The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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My dad, mom, brother and I sit in silence as I peer out the window and take in my surroundings.  A sturdy, square building constructed of old red brick stands about twenty yards away.  As I scrutinize the front of the building, a large cross sticks out like a cut-out picture from a children’s pop-up book.  It glows with a green phosphorescence that barely illuminates the words Bethesda Mission.  I hold my gaze on the name, hypnotized by its radiance and my own reverie about ministries that unselfishly provide for the penniless of Harrisburg.  Although the once regal building is now rundown, I briefly think to myself that the worn structure must only be a shell, and not an indicator of what its innards have to offer its refugees.

            After a brief exchange between my parents, we mount the fourteen stairs leading to the doors of the Bethesda Mission in search of Carl.  I momentarily glimpse four unkempt men taking slow drags from cigarettes on the landing outside.  As I slip into the Mission, an irresistible sense of paranoia urges me to glance over my shoulder at the cluster of men.  After a brief stop at reception, we proceed to the kitchen where we meet with Carl.  Under his kind tutelage, my uncertainty wanes as we load the mobile mission van and set out to feed the homeless of Harrisburg on this wintry night.  Driving to an underpass, Carl stops the van in a seemingly isolated area.  My father, Carl and I set up a table with drinks and food, while my mom and brother organize the blankets and clothing inside the van. And then, anticipating our scheduled Friday night arrival, the hidden inhabitants slowly emerge to meet us.  I offer a colorfully clothed character a coffee and greet him with a “hello.”  He returns my greeting with a warm, toothless grin.  He playfully prods Carl’s side with his forefinger and spits out “I missed ya Carl!” He makes me smile as he talks about “the damn floods that flooded my damn bed away” and “you blessed people of the ministry, I dunno what the hell I’d do without ya.”  Single men and women, young and old, married couples, the people provided for by the mobile mission are diverse and unexpected, making me wonder what has forced these ordinary people onto the streets.

After a night of multiple stops and serving food, clothing and blankets to forty-some people, we return to the Mission.  “Good to see you again,” we are greeted by the same men on the landing.  And now, those same fourteen steps, leading to the large, solid structure set against a backdrop of stars, are obviously a sturdy stairway leading upwards towards redemption and hope.

Leading Upwards

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