Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spuds and hope

Jimmie Hale Mission, Birmingham, Alabama

dining room at Jimmie Hale
The mashed potatoes were tricky. I was manning the scoop for dinner at the Jimmie Hale Mission, and I was having a hard time getting the right amount of spuds on the plate because they were sticking to the spoon. But one of the veterans on the line had me give it a good whack and not worry. I wasn't going to break the plate. Mindy had the job of tongs for a single burger at dinner (and the corn dogs for lunch), and frankly, she didn't have the challenge I had with the mashed potatoes ("the fog" in diner lingo).

bread pantry
My potato challenge should not be compared to what goes into creating and maintaining the work of the mission, which began as a storefront mission back in 1944. It had been the dream of Jimmie Hale, an alcoholic who, when he came to trust in Christ and quit drinking, wanted to serve the homeless and poor. He began the mission, but died a few months later at the age of 39. His 27 year old wife, Jessie, took the work forward with the help of a man named Leo Shepura; today the mission has expanded to care for thousands of men, women, and children at several different facilities.

Shepura Men's Center
We visited the Shepura Men's Center, where every day over 300 meals are served to overnight guests as well as to men who are a part of the rehabilitation program. Other services include a clothes closet, a learning center, and a chapel. We helped serve on the food line for a lunch and a dinner, and we also got to enjoy a bit of time with some men who are part of the rehabilitation program.

Chaplain Conrad gave us a quick tour and told us about that rehabilitation program. Men can take the year-long program in four-month segments. He said the success rate is about 12%, because alcohol and drugs are deadly masters. "You don't see old drug addicts. There is pure heroin on the streets of Birmingham, and one hot shot can kill a man."

Conrad said the thing they did best at the Center was disciplining men in the knowledge and wisdom of Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Conrad has served as a pastor in several churches, but said that the last five years of ministry at Jimmy Hale has been "the best gig" of his life. We are thankful for our afternoon at the Center, which was a good gig in itself.