As we reflect on this past year, we do so with some bewilderment created by the devastating effects of coronavirus in each of our lives. Some of us faced great loss in the passing of friends or family. Some experienced the devastating effects of an economic earthquake related to job loss, possible eviction, hunger and uncertainty. Some of us experienced all of this and more.
2019 was a year of great challenges at the Topeka Rescue Mission, from a drastic drop in donations to a host of resulting questions and worries on the part of our guests, staff and community. But 2019 was also a year of renewed vision and purpose for TRM and our community. In the midst of a myriad of discussions about budgets, funds, and what services we could and couldn’t continue to provide, one question kept coming to the forefront.
For as long as she can remember, she wanted to be a mother. The kind of mother she never had - a loving, nurturing caregiver who gave her children a safe home. She had never felt safe - her mother came in and out of her life at random, and her earliest memories were moving from house to house, being passed around in a circle of relatives and “friends” she never stayed with long enough to get to know.
By the time she was 16 she believed her only escape was to find her “person”. Someone who would actually stick around. She watched the kids in her neighborhood and school pairing off, looking for a new life - a life apart from the poverty, need and crime they had always known. During high school she fell in love with a boy she had known most of her life. He was the charismatic one, the rebel, the only kid she knew who was going places. He escaped the confines of their neighborhood and came back sometimes to tell his stories. When she was 18 he asked her to marry him - her, the girl no one ever really noticed, and she was over the moon.
In upcoming video podcasts, In Darkness, A Light Still Shines, you will learn about Jerry McAuley, the founder of the first Rescue Mission. He spent time in Sing Sing prison for robbery and after his release fought drunkenness and homelessness for years. Another episode will highlight early days at the original shelter on Kansas Avenue when TRM had few resources and kitchen volunteers peeled potatoes with spoons, used the kitchen stoves to heat the mission and kept food dry from the leaking roof with umbrellas. Additionally, learn about a Mission guest and World War II vet, who thought he was 600 years old and wouldn’t allow shelter staff to help him regain independence for three decades.
Many times the struggles, amidst the lives of the broken individuals and families who come through the doors of the Mission and those who live among us in the community, are overwhelming. Many are experiencing homelessness, addiction, physical and mental illness. They may be escaping violent situations or situations where they are being exploited. The levels of hopelessness and despair are staggering. Broken relationships, financial uncertainties, and seemingly impossible situations plague so many.
TRM Ministries began its quest to INFORM, INSPIRE, EQUIP and ENGAGE 66 years ago, sharing the news via the “Life Line News”, a monthly newsletter typed on an old typewriter and printed on an in-house mimeograph machine. Today, the “Monthly Report” is a glossy six-page information sharing newsletter that attempts to bring a caring community up to speed on testimony of those helped, new initiatives, announcements and current trends regarding poverty, hunger, homelessness, trauma and human traﬃcking. Unfortunately, due to development time, printing and mailing realities, the news we wish to convey is 4-6 weeks old. In an era where news developments are broadcast in real or nearly real-time, six-week-old information can get lost in the sea of information overload.
The fourth president of the United States, James Madison once said, “If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government.” Unfortunately, we aren’t angels and we do need government. Human beings require a system of rules and laws to govern us and provide order. All too often these “rules” come with restrictions that interfere with other rules, are complicated, lack common sense and frequently are barriers to real solutions. Often the quick answer to complex problems results in, “that can’t be done, or we don’t do it that way,” or simply the word...“NO!”
Many of those, who live here in Topeka Ks, suffer from poverty, homelessness, a lack of food or a variety of other challenges, often hear the word “no” repeated constantly throughout their lives. “No, you’re not smart enough.” “No, you don’t have the right kind of education.” “No, you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.” “No, we don’t do it that way!” They may hear, “You’re poor, addicted, unattractive, mentally unstable, slow, lazy, stupid” or any number of other unkind hurtful labels. Some will wear those labels throughout their lives. Then, on top of a lifetime of negativity, people living on the margins are consistently hearing “NO” or “NO we can’t help you,” from those in a position to serve.
If you have never experienced the amazing feeling of being a part of something bigger or greater than yourself, you have missed out on a blessing. There are many beautiful moments in life but they seem to always be sweeter when shared with others. TRM is awed to have had 1000’s of individuals, plus churches and companies partner with us over the past 11 months to serve the “least of these” in our community.
The “least of these” is not a derogatory term. It’s a term for those who belong to groups like: misunderstood, looks different than me, desperate to know I matter, need help, feel lost, hungry - groups of people utterly loved by Jesus Christ. Mother Teresa embodied graceful service as she poured out her life to help groups like these and inspired others to join her efforts. Her favorite scripture was Mathew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.
Over the years Christmas at TRM has taken on many forms; from setting up in the basement of Open Way Church to a warehouse across from the main shelter to utilizing the conference room and hallways in the main shelter to our current location at the warehouse at 206 NW Norris. It takes hundreds of hours of donated volunteer hours, thousands of donated new gifts, and countless prayers to create a space that will help those we serve feel special, loved and cared for. It is a time of Christmas smells and twinkling lights; smiling faces and tears of gratitude and joy. It’s a time where the warmth of the season and the love of Christ permeates every corner.
There are so many wonderful memories but a few stand out. One year we had a snowstorm and a couple came in the door almost frozen. They had walked across the Topeka Bridge to come to the Christmas shop for their appointment to get their gifts. Their only means of getting there was to walk.
It has been a season of humbling recognition for TRM and we are grateful; recognition calling us out as the “best”. TRM Ministries has been recognized locally and nationally for the innovative way we approach those we serve and our role in the community. God has given all of us here at TRM the amazing opportunity to serve those who find themselves in very difficult circumstances. With this gift comes the responsibility to always, with God’s help, do the very best we can to serve those who are in need. So, receiving these awards caused us to pause and ask “What does it mean to be the “best” or do our “best”?”
We see inconceivable brokenness and hopelessness every day. Despite this, we believe the Lord has blessed us with the responsibility, ideas and resources to glorify Him by serving those around us in the very best ways we can by daily doing our best.
by Lizzi Feaker
It started when she was twelve and her stepfather told her she had bright, pretty hair, and was becoming a beautiful young woman. She knew she was supposed to like hearing it; didn’t every girl want to become a beautiful young woman? But something in his eyes made her skin crawl.
As her mother began working more and more hours to afford the bills, leaving her alone with her stepfather who never seemed to be able to hold down a job, her uneasiness grew. Several weeks later, during one of her mother’s overnight shifts, her stepfather threw her to the freezing basement floor. She experienced physical, mental and emotional destruction that changed the course of her life and repeated in the following years.
Why, in the 21st Century, is there a girl in the attic to save? That is the question Freedom Now USA (FNUSA) is asking and encouraging others to ask. Our country was founded on the principle that all individuals are created equal and should be free. While slavery involving race was abolished 150 years ago, sex and labor slavery exists today in communities across America. It hides in plain sight, exploits the most vulnerable, and is eroding the health of our nation. We must stand together to declare war on all forms of slavery and advance freedom for all people.
FNUSA exists to unite efforts within communities to eradicate human trafficking from the United States. In order to eradicate something, you first have to understand it - in its entirety. That is why FNUSA is working with local communities to discover how human trafficking intersects all areas of the community, assist community leaders to understand the full picture and craft an action plan and unite all individuals and organizations needed to fight the war.
How does a community discover the 12-year-olds being raped and ensure they have wrap-around trauma services? Or, discover the 18-year-olds before they are tricked into relationships where they are sold for sex. How does a community discover the 24-year-olds who drink away their pain and sell pictures to the “nice couple” they meet at a bar or online? Better yet, how does a community prevent these atrocities from happening to vulnerable children and adults?
To address these concerns, Topeka Rescue Mission launched FNUSA, piloting a model in Topeka/Shawnee County that, if successful, could shape our nation and turn the tide in a war most Americans don’t even know we are fighting. Join the movement and help FNUSA work alongside communities to both prevent and rescue those in the attic. †
When August arrives, those with school age children shift from relaxed summer mode to busy preparation for the first day of school. For some it’s merely an inconvenience of time but for many in our community it’s beyond stressful as they wonder how they will pay for school supplies and clothes for growing kids. The TRM Ministries is blessed by amazing donors and volunteers who understand this need and go above and beyond to lighten the load of struggling parents. Because of your generosity over the past weeks, TRM helped over 150 children, as well as multiple schools across Topeka. Fully stocked backpacks, put together by volunteers, were given to children across our community, ensuring they are equipped with the tools necessary to learn. To truly affect change in the world, we must equip today’s children to be their best selves and that goes beyond having the right tools. It’s also about self-esteem and feeling like you fit in on the first day of school. No child wants to go to school feeling unprepared. THANK YOU for partnering with TRM and contributing to the children of our community, making it possible for so many to have a great first day of school.
Claire* came to the Topeka Rescue Mission Children’s Palace at the age of four months. She and her parents were homeless and residing at the Hope Center for Women and Children when the opportunity came for Claire to enroll. She had spent most of her short life confined to a stroller; not because her parents were intentionally neglectful, but because they were parents in crisis who had no experience in raising a child. The ramifications on their daughter’s development was quickly evident. Not only was she not rolling over, she was unable to hold up her head. Her facial expressions were mostly blank and the cheerful babbling and cooing that come from most at her age was scarcely existent.
A while back, a friend of mine told me about a dream they had one night. I was on the porch of my house handing out loaves of bread to many passersby, but I never took a loaf for myself. My friend said they were troubled in their dream because I hadn’t taken any bread for myself. I was intrigued by their dream, but really had no idea what it meant, until.......
I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone on the planet who hasn’t suffered some trial or rejection in their life. Some of us have people to catch us when we fall, hold us and remind us we are valuable. For many, there is no one to catch them and sometimes it’s those we normally would think would be there for them, like family or friends, that knowingly or unknowingly push them away in their greatest time of need. When trial and rejection happen, everyone breaks differently and the Mission encounters some of the most broken people in our community. Often, they have been physically, emotionally, or spiritually scarred. For some, all they have ever known is rejection and deep down they have one question, “Do I even matter?”
Each year the Mission endeavors to provide as many kids as possible with a backpack filled with school supplies. For teachers like Heather Hempler, a 2nd grade teacher at Ross Elementary, this is critically important to helping her kids learn well. Schools in impoverished areas more often see kids who are struggling to learn because they are hungry and not well rested.
“It’s not unusual to walk into my room and see a student eating or sleeping because they just need that. Without that need being met, they can’t focus on learning. I guess the biggest reason I teach at Ross is because I know not everyone has the patience for the needs these kids have. I know I can help them in whatever way they need. Not every teacher or person has that understanding of the students needing their basic needs met before they can learn. I have truly found a passion for these students!”
I came to the Rescue Mission in April of 1986 and soon found that the Rescue Mission was facing some very serious financial challenges. Things were so bleak that it looked like we might actually have to shut our doors. We struggled along until October of that year before finally beginning to see a financial turnaround. It looked as though 1987 would be a better year, however, while we were struggling financially, there were other things brewing.
After a lot of prayer and planning, early in 2017 Barry challenged our employee teams with the goal to be the best rescue mission in the country. We worked hard and made significant progress toward that goal. There is still much to be done and opportunities to serve the homeless and hungry are growing. Many of the guests we serve are hungry for much more than a good meal-they long to understand and experience the peace, love and hope that comes from knowing Jesus.
We believe this is a pivotal time in our community. Our city is making giant leaps forward. Collaboration and public/private partnerships are increasing. New companies are coming to town and bringing jobs and economic growth.
Because of the strong leadership of many wonderful Topekans, the NOTO Arts District is booming and large events are coming to our newly renovated downtown – all generating more revenue and growing the local economy and tax base. We are increasing green space in this community and making it more bicycle-friendly – all efforts that will help to recruit and retain the next generation of families and leaders and help those we serve at the Mission.
In this video the Children at the Children’s Palace talk about what they love about Christmas.
Has your life, job or ministry ever become so overwhelming and difficult that you felt like giving up? Before I began working at the Topeka Rescue Mission, I endured some great challenges that caused me to want to throw in the towel and walk away from it all.
Has your life, job or ministry ever become so overwhelming and difficult that you felt like giving up?
Click the image in this post to hear Barry Feaker tell a story from his book “In Darkness A Light Still Shines” entitled “The Best Christmas”.
Listen to Barry Feaker tell a story from his book “In Darkness A Light Still Shines” entitled “The Best Christmas”.
I started at the Mission seven years ago as a volunteer and helped answer phones in the office. I spoke with all the people who had missed the community deadline to be adopted for Christmas. All of them were disappointed to hear they had missed the deadline.
I took every name down, in the order they called in, and carefully recorded the ages, genders and sizes of their children and their wish lists. Many of those wish lists were simple items we often take for granted—socks, underwear, a coat for a child who had no coat. I had never seen so much need—so many hungry kids and families. God broke my heart every day for the people we had a chance to adopt and encourage.
Note from Executive Director Barry Feaker: I asked Amber Cunningham, Leadership Development Coordinator, to share a story about how NET Reach is working in the Hi-Crest community and the transformation occurring in hearts, minds, and lives.
A war on poverty was declared in 1964. Since then poverty continues to be a focus of government programming and ministries alike. The Topeka Rescue Mission launched 64 years ago to provide food and shelter for homeless men but as their needs grew, poverty became a word of focus for the Mission. As a nation, do we really understand poverty and its causes?