By Dick Duerksen

Sabbath was a normal worship day at Inside-Out Ministries, an Adventist church in Salem.

The delicious perfume of coffee wafted through the room, along with the flavor of warm muffins. Almost all of the chairs were filled, and a deacon was on alert to set up more chairs if they were needed. Several young children played quietly near the sidewalk windows, and a couple women sat on the floor and leaned on the back wall. A kind young man greeted me at the door.

Inside-Out is a very special Seventh-day Adventist church. Located downtown near the river on High Street, it has become a “go-to” church for the homeless, the hurting, the addicted, those who know their needs and are happy to have found a family that accepts them.

I parked my motorcycle, stashed my helmet, and walked across the street to where multi-colored bicycles and a bulging shopping cart announced, “Something is going on!”

More than half of the folks in the chairs had walked to church from down the street where they live under the bridge.

“Why have you come here today?” I asked. The answers to my question were all the same. “These people like me and are glad I am here.”

The sermon had just begun when I arrived. A young woman stood up front with the microphone, telling her story with more than words. Her heart flowed through to each person in the congregation. She told of broken promises, attempts to “go it on my own,” of life-ending disasters, and of the God who found me.”

“The one thing I can say for certain,” she said as she tried to hold back more tears, “is that you can never run so far from God that He cannot catch you and bring you home again.”

I added my tears to hers and listened in awe as people around the sanctuary stood and begged the others to pray for them too.

These were not your normal, “be with uncle Bill and his cancer,” prayer requests. These were heart-torn confessions and pleas to, “help me find God – and help Him find me.” “I am gutted with sadness because of my terrible life and I love you guys for loving me. Please pray that I can stay with Him this week.”

The service ended quietly, but no one left. Instead, people hugged, laughed, talked loudly, shared the best stories of the week, picked several granola bars out of the food baskets, used the bathroom, laughed some more, and stayed.

The key word there is, “stayed.”

“Why leave? Where would I go? Back to the bridge? This is the safest place in Salem, right here, and the people like me! Why leave?”

Much later, as I walked across, under, and around Salem’s bridges, several folks waved to me. New friends I had met in church. Homeless people who were hurting less because they had been reminded they were loved, valuable, and okay.