“There is something different about this place…”

That thought has been rolling through my head ever since I arrived at The Bowery Mission. Something about the people here, the atmosphere, is just plain different.

This became apparent as I sat in on their chapel service on the first night of my stay.

The Bowery Mission’s chapel, a place of healing for 130 years.

About 12 men in the Bowery’s six-month long discipleship program were graduating that night. Lined up along the back of the small stage were former homeless men and drug addicts, sitting now in sharp suits and ties, smiling with expressions of accomplishment on their faces.

In the first six or eight rows of the chapel were the rest of the men who are currently in the program. As the service went on, they were clapping, cheering and shouting encouragement to the guys on the stage.

But the smiles and good attitudes didn’t end with chapel. Ever since coming here I have been surrounded by grins, laughter, joy… I have received countless welcoming handshakes from guys who have absolutely no idea who I am.

There is something different about this place.

Time Out

Through the red doors of the Bowery Mission come many hungry, weary, broken people…

The Bowery Mission Discipleship Institute currently serves 82 men (the women’s program serves 20 women, but is in another location). Many come from very desperate situations; addicted to drugs, homeless, sick… But over the course of six months, their lives are transformed.

Tom Basile, Director of the Bowery Mission, calls it a “time out” from normal life. For 6 months, participants in the program have all of their practical needs met (food, shelter, clothing, showers, etc.) so that they can spend as much time as possible being loved, taught and challenged.

The guys receive tutoring to get their GEDs, practical on-the-job training and personal spiritual development with the mission’s team of chaplains. They live in a dorm with the other program guys, eat together, have Bible study together, attend chapel three times a day together, etc…

And while it might seem like a bit much, this constant community is a very intentional part of the program. After spending a lot of time living alone on the streets, it really takes a crash course in living with others to prepare men to re-enter society.

After graduating from the program, each of the guys has the option to stay at The Bowery for an additional six months. They can continue to have their basic needs met as they work in a new job. They save as much of their income as possible so that when they finally leave these walls they will have a firm foundation to start out on.

The discipleship program here is truly remarkable!

Doing something right

I am still learning my way around the place, but I can say one thing for sure… they are doing something right here. Never before have I seen such life and joy among men with no homes or jobs. Never have I seen a group of former homeless men and addicts love and respect each other in this way.

One night, as I stood in line for dinner, I met a 68 year old man named George who is only four days into the program. I asked him what he thought of the place. With a big smile on his face, he said, “Oh, I love it! The people are so nice and the food is off the hook!”

As we approached the serving line, one of the staff guys gave George a big pat on the back and asked him how he was doing. As he talked, I could see a light in George’s eyes. Although his body is weak and his face wrinkled, George is alive again.

Night and Day

But of all the things I’ve seen here that have convinced me of how well the program is working, one image stands out in my mind above all the others.

Back in the graduation ceremony I mentioned before, I had chosen to sit near the back of the chapel. Around me were all of the non-program homeless people who had come simply to receive a meal at the end of the day (what they call “the community”).

As I looked around during the service, I could see an invisible line straight through the room. In the front half of the chapel were the program guys; sitting up straight, shouting “amen” to the preacher, clapping, singing… In the back half of the chapel were people straight off the streets; defeated, bent, tired and miserable.

One of the many downtrodden people who have yet to take the plunge into the Bowery’s program.

As the guys in the front cheered on their successful friends, the people in the back sat in silence. As the program folks shook hands and smiled, the community sat broken and asleep.

It brought home to me just how far the guys in the Bowery’s program have come.  They were once just as broken as the people sitting behind them. But because they made the difficult decision to give half a year of their lives into the hands of the Bowery Mission, they have been restored from the inside out.

Another offer

As the chapel service drew to a close, one of The Bowery’s chaplains got up to give some closing remarks. He reflected again on how great it was that so many guys were graduating the program and ended the service with these words:

This verse, hanging on the wall of the chapel, is very appropriate for what they accomplish in the lives of the homeless.

“And for those of you who aren’t part of our program, I want to once again encourage you to sign up. For those of you willing to step out in faith and submit your life to someone greater, you’re welcome to join us. There’s a bed waiting for you here…”

As I continue to learn about and interact with the men of The Bowery Mission, I look forward to the stories I will hear.

I don’t know just what I’ll experience, but I do know one thing…

There is something different about this place.

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Next Steps
    • Watch this video to hear the stories of men and women whose lives have been changed by The Bowery Mission.
    • Consider getting your own resources into the game by supporting the work of The Bowery Mission financially. Click here to learn more.
    • Spend some time today in prayer for those people who have yet to make the commitment to join programs like the one here. Pray that they would have the courage necessary to take those first big steps of faith.
    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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Comments

  1. Steve H. said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 7:23 am  

    I wonder if our church is the same way only masked on the outside a bit more…people in the front rows full of life and God, people in the back defeated and weary?

  2. jim.m said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 7:35 am  

    John 5: 6.”When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

    Something is different there Barry.

    The pastor’s invitation shows us what it means to be present in the midst of brokenness, to be the loving expression of Christ to the lost, and to invite our hurting brothers and sisters to enjoy a life hid with Christ, a life so full of healing and joy, one that overcomes all sin, and illness….we can not have that presence sitting on the sidelines…you my friend are now on center court. We look forward to seeing through your eyes what being fully present for Christ to the lost looks like.

    Pax J+

  3. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 10:41 am  

    “The invisible line”. Wow, that one has me processing. What defines the line? Is it redemption? Repentance? Hope? Jesus?

    Now I want to have eyes to see the people here in suburban USA. To see if some of them are in the back of the room groggy and languishing and some in the front alive and flourishing.

    And how do we invite them forward? And on which side of the line do I live?

  4. Melissa said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 12:18 pm  

    Barry,
    This really sounds like a great place–
    But, this semester, I’m working at an organization in D.C. that provides long term care for homeless folks (usually 2 or more years)…
    so I’m wondering: what happens when the 6 months is up? Where do these men go?

  5. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 12:40 pm  

    Melissa,

    When the guys in the program make it to the 6 month mark, they have the freedom to leave, but also have the option to stay for an additional 6 months in what they call here a “reentry” phase.

    The Bowery Mission offers lots of help finding jobs and helps them save up the money they make while continuing to provide all of their day-to-day needs.

    So they aren’t just dropped back on the streets or anything! They are gradually eased into their new lives…

  6. Penny said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 4:10 pm  

    Does the detox part for addicts take place before the 6 months actually begins or is it part of it? Does that also take place on site?

  7. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2010 at 5:39 pm  

    Good question, mom!

    I just asked one of the staff guys and he says that a lot of the men coming in for the program do start off needing detox. So The Bowery Mission places them in a separate detox facility for about four days before they begin the program.

  8. Sara said... 

    Reply

    March 26th, 2010 at 4:34 pm  

    Hi Barry, I work in Developement for The Bowery Mission. Thanks for writing this. It was encouraging to us all. You also took some great pictures. Would you be willing to let us use these for some of our publications? Please email me if so. Thanks again, Sara

  9. Juan Galloway said... 

    Reply

    March 27th, 2010 at 12:52 pm  

    Gotta love The Bowery Mission.

  10. Dave Quigley said... 

    Reply

    March 29th, 2010 at 5:23 pm  

    Dear Barry – your comment about living alone on the streets fro so long – that they needed integration and preparation to enter society. You know in some ways that could be similar to even the affluent suburban dwellers who appear to be well integrated on the outside – but without real, authentic relationships – they are actually “living alone” among all the other loners! And come to think of it …. they probably need some integration help as well…..

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