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Burnside Shelter

John becomes a new kind of man at The Harbor

Cold rain pelted John as he stared blankly at the endless gray sky. He’d barely slept. Two weeks sleeping on the same patch of sidewalk left his joints stiff and muscles aching. “God, help me,” he whispered, rubbing his tired eyes.

Up the street, a line was forming of people hungry for breakfast at the Burnside Shelter. John grabbed what few belongings he still owned and joined them. A cup of coffee and a hot meal would be so welcome right now. “Maybe today,” he thought. “Maybe I can get my life together.”

Hard was the only way John knew to do life. Growing up in a labor camp with an abusive home life and without a father, John looked to the tough migrant men around him as role models. “I thought being a man was to be macho, to cuss, to steal, and to belittle women. You don’t care and never show your feelings. And you sure don’t ever cry.”

Steeling himself against the world held John in a prison of his own making. To prevent himself from feeling, he numbed the pain of his crumbling marriage with alcohol and drugs. “After my divorce, alcohol was the only real companion I had for decades,” says John. “It meant more to me than my children and people I loved.” But the lonely consolation John sought in drinking threatened to kill him.

John gives back each day as e helps people in need at our Burnside Shelter.

John (left) gives back each day as e helps people in need at our Burnside Shelter.

“If you keep living like this, you have less than a year to live,” a doctor told John. The shock was enough to push him toward help. A friend helped John discover all that Portland Rescue Mission had to offer.

At The Harbor, our yearlong New Life Ministry for men, John discovered a type of manhood he’d never seen before. “You sense something different when you walk in here,” says John. “The men here are loving, compassionate and caring. And I want that in my life.” That example has opened John’s heart. The callousness he used to protect himself has melted away, freeing him to grow.

“As an alcoholic, macho man, the last thing you want is to allow yourself to be known,” says John. “Surrendering to the Lord and allowing other people in has lifted a huge weight of shame, guilt or self-pity. It’s made me a better person, shown me what it is to be a true man.”

Filled with gratitude, John loves serving men and women at the Burnside Shelter who feel trapped in the despair of homelessness and addiction as he was not long ago. “I see myself in the guests there every day – dirty, unbathed, unshaven, living a life that is hell,” says John. He shows them the spot on the sidewalk where he used to sleep. He shares his story of joyful reunion with his children and grandchildren after years of pain and isolation. He invites them to take a brave step toward recovery.

“God can work a miracle in their lives just like he’s worked in mine.”

Your special holiday gift today will help more men and women like John find hope for a new life. Thank you.