There are just fewer than 40 men sleeping at the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia on Hazel Street tonight — but they’re not just getting a bed and meal for one night.
Erin Reimers said they’re there for life transformation, and that takes time.
Reimers is president and CEO of the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia. She said the transformation the ministry aims at is centered on what Jesus Christ can do in people’s lives.
“Four years ago we went through a restructuring,” she said. “We went from being a homeless shelter providing a meal, a bed and what help we could give, to being a place of recovery and restoration. We saw we were a revolving door: people went back to the streets facing the same struggles and were back through our revolving door. We wanted more for them than that.”
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I’d venture that in every tour people say, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’ People should see the Rescue Mission for themselves. God is making disciples here. They’ll see Macon, Middle Georgia, changing one person at a time.
Reimers said the Rescue Mission surveyed Middle Georgia to see what was and wasn’t being done before making the change. She said considering a multitude of other ministries and services, such as Macon Outreach and the Salvation Army, the Rescue Mission’s board decided to take a longer-term route for longer-term results.
“God has us all here to do particular things — that’s good,” she said. “We believed he was telling us to change. Really, to get back to our roots.”
Reimers said the Rescue Mission’s roots trace to 1952 when Macon Police Sgt. A.E. McGee started inviting drunks, vagrants and other “lost souls” to his home. Reimers said he gave them coffee, donuts and the Gospel and wanted them to meet Jesus and get back on their feet rather than keep getting locked up repeatedly.
She said the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia, originally called the Macon Rescue Mission, was chartered in 1956. She said the Rescue Mission’s current name better reflects its service to 17 Middle Georgia counties.
The ministry’s decades-long work in a four-story building at Broadway and Poplar Street — with a “Jesus Cares” neon sign atop it — became an iconic Macon landmark.
The ministry moved to its current 20,000-square-foot facility on Hazel Street in 2000, Reimers said. And she said plans are in the works to expand further to help more people.
In 2004, the group opened its bargain-thrift store at 3375 Napier Ave., which Reimers said funds about half the ministry’s operations through sales of donated items. She said the store’s goods also are given away to people in need via a voucher program available to a number of Macon ministries.
Other support for the Rescue Mission comes from a September golf tournament and clay-shoot fundraiser, plus from monetary and other gifts made by individuals, businesses and churches.
Reimers said the Rescue Mission plans to break ground in the next few months for a more upscale version of a bargain store off Ga. 96 in Warner Robins.
She said the ministry gets no government funding.
If her comments indicate the Rescue Mission is enjoying success, Reimers is quick to say the ministry is just “the middleman, the vessel the Lord uses to connect a lot of caring people and groups in Middle Georgia with others less fortunate than they are.”
And she’s quick to say the real success is what happens in people’s lives.
“We assessed last year and there were 23 men who graduated the life recovery program. Sixteen are still clean and sober — doing well,” she said. “That’s about a 70 percent success rate.”
Reimers said though such statistics are hard to keep and judge, most recovery programs nationwide report single-digit success rates and are happy when they climb to the teens or just beyond.
“Since July of 2013, we’ve had 81 make graduation and 47 are still clean and doing well,” she said. “That’s 58 percent. I say it just because we’re proud of what God has done here in these men’s lives. Not every story is a success, but we’re here for them all.”
Reimers said the program isn’t easy but most in it are at rock bottom, ready for change. She said Christian values like honesty, transparency and the importance of relationships help change happen.
The recovery program is a minimum of 90 days with additional phases taking up to a year.
Is introducing men to Christ a goal?
“Absolutely,” Reimers said. “If we’re talking life transformation, we’re talking about getting to the root of problems, not just dealing with symptoms like drinking. 99.999 percent of the time those outward problems are coping mechanisms for other life issues and traumas. We find an alarming amount of those wounds come from sexual abuse experienced as children. Hurting people need hope, and hope is where Jesus comes in.”
In addition to the men currently in the building for the life recovery program, Reimers said there are five to 15 men at any given time in transitional housing.
And then there are the women and children.
“The women and children’s program is different,” she said. “We can have as many as 25 and we are almost always at the high end.”
Reimers explained women and children are often at the Rescue Mission due to abusive situations. She said life skills and life transformation for them usually involves assertiveness training, how to avoid or handle abusive situations and how to break cycles of violence.
Is the ministry’s capacity for men, women and children adequate?
“No,” Reimers said. “We have a waiting list of about 15 for the women’s side right now plus there are all the women who call but can’t wait to come in. They’re in emergency situations so we try to get them immediate help elsewhere. We get about 40 emergency calls from women a month. There’s waiting on both sides — the men’s and women’s.”
Reimers said hearing statistics doesn’t really tell the Rescue Mission’s story. She encourages people to visit the mission and take a tour or bring their civic club, business team, church group or other group to the facilities cafeteria to meet or have a meal — then go for a tour.
“We can talk about 2014’s numbers,” she said. “We can talk about 54,986 meals served or 29,200 take-away meals given out at our daily 4 p.m. front door bread line — and that number is going way up this year. We can talk about the 2,950 community holiday meals served or delivered like Thanksgiving just past and Christmas coming up, and the 20,781 nights of shelter provided. Or about the 4,037 crisis calls taken. It all sounds impressive — and it is — but until someone sees what God is doing, they won’t understand that words can’t really describe it. I’d venture that in every tour people say, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’ People should see the Rescue Mission for themselves. God is making disciples here. They’ll see Macon, Middle Georgia, changing one person at a time.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.