New York’s Bowery Mission was founded in 1879 and still serves today as a rescue mission and men’s shelter. Sam Hadley was once the superintendent there and told a certain story about the place. The story goes as follows.
One summer day, on a Wednesday just before noon, Hadley was standing outside the door of the Mission when a teenage boy about seventeen or eighteen years old approached him. The boy asked him, “Mister, do you live here?” Hadley answered, “Yes, son. My name is Hadley. I’m the superintendent of this mission. What do you want?” To Hadley’s surprise, the boy said, “Would you mind getting me a needle and a piece of black thread?”
Curious, Hadley asked, “Why?” to which the boy replied, “I tore my pants on a park bench, and they look bad. Please get me a needle and thread.” Hadley said, “Son, I’ll do better than that. You see those steps? Go upstairs, and my wife will fix them for you.” “No,” said the boy, “I don’t wanna bother her.” “Never mind that,” said Hadley. “You just go upstairs and let her fix them.”
So the boy did as he was told and not long afterward came back down wearing a mended pair of pants. He looked at Hadley and said, “Mr. Hadley, you’ve sure got a good wife. She fixed these pants so good that I can’t even see where the tear was.” Rather than embrace the compliment, though, Hadley went straight to the heart of the matter by asking, “Son, how long have you been out of jail?” Flabbergasted, the boy said, “Jail? How did you know I was in jail?” Hadley answered, “The jail smell is on you, son.”
Now the boy was afraid and quickly launched into his defense. “Mister, honest to God, I didn’t do nothing. Honest to God, they locked me up for nothing.” Seeking to calm the boy, Hadley said, “Son, I didn’t say you did anything. What did they lock you up for?” The boy answered, “Night before last, Monday night, I was asleep on a bench in Central Park. A policeman came along, woke me up and asked where I was from. I told him. He asked if I had a job. I told him I didn’t. He asked if I had any money. I told him I didn’t. He asked if I had any family in New York. I told him I didn’t. Then he locked me up for vagrancy.”
Hadley kept probing. “And when did they let you out?” “Yesterday morning,” said the boy, to which Hadley asked, “Have you had anything to eat?” At that point the boy started crying and said, “Mister, I ain’t begging.” Hadley, still trying to help the boy, replied, “I didn’t say you were. I merely asked if you had had anything to eat lately.” Again the boy said, “I ain’t begging.” But this time Hadley got a little sterner. “Son, get off your high horse. I’m not asking whether or not you are begging. I’m asking if you’ve had anything to eat lately.” Finally the boy confessed, “I ain’t had a bite to eat since yesterday morning in jail.”
That’s what Hadley had figured and he immediately took the boy into the kitchen and rustled up a bowl of beef stew. That stew didn’t stand a chance as the boy not only wolfed it down but also two subsequent bowls and most of a box of crackers. He couldn’t have been more appreciative as he wiped his mouth and told Hadley, “Well, I guess I had better be going.”
Hadley asked him, “Where are you going?” “I don’t know,” said the teenager, “out to look for a job I guess.” Hadley didn’t like the sounds of that and sought to keep the conversation going. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Philadelphia,” answered the boy. “How long have you been in New York?” “Five weeks.” “Then why don’t you go home?” “I can’t.” “Why not?” “I just can’t.” “Well, why can’t you?”
Now the boy started crying again and upped his efforts to leave by standing up from the table. He said, “Mister, I won’t bother you anymore. Thank you for your help.” Hadley was having none of it, though. “Sit back down and answer my question,” he said. “Why can’t you go home?” Finally the teenager came clean. “Well, to be honest with you, my father owns a grocery store, and I stole $10 (a decent sum of money back then) from him. I took that money to the horse track, lost it gambling on a horse, and now I can’t go home.”
Of course, Hadley just couldn’t believe the boy’s father would never want to see his son again because of $10. The boy, however, was quite sure of it. He said, “Sir, you don’t know my father. He would kill me.” Hadley responded, “No, I don’t know your father, but I know fathers. What’s your dad’s name and address?” Reluctantly the boy told him and Hadley wrote down the information. Then he instructed the boy to stay right there until he got back.
Hadley walked over to the nearby Western Union office and wired the boy’s father in Philadelphia. The wire read: “Your son is in my mission — hungry, sorry, heartsick, homesick. Will you let him come home?” Hadley then went back to the mission to talk with the boy some more and await a reply telegram. One o’clock came, but there was no reply. Two o’clock came, still no reply. Three o’clock. Four o’clock. Five o’clock. Six o’clock. Seven o’clock. No reply.
It was almost eight o’clock and the Wednesday night service at the mission was in full swing when a Western Union messenger came in, found Hadley, and handed him a telegram. Hadley signed for it and opened it right there on the spot while standing in the aisle. Then he walked over to where the boy was sitting and asked him to follow him into his office. The teenager obliged and Hadley let him read the telegraph. There were only three words written on it. They were: “COME HOME. FATHER.”
And now I ask you, the reader, are you like that troubled runaway? Have you committed some sin or sins terrible enough in your mind to cause you to think that God hates you and never wants to see you again? Have you decided that it’s best if you just get away from Him altogether and never speak to Him again? Well, friend, you’re wrong. Just wrong. All God wants you to do is come home. Now.
If you have never placed your belief in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, such belief is your path home. If you have placed your belief in Jesus, but find yourself in a backslidden condition, your path home is confession and repentance of your sins. Either way, the point is that God the Father stands ready to forgive you, accept you, and embrace you in Christ. You see, you don’t have to spiritually limp into the new year the way you have finished up this one. Instead, you can claim the forgiveness offered in Christ and boldly march forward with Him. The choice is yours, but don’t delay. Why choose to be homeless even one more day when God Himself is longing for you to come home and has provided a way in Jesus for you to do so?