Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Role of Faith in Rescuing Lives

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Role of Faith in Rescuing Lives

Article excerpt

The Rev. Stephen Burger thinks there may be tremendous opportunity at the intersection of anti-welfare legislation and the rescue-mission work he has been doing since 1959.

The refreshing thing about him is that he isn't sure how much of it he wants.

"The good news of the legislation is that the government wants to enter into partnerships with nonprofits that have programs that work," said Burger, who heads the International Union of Gospel Missions, comprising 250 rescue missions across North America. "Our programs work. This past year, we fed 27 million people and housed 9 million. Our success at rehabilitating addicts and alcoholics and the people who used to be called `bums' is well known. I'm satisfied we have something to offer, and we ought to offer it. "The question, though, is do we accept government money to run our programs? And to tell you the truth, I'm not there yet. I'm not prepared to say we should run to the government's spigot and demand money. I'm trying to understand all that. But I am saying, here's an opportunity that we can work with the government, even if we raise our own money." Burger, visiting here from the Kansas City headquarters of the International Union of Gospel Missions, reveals himself as a thoughtful - and unrelentingly Christian - man. It is absolutely clear to him that the reason the Gospel Mission rehabilitation programs work is that they minister to the spiritual side of those who have fallen by the wayside. Take the matter of homelessness. Governments and secular nonprofits can build shelters, hand out sandwiches and even distribute certain services. But, Burger insists, they cannot change lives. "They don't treat the whole person. They don't challenge the homeless person's fundamental way of thinking. They treat homelessness like the basic problem is housing supply when, as our experience teaches, it goes a lot deeper than that." Burger likes the formulation of his colleague, the Rev. Mickey Kalman of the City Rescue Mission in Oklahoma City: "The philosophy of government homeless programs is to respect and protect lifestyles that produce homelessness. …

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