The Light: January 2018

"A Gangster Finds God"

After being shot 12 times, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Gyassi is alive today. But the transformation that occurred in his heart is just as amazing...

I remember sitting in a bus station last winter, waiting for the Greyhound to bring me to Atlanta Mission. It was snowing, and the cold irritated the raw bullet wounds in my shoulder, back, and legs. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into — but I sure knew what I getting away from.

I was born a crack baby and grew up in a family of gangbangers in Los Angeles — running the streets, fighting, using drugs, going wild. When I was 15, my mom had enough and moved us to Atlanta. But the more things change…

A new city didn’t affect who I really was. My reckless behavior continued. I kept robbing people to make money. And I kept using drugs. But one day, I held up the wrong guys. They found me out, waited for just the right time . . . on October 27, 2015, I’d just arrived home, was walking to my door when a car pulled up and bullets started flying. I got hit 12 times.

By God’s grace, I survived. But when I left the hospital, I couldn’t work and had no money. I was homeless, in pain, struggling to keep my wounds clean. When  doctors stopped giving me medication, I broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore! So I called Atlanta Mission for help, and that’s what brought me to the bus station on that cold winter’s day. I came to the Potter’s House, their long-term residential discipleship program.

For a city boy like me, it wasn’t easy. Most people didn’t think I’d make it, and they had good reason to doubt me. I was still a thug and I acted like it. But I was determined to work through all the emotional baggage I grew up with. I got saved here and my life slowly started to change. I left the past behind and everything got better, especially my relationship with my mother. Everyone here became the family I never had.

Next month, I’ll leave here. I’m planning to start my own business. I’ve turned 180 degrees from the man I used to be. That’s the power of God — but God used generous, compassionate people like you to do it. Thank you for transforming my life.

Running for Atlanta's Homeless Children

Kara and Ryan Oleniczak aren’t runners, but that hasn’t stopped them from participating in Atlanta Mission’s 5K. Here, they share what inspires them to run...

Kara and Ryan at the 2017 Atlanta Mission 5K Race to End HomelessnessWe were looking for a way to make a difference, so we started volunteering with children at Atlanta Mission. We’d come and hang out with the kids — read them Bible stories, play games, do activities…it was a great opportunity to love on them, to be a steady, positive influence in their lives and show them we care.

When we heard about Atlanta Mission’s 5K, we decided to jump in even though we’re not runners. Every year, we joke that we should start jogging to prepare. That hasn’t happened yet, but we still have a great time.

This is running with a purpose. The people who benefit often don’t know where the will sleep at night or where their next meal will come from. Running in the cold might make us uncomfortable, but that’s how homeless people live, so it creates empathy  for them.

One year, we had a chance to cross the finish line with some of the kids we see every week. Knowing that we were running for them made the whole experience so much more meaningful.

Thank you Kara and Ryan for sharing your story! Like them, you don’t have to be a runner to participate in Atlanta Mission’s 5K. To learn more, read below.

Run in the cold for those who sleep in the cold.

Aetna Presents the 2018 Atlanta Mission 5K Race to End Homelessness

Join thousands of other runners, walkers, and people of goodwill to help our neighbors who don’t have a roof over their heads this winter.

When: February 17, 2018, at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Pemberton Place – World of Coca Cola

Cost: $35 Registration fee Register today at: atlantamission.org/race.

If you don’t want to run/walk but would still like to support the event, register as a Ghost Runner. You will receive an official event shirt by mail, and your registration fee will directly help your homeless neighbors.

Transforming Relationships at Atlanta Mission

Relationships that Transform

Basic needs draw people to Atlanta Mission.

Meeting Basic Needs at Atlanta Mission, Meals, Shelter, Clothing, and Medical Care

But financial poverty isn’t always the biggest problem. Relational poverty and isolation can be far greater challenges.

Atlanta Mission builds steady, caring relationships with our guests that inspire long-term transformation.

Relational poverty and isolation can be far greater challenges.
Relationships lead to long term transformation

As a result, the number of women choosing long-term, comprehensive help (rather than just a meal or a night of shelter) has more than doubled, and the men aren’t far behind…

Thank you for meeting the deep needs of our guests. By God’s grace, you’re transforming lives and ending homelessness!

Transforming lives, ending their homelessness

People Who Sleep in the Cold Need Your Help

Woman outside at Atlanta Mission in Winter

You probably don’t think about the life-transforming difference you’re making for homeless men, women, and children very often… how you’re giving them compassionate care and a brighter future. But lives are changing every day because of you — and it’s beautiful.

Today, we hope you’ll continue this good  work. Your support will provide your homeless neighbors with urgently needed food, shelter, and clothing, plus comprehensive resources that help them overcome poverty and homelessness for good.

Please help rescue your homeless neighbors from the cold streets. Donate generously to Atlanta Mission today.

Running a Good Race — Figuratively and Literally

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

Every year at this time, I think about these moving words from the Apostle Paul. They not only inspire me to carry on the good work at Atlanta Mission — they also fill me with gratitude for people like you, who are “running the race” with us.

Next month, Paul’s metaphor will take on a more literal sense when people from across the city join us for our annual 5K Race to End Homelessness. It is a visible sign to those on the street and to our community that they matter, that we believe in them, and that Jesus loves them.

When our brokenhearted neighbors learn how much you care about them, many of them decide to stay in the race, too. It’s common to hear from a client, “I needed someone else to believe in me before I could believe in myself!”

By God’s grace, that belief has transformed many lives, and helped many homeless neighbors “keep the faith,” too. Let us pray that our impact grows in the year ahead. If you’re able, please join us on the morning of February 17 to “run in the cold for those who sleep in the cold.” You’ll help rescue many more people from the streets, so they can run a good race, too. Thank you!

Jim Reese
President & CEO

16 Blankets for 16 Homeless Babies

At Atlanta Mission, we’ve learned that God blesses us in unexpected ways, and at unanticipated times. This Christmas season, God provided a connection between a senior group in Alpharetta and homeless mothers with babies that we serve.

We serve between 80-100 children whose mothers are experiencing homelessness each day. Many of these children have undergone trauma as a result of their precarious and uncertain living conditions. They have moved multiple times, and may find it hard to trust people. Children who have experienced homelessness often exhibit speech and developmental delays, are behind in reading and math skills, lack impulse control, and can be hyper and aggressive.

These children need extra love, care, and support. The main goal of the staff and volunteers at Atlanta Mission is to provide these to the children and their mothers in a supportive and Christ-centered environment. One of the critical needs we provide is a sense of security and safety for moms and their children. A blanket is one of the basic ways this need is met.

We were in need of blankets for babies when we heard from Linda, who is a part of a group of ten women, ranging in age from 68 through 103, in Alpharetta that meets every week to crochet and knit blankets for those in need. “I specifically wanted to find an organization that took care of needy and/or homeless babies, and/or unwed mothers,” said Linda. She let us know that she had 16 baby blankets and hats to donate. Amazingly, we had exactly 16 babies at that time in our care.

The love and care that these women put into the blankets and hats is truly felt by the mothers and children that received them.“They are beautiful, and give comfort to my daughter,” one of the women who received one said.

Homeless mother and child at Atlanta Mission with donated blanket and hat

“It’s humbling to think that women we don’t know and may never meet care about us.”

We are so grateful to volunteers like Linda and this caring group of women. We can only continue to love and serve these women and their children with the help of faithful volunteers and donors. This cold winter, the moms and children in our care are warm and secure because of these blankets and the love they convey.

Gigi’s Story of Transformation

gigi-and-ari-at-atlanta-mission

When my baby daughter Aria and I were homeless, I didn’t think we’d ever have a happy Christmas. Christmas doesn’t mean much when you don’t have a safe place to live. And I was so afraid that my daughter would have as miserable a childhood as I did.

Thanks to Atlanta Mission, that’s not going to happen now. But it’s been a long, difficult journey. Growing up, my family was horribly dysfunctional — including sexual abuse, rape, and addiction. It was so bad, my brother committed suicide, and I ended up struggling with drugs for years. I didn’t stop using until I went to jail.

When I got out, I fought hard to change. I worked as a cook, made an honest living, and was proud of how far I’d come! But then, last year, I became pregnant. I scrimped and saved to take a few months off to care for my baby girl.

Right after she was born, I heard that my apartment complex was closing. When I decided not to pay rent that month, three men came to my door, with tasers pointed at my head. I was holding my baby! Though I’d never received a warning, they padlocked my property. That day, I lost my furniture, my dog, and everything else besides my daughter.

We were homeless. What a nightmare to be on the streets with a newborn! The lone bright spot was Atlanta Mission. Even when they didn’t have room for us, they gave me diapers and baby supplies. Every day I prayed a spot would open. When it finally happened, it felt like Christmas morning.

We’re safe now. We have food, clothing, and shelter. But that’s not all. Classes on parenting, relationships, and faith changed my life. Counseling helped me deal with my past. And I made beautiful friendships that brought me closer to God.

These people are heroes, and so is everyone who supports Atlanta Mission. They’ve given us hope, a better life, and yes, a joyful Christmas. I’m amazed and grateful.

To read other amazing stories of transformation, click here!

The Light: November 2017

Gigi and Ari outside at My Sister's House, Atlanta Mission

"It felt like Christmas Morning."

After working tirelessly to change her life, Gigi found herself on the streets with her newborn daughter, hoping and praying for help...

When my baby daughter Aria and I were homeless, I didn’t think we’d ever have a happy Christmas. Christmas doesn’t mean much when you don’t have a safe place to live. And I was so afraid that my daughter would have as miserable a childhood as I did.

Thanks to Atlanta Mission, that’s not going to happen now. But it’s been a long, difficult journey. Growing up, my family was horribly dysfunctional — including sexual abuse, rape, and addiction. It was so bad, my brother committed suicide, and I ended up struggling with drugs for years. I didn’t stop using until I went to jail.

When I got out, I fought hard to change. I worked as a cook, made an honest living, and was proud of how far I’d come! But then, last year, I became pregnant. I scrimped and saved to take a few months off to care for my baby girl.

Right after she was born, I heard that my apartment complex was closing. When I decided not to pay rent that month, three men came to my door, with tasers pointed at my head. I was holding my baby! Though I’d never received a warning, they padlocked my property. That day, I lost my furniture, my dog, and everything else besides my daughter.

We were homeless. What a nightmare to be on the streets with a newborn! The lone bright spot was Atlanta Mission. Even when they didn’t have room for us, they gave me diapers and baby supplies. Every day I prayed a spot would open. When it finally happened, it felt like Christmas morning.

We’re safe now. We have food, clothing, and shelter. But that’s not all. Classes on parenting, relationships, and faith changed my life. Counseling helped me deal with my past. And I made beautiful friendships that brought me closer to God.

These people are heroes, and so is everyone who supports Atlanta Mission. They’ve given us hope, a better life, and yes, a joyful Christmas. I’m amazed and grateful.

Seizing a Lost Opportunity

“I CAME TO ATLANTA MISSION RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS — ANOTHER FAMILY HOLIDAY, ANOTHER PAINFUL REMINDER OF WHAT I’D LOST.”

Two years ago, I spent Thanksgiving alone and depressed instead of with my own family. I’d made many bad choices in my life, put my family through a lot of heartbreak, and wound up fighting addiction and homelessness as a result.

Despite all that, I had been given a chance to start over in Colorado. I’d just finished rehab and my car was packed and ready. Before I left, though, I convinced myself I needed to get high “one last time.” Then I would really be ready to go.

Believing that lie just about killed me. I overdosed. When I came to, I was in a hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses fighting to save my life.

In the days that followed, I finally realized that I really was just a hopeless junkie. My parents tried to warn me in grade school about drugs and alcohol. I didn’t listen. I started smoking pot, which escalated to painkillers, and eventually to heroin. As things got worse, I stole money from my family, got kicked out, and wound up on the streets. But no matter how bad life got, I couldn’t kick heroin.

Once I was OK to leave the hospital, I began searching for a place to heal and change. Everyone kept telling me about The Potter’s House, Atlanta Mission’s long-term residence for men struggling with addiction and homelessness, so I decided to give it a shot.

I came right before Christmas — another family holiday, another painful reminder of what I’d lost. But the people here make this place so special. Their compassion, love, and sincere desire to help meant so much to me.

Today, I’m clean, I’m rooted in a loving community, and I have a relationship with God. My life has changed so much, my parents have forgiven me, and I have hope and a future again. In fact, this Christmas, I’ll be home celebrating with my family again. It’s the best gift I could imagine.

Christmas Joy

We asked children at Atlanta Mission to share their thoughts about Christmas. Their answers will make you smile...

Child celebrating Christmas at Atlanta Mission

“I’m happy to be at Atlanta Mission for Christmas because they give me and my mom everything we need. We get to be with our friends and it makes me happy.”

Faith, 10

“The thing I’m looking forward to most is milk and cookies. I love all the good food at Christmas!”

Greggory, 6

“This is my second Christmas here, and I made a lot of new friends. We’re going to have a birthday party for Jesus. The thing I’m most looking forward to is praising Him.”

Lucas, 9

“I’m hoping for Monopoly and a fidget spinner. But the thing I’m most excited about is that my family is going to have a new home soon.”

Gerald, 9

In Their Own Words

The Rauschenbergs explain why they began supporting Atlanta Mission...

“It was easy to be calloused to the homeless people we saw around Atlanta — until our son asked, ‘Can we give them our beds?’ Seeing the world through his eyes deepened our compassion.

“As we searched for a way to make a difference, Atlanta Mission stood out. They were seeking to address the root causes of homelessness. We liked the way they focused on the whole person, providing long-term, life changing help.

“Now, we invest our time and treasure here because we want our children to know that the brokenness they see around them is the same brokenness that Jesus came to rescue from our hearts, too. We want them to follow His example of entering into and coming alongside the suffering of others.”

Your Gift Brings Christmas Cheer

Man Eating Dinner at Atlanta Mission

JESUS, OUR SAVIOR AND KING, was born in poverty in a manger. During most of His ministry, He was homeless. For these reasons, God teaches us to see His face when we look at our neighbors in desperate need.

Your willingness to help rescue men, women, and children trapped on the streets honors God’s mercy.

Now, as we celebrate the holiday season, please continue to partner with Atlanta Mission to restore and heal your homeless neighbors.

Your support is critical! You will provide homeless men, women, and children with warm meals, safe shelter, counseling, job training and placement, and Christmas joy.

To help feed and care for your homeless neighbors this Christmas season, give a generous gift by December 25.

Comfort in Unexpected Places

"Because of your faithful prayers and support, lives are restored every day at Atlanta Mission.”

Dear Friend of Atlanta Mission,

When a mom like Gigi comes to Atlanta Mission with a vulnerable child, it’s usually after a lot of suffering. It’s our privilege to comfort them, and our joy to see their fears ease as they realize this is a safe and welcoming place. I liken it to our Savior’s birthplace: Just as Mary and Joseph found comfort in a manger, so, too, do our guests find unexpected security here in the heart of Atlanta.

As we celebrate the holidays, I feel especially privileged to see the joy and wonder in the eyes of children. They love the Christmas story! It gives them hope in the midst of much difficulty.

In time, as their families’ needs are met and issues are dealt with, healing occurs. Those who have endured poverty, abuse, and every other kind of misery experience new hope. And when they meet Christ who was born in that manger, lives are reborn.

This is the journey of restoration that occurs every day at Atlanta Mission — a journey that your faithful prayers and support make possible.

Thank you for showing love and kindness to our struggling neighbors — at Christmastime, and all year long. May God bless you this holiday season.

Blessings,

Jim Reese

Harry’s Story of Transformation

“I had it all, but I lost it all.” That’s how Harry summarizes the disastrous events that brought him to Atlanta Mission. He had everything a man could want — family, home, career and more. But when his wife of more than 20 years left him, it all came crashing down.

Harry was overwhelmed with sadness and “completely lost.” To ease that pain, he used cocaine heavily — only to lose the last thing that was keeping him going, his job. He stayed in motels until his money ran out. Then he was homeless.

Last year at Thanksgiving, he hit rock bottom.

“My best friend invited me over to celebrate, but I was so brokenhearted and lost in addiction that I missed it. I was destroying myself,” he remembers. Indeed, Harry was so low that he went four days straight without eating.

Desperately hungry, Harry realized he would have to dig through trash to eat — something he had never had to do before. The thought was so upsetting, so disturbing, that it finally convinced him to come to Atlanta Mission for help. “I came here with just the clothes on my back,” he says. “It was a day or two after Thanksgiving. When I got here, I couldn’t believe  how nice this place was. Everyone was so welcoming. And I was so relieved to have food, I was trying to eat everything and then some.”

Those meals sparked a healing journey that continues to this day. Now, not only is Harry clean, but he’s also living responsibly and recently began a new job. His relationship with his children has strengthened and he’s growing in faith.

Looking back, Harry says, “When my wife left, I should have followed God. Instead, I listened to my flesh. My teachers here taught me about spiritual warfare, and my counselors taught me about healing. I see now how I need God in everything.”

When he thinks about the pain he was in last Thanksgiving and where he is today, the contrast is stunning — and Harry is filled with gratitude. “Atlanta Mission has been a big blessing,” he says. “The people who support this place gave me another chance.”

To read other amazing stories of transformation, click here!

Relationships are Key in Ending Homelessness

by Leize Marie Davis

Over the past few years, we have been working to transform the way we serve those experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. In all the conversations, meetings, and designs, there is a central theme: relationships. Throughout the entire Transformation Model, we are striving to build better relationships with the men, women, and children seeking help. These relationships have intentional purpose in all of our services. Through relationships we are able to:

Understand true needs, not just what the client thinks we want to hear

In the midst of crisis, those seeking help are conditioned to saying what they think they need to say in order to receive help. Atlanta Mission designed staff positions to help lessen this challenge. The staff ambassadors and advocates are dedicated to building trust so our clients do not have to lie to get help. They know they will have a person to help them navigate through their needs and seek the best possible solutions.

Build relational capital to help clients make decisions

Once we understand the true needs of our clients, we both help find the best solutions and guide them through the process. Because we know them and their needs, they can have confidence and clarity in the best next steps, as well as someone to help provide support when they face inevitable challenges and roadblocks.

Learn the best ways to serve our clients

Our clients know the best ways to help themselves. We want to build great relationships in order to better serve them. Through relationships, we not only gain greater understanding of client needs, but we also can evaluate the effectiveness of solutions.

Create space for transformation in our own lives

Two Men who met and became friends at Atlanta MissionMost of society believes that the clients we serve have nothing to offer. However, through relationships with those experiencing homelessness, all lives involved are transformed. In these relationships, we create a space for clients to give back to us. Transformational relationships are mutually beneficial, built on trust, honesty, and respect. By being intentional about knowing our clients, we are able to learn from each other and serve one another.

The term “relationships” is easy to overuse. For Atlanta Mission services, this word carries much more meaning than it appears on the surface. It is a central piece of ending homelessness in Atlanta, one person at a time.

A Safe Place to Call Home

by Leize Marie Davis

At Atlanta Mission, a major focus of ending someone’s homelessness is obtaining secure housing. A client who is ready to transition out of our facility and into the “real world” will:

  • Understand how to manage finances to remain in housing.
  • Understand life skills necessary to maintain stable living.
  • Obtain safe, affordable, and permanent housing, spending less than 50% of income.

Woman and Child moving belongings into new housingPermanent housing has no set length of stay and there is a formal lease or informal agreement protecting our clients from unfairly losing their housing. Clients who have achieved this outcome will move into safe and stable communities.

As we have asked our clients what they value in a physical space, they emphasize safety. Through listening to them, I have been challenged to think about safety from their perspective, not my own. Our clients have lived most of their lives in spaces that are unsafe, both physically and emotionally. Almost all have experienced some type of trauma and/or abuse. Many have never had a good night’s sleep because they were worried about what could happen to them, their families, and their belongings.

Over the past few weeks, I realized I take safety for granted. I have never experienced homelessness or most of the threats our clients regularly encounter. Their definition a safe space is very different than my own. For example, I tend to see large fences as something that communicates isolation and a barrier to community. However, our clients see it as a protection for them. Something as simple as a buzzer at the gate at our facilities provides refuge.

The men, women, and children we serve have lost everything, and the little they have left is very precious. Keeping them and their belongings safe sends a strong message that we care. However, we must also continually listen to our clients’ definitions of priorities. Their voice is important. As we seek to understand our clients’ experiences, we must also be willing to challenge our own worldviews to see things from their perspective.