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I didn't expect to me moved so deeply.
It was a snowy Tuesday morning in March. With gold-and-red balloons flying, an army of smiling volunteers, and joyful supporters from around the city, the Central Union Mission officially cut the ribbon on its new Gales School location near Union Station.
The monthly legal clinic organized here by Christian Legal Aid of DC now has bright new facilities: a crucial niche in the ongoing revolution that is the Central Union Mission. I am the law student liaison for Christian Legal Aid, and I had come to represent "the lawyers," as we're known around here.
As I sat down in the bustling dedication service, I soaked in the scene.
Battle-hardened faces, softened by joy. Long-term donors from the suburbs. Ex-homeless graduates of the Spiritual Transformation Program. The important, the selfless, the recovering and the generous, all here to celebrate an accomplishment of God in the middle of a deadlocked city.
On the outside, the Gales School looks like a pleasant red-brick building dropped into the middle of DC's busy professional life. On the inside, the place is sparkling, functional, and full of love. And the architecture only hints at the story behind it all. Founded in 1884, the Central Union Mission has helped wayward souls in the District now for almost 130 years. Originally close to Judiciary Square, then at 14th and R St. NW, the men's shelter has now moved back near its roots at the heart of the city. It remains the centerpiece of the Mission's comprehensive outreach that includes family ministry, a retreat center that runs summer children's programs, and a broad array of services to lift the homeless onto their feet.
Mayor Vincent Gray, a reliable supporter of the Mission, delivered the keynote address, and long-serving Executive Director David Treadwell recounted the years of work and sacrifice that so many gave for this project.
But that's not what made me cry.
That would be Pastor Darrel Fiddermon's life, or to be precise, his wife.
Pastor Fiddermon shared about his early life on the streets, his minor drug conviction, and subsequent hours of community service spent cleaning the floors for Central Union Mission. Gradually, he was drawn by the story of deeper, truer life offered by God - salvation in its most vivid sense. He enrolled in the Mission's Spiritual Recovery Program (now the Spiritual Transformation Program), rededicated his life to Christ, and went on to become a pastor at New Vision in the City Free Methodist Church.
His first date with his wife, Pastor Fiddermon recounts, was a Central Union Mission worship service.
At this point Pastor Fiddermon asks his wife to stand. She rises next to their two lovely children - a testimony to the goodness of God in the land of the living.
I don't cry very often. But something about that moment makes me lose it - standing in the back corner, joyful and thankful.
After the ceremony, guests wander through the Gales School floors on self-guided tours. I stand by the new "lawyer" office space (next to the doctor and dentist offices) that Christian Legal Aid's future Executive Director will eventually share with the Senior Chaplain.
I answer questions, explaining that the adjacent classroom is perfect for our monthly legal clinics, and that the cost-free office space is priceless in a place like DC.
But the bigger story is the work of God in the heart of DC. The work of God in a strong, red-brick building. The work of God in a 130-year old mission that still loves Him, and partners with innumerable other organizations to love and lift the poor.
I recognize the work of God in the Central Union Mission. For it reminds me of his Son:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. - Isaiah 53:3-5
-Craig Welkener just finished law school at Georgetown, and is also a proud graduate of Texas A&M University. He is a member of the Church of the Resurrection in Washington, DC, and loves his family, sports, the tenor of a good conversation, civic justice, and the good news of Jesus.