 by 4 Comments

Spending several days at The Bowery Mission in Lower Manhattan has been an incredibly encouraging and eye opening experience.  Talking with residents, eating meals with them and observing their interactions with each other and with the staff has given me a unique perspective from within the organization.

As I said before, there is something different about the Bowery Mission, and in all honesty, I actually wish I could stay a bit longer!  There is a deep legacy at work in the Mission and I have been fascinated to see how it continues to show up.

The number of students helped by the Mission is staggering!

The Bowery Mission was founded in 1879.  Over its 131 year history, the Mission has changed the lives of thousands.

During the Great Depression, the Mission offered food and shelter to the large immigrant community in the Lower East Side of New York.  During the tumultuous 1970s, it stood as a beacon of light in a community ravaged by drugs and crime.  And today, the Bowery Mission’s commitment to offering dignity and hope to all continues on.

They have always been willing to accept anyone who needs their help, and their open-handed approach is evident in the incredible diversity among the men in the program.

The young and the old

First of all, there is a huge range in ages among the men.  From young guys recovering from some bad choices to some older men who have been abandoned by the world, everyone lives together in one cohesive community.

It’s thrilling to know that George has a place to sleep tonight…

The age range is so pronounced that nobody found it weird to bookend a Bible class with discussions about the dangers of youthful womanizing and the necessity of prostate exams and colonoscopies!

Some men, like Anthony, went straight from being rebellious teenagers in gangs to ending up addicted to crack and living on the streets.

Hearing Anthony’s story of recovery through the Bowery Mission, however, it’s clear that he has many rich and fruitful years to go.  I think he said it best.  “ I thank God for giving me my soul back…”

Other men, like 68 year old George, have traveled all around the country, lived in many different places and only now find themselves in a difficult situation.

George has children, but because of their drug abuse and lack of support, he has chosen to head off on his own.  So now, in a time when he should be sitting by the fire surrounded by grandchildren, he is homeless and jobless.

But George is not hopeless.  When talking about the Bowery Mission, his eyes twinkle.  Here he is loved, respected and cared for.   And even though he tends to go on and on when he talks, everyone here smiles and puts up with it… grandpa has a family after all.

Out of luck and Out of control

Another way that this diversity shows up is in the circumstances that brought men to the Mission.  Some men are here because they hit a rough patch of unemployment.  Others arrived inches from death and enslaved to their addictions.  Both groups of men are finding hope and a future through the program.

A sign with much history behind it.

Cook, for example, was a hard working 44 year old man with a steady job when the economic recession began to hit home.  His company resorted to downsizing, and Cook’s job was lost.  After moving in with his sister and landing another job, he was devastated when, after three months, he lost his employment to downsizing again.

When he wasn’t able to help with rent anymore, Cook’s sister kicked him out.  He found himself on the streets.  Trying to job search in the middle of winter while sleeping on a subway car at night was leading him nowhere.  Through the advice of a stranger, however, Cook found himself on the steps of the Bowery Mission.  Today, he is working toward his GED, learning basic computer skills and preparing to re-enter the job market.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are many men who entered the Bowery in desperation, enslaved to drugs and unable to make it in the world.   Thankfully, through effective detox and a healthy and orderly environment at the Mission, they are finding freedom from the things that once kept them powerless.

New and Experienced

Finally, there is a great diversity in the amount of time the men have been at the Mission.  Because there is no scheduled starting point for program participants, there is a steady stream of new faces coming in and graduates going out.  Every year, 150 men come through the program from start to finish.

Mohammed, eternally grateful for a second chance…

It’s exciting to meet guys who are just now beginning their time at the Bowery Mission.  I can almost see weights being lifted off their shoulders as they settle in.  It’s as if they are able to relax and breathe for the first time in years.

But even more encouraging to me than the fresh faces are the stories of men like Mohammed, a man who graduated from the program but ended up relapsing into his addiction to alcohol.

Now, I know it doesn’t sound like an encouraging story.  Doesn’t his relapse mean that the Mission failed?

Well, perhaps he wasn’t quite ready to leave when he did.  Perhaps his addiction had not been totally conquered.  But here’s the thing that fills me with hope.  The Bowery Mission took him back.  Instead of writing him off as a hopeless case, they extended grace and welcomed him with open arms.

Today, with tears in his eyes, Mohammed talks about how grateful he is that the Mission would give him a second chance.  “I wasn’t right with God when I left before, but this time things have changed…”

A picture of the kingdom

All of this diversity, this imperfection, this healing, has filled me with such incredible hope for the men of the Bowery Mission.  Here is a rag-tag group of sinners that have been  brought together for one purpose… to live in the arms of grace.

The staff of the Bowery Mission are constantly reminded about why they do what they do.

By the world’s standards, they deserve to be forgotten, abandoned.  “They’ve made their choice,” says the world.

But the Bowery Mission isn’t operating under the world’s standards.  It is operating under the standards of the kingdom of God.  Love, grace, hope… These are the flags that fly when Jesus is king.

When I think about my own life, my own imperfections, I am encouraged to remember that God loves his children despite their mistakes and flaws.  Spending time among the men of the Bowery Mission, I am reminded of the true meaning of grace.

Every day, through prayer meetings, classes, counseling and hot meals, the Bowery Mission echoes the words of Jesus spoken to the crippled man…


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Next Steps
    • Consider getting your own resources into the game by supporting the work of The Bowery Mission financially. Click here to learn more.
    • Think about taking a trip out to New York to volunteer with the Bowery Mission yourself! Click here to learn about the Bowery Mission's volunteer trips.
    • Please pray for the men of the Bowery Mission. Pray that they would continue to accept the grace offered to them through this program and that it would continue to transform lives for the next 130 years!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Michael McDonald said... 


    March 27th, 2010 at 11:30 am  

    Great post – wonderful to see this work – come visit our work with the homeless, ex-prisoners and addicted in Russia – we would love to host you.

  2. Jim.M said... 


    March 27th, 2010 at 7:44 pm  

    Great message Barry! For many addicts relapse is a step on the of the path to recovery. Thank you for focusing much of the writing these past few days on the joy of recovery from addiction, and the work of The Bowery Mission in this area. Your commentary has no doubt opened some eyes and hearts.

  3. Rob Yonan said... 


    March 31st, 2010 at 6:58 am  

    Wow. Just, wow.

  4. Rob Yonan said... 


    March 31st, 2010 at 7:01 am  

    Your writing adds to a thread of discussions I’ve had which revolve around hurtful choices which lead to enslavement. The stories I hear have this common denominator. At some point, the tipping point, there is no longer a choice. One is powerless. Enslaved. Hooked. Addicted and I’m learning so much from so many who’ve been down that road. I am thankful to them and to you for expanding my ‘mercy gauge’.

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