As I step out of my car and into the cold evening breeze, I can’t help but think to myself that there are many other things I would rather be doing than this. And as I survey the grey, run-down building in front of me, I can’t help but think to myself that there are many other places I would rather be than here. At the top of the building is a lit-up sign with a heart and cross. But that is the only thing about this building that shines.
I, along with the group of friends that accompanies me, approach the metal and glass door that says “Volunteer Entrance” and go inside. As we begin to walk up the dimly-lit stairs, the first thing we see is a glossy poster that says “Welcome to the Nashville Rescue Mission.” After that is a portrait of Jesus. At the top, a smiling man sitting behind a desk waves to us and motions us on through.
As we continue down the halls, the sound of music and chatter becomes louder and louder as we draw closer to our destination. We are headed to a large room where the Nashville Rescue Mission hosts a weekly coffee social for members of their seven month recovery program. Most of these men are straight off the streets, where they had fallen victim to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or other things. But they all checked themselves into this program in hopes of a better life. And the program is giving them just that, providing Christian education, free housing up to two years if the program is completed, and counselors that help them get jobs and gain independence, as well as aid them in the relief of their addictions. The coffee social is their reward for a hard week of work. We were asked to come on these Friday night gatherings not to serve coffee or help set up, but to talk to the guys, listen to their stories, and remind them that people really do care about them. But still, placing yourself in a social situation like this where you have been asked to talk to people that are so incredibly different than you, with such different backgrounds, can be intimidating and uncomfortable. And that is why I secretly wish I would have just stayed at TNU this Friday night and hung out with friends.
But something always happens to me as I step into the room. Because when I begin to look around, I see real human faces with real emotion, and I watch the corners of mouths turn into smiles as the men wearing them see us. And then suddenly, there is nowhere else on Earth I would rather be. With soft music and the aroma of coffee permeating the atmosphere, we begin to talk.
First, after he asks me how I am doing and offers me food, I talk to a man who tells me about how he used to have his life together. He had a steady job, a wife, and three kids before he got in a near fatal accident and became addicted to the pain killers he was prescribed. And I hear his voice tremble as he tells me about the children he has not seen in three years. Then I listen as another man tells me about how he checked himself into the program not because he was addicted to anything – but because he has no one. He just wants to be around people that care. Yet he has more joy than I could ever hope for. Next a recovering cocaine addict shares with me about how he found God in the program, and how his life has changed. And I see the thankfulness on his face as he looks up with closed eyes and whispers, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” Lastly, I join my friends as they huddle around the youngest program member, who is only 19 years old. And as he shows us pictures of the sixth month old baby girl he has never seen, I want to weep. He tells us about her, and I can see the pain in his eyes. Before we go, he shares a song he wrote with us:
I see you with a crown of thorns; I stare in shock and hear a horn. You’re dragging a cross, I follow suit, my past no longer in pursuit.
And as we leave this night, I realize that none of these men planned their lives to go this way. Accidents happened, bad decisions were made, and they got to a place they didn’t want to be in. Truthfully, they are not much different than you or me.
Later, after I have made my way back to campus, I sit in my room and think. I think about the men I talked to, and I picture their faces. Then I look around at my comfortable bed, my electronics, the pile of books on my desk, the pictures of my friends and family, and all the things I am blessed with. And as I get a text saying that it is time to start a fun night with friends, I think to myself… “What am I doing?”