City Rescue Mission

 On my way to the Mission I told myself to temper my enthusiasm because I gave myself only a small chance to pass the criteria.

   First things first, I had to find the Mission and hopefully I was not already too late to check-in.

   It would also be possible that they wouldn’t believe I was homeless, without money and sleeping on the streets.

   It was easy to find the street on my city map and after a short cycling trip I saw the first sign of the building.

   It was a holy cross with the text

   ‘Jesus Saves.’

   On the sidewall they wrote a 6 by 6 meters large text


   ‘The Wages of Sins is Death.

   But the Gift of God is

   Eternal Life Through

   Jesus Christ Our Lord.’


   Heavy stuff!

   At 5:10pm17:10 I was standing in front of the building with the next text above the entrance:

  “City Rescue Mission”.


   This was undeniably the building the man at the train station had talked about.


   A few wanderers were already waiting in front of the entrance and they gave me some information about the regulations.

   It was the same information the man at the train station had given me. A maximum of 5 days!

   The rules were simple; people could sign-in until all places were given.

   The check-in time was 6:00pm18:00 which meant I was on time.


   Just when I was chaining Coco for her own protection a German voice coming from behind me, asked,

   “Hallo, Sie kommen aus Niederlande”.

   It was a colleague cyclist from Austria who saw the little Dutch flag on my bike.

   He had arrived today at the San Diego airport and booked a Hotel for $60 per night.

   He was intending to start cycling tomorrow in the direction of Mexico. What worried me was that he did not speak any other language then German.

   I tried to talk with him in German, but with a lot of English and Dutch words in-between.

   I told him my cycling trip had just ended here in San Diego.

   My advice towards him was to save money by taking Motels instead of Hotels.

   As an example, I gave him the Motel 6 group where you can have a good room for around $12.

   I told him, but more in a funny way, that I had spent too much money in the first month which had resulted in a stay here in this Mission.

   I also warned him that it took a long time to send money from home to a local Bank in the USA.

   In my case I already had been waiting for a week.

   That was the reason why I needed to overnight at this Mission.


   He spontaneously gave me $10 (in cash €10,72)

   I wished him a great and safe cycling adventure and with a handshake we said goodbye.

   A nice guy and I hoped that he would pass safely through Mexico.

   After he was gone I went in line for the Mission.

   At that moment I was the third and last in line.

   Soon the line became longer and longer, exclusively with men.

   Normally I avoided beggars, but now I was one of them.


   Because I was with Coco I was afraid they would reject me.

   For the people behind me I was a serious competitor and I thought that they would think they needed an overnight at the Mission more than me.  

   Instead, the conversations were friendly and they all were seriously interested in my cycling trip.

   Some of them traveled from city to city and most of the time they tried to spend the night in these kind of Missions for five days before going to the next town.

   The line in front of the Mission got longer and longer. Promptly at 6:00pm18:00 the doors went open and I had to go in a line for ticket-window 1.      

   The man behind the window was very strict but that was probably necessary.

   I had to show him my ID and after filling in a short form he gave me a small card with five sections and placed a stamp on the first section.

   He explained to me all the rules and regulations and told’

me that if I broke one of the rules I had to give the card back, leave the Mission and would be expelled for one month.

   I could place all my belongings in a luggage room that was situated behind him and for Coco there was a place in the corner next to the luggage room.

   The man told me that the luggage would be locked as soon as everyone had checked-in. 


   I went outside to get Coco and brought her to the man and in return he gave me the receipt for my personal belongings and Coco.

   Today I was one of the fifteen new guests. The others already had a card. It was good that I was here on time, because not everyone that was waiting in front of the Mission had the same luck.

   His last instruction was to go to the open area on the left.

   “Go sit on the next free seat inline, please. “


The area was furnished like a church with in front a pulpit and on the right side of the pulpit an organ.

   Obediently I went straight to my seat.

Looking around I saw there was also a room with toilets and showers and a door with the nameplate exit.

   We had to wait till every visitor was inside, checked-in and had taken his seat. During that time I made a simple floorplan of the inside.

   The person sitting next to me told me there was a strict rule that everyone had to check-in before 6:30pm18:30.

It meant that exactly at 6:30pm18:30 the entrance was closed and everyone had to sit in line in front of the pulpit.


    A Salvation Army officer entered the room and went to the pulpit and started a sermon.

   His start was overwhelming and indoctrinating.

   It was something I will never forget and not in the positive sense.

   He was preaching about;

   ‘The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Proverbs 1:7’


   My first thought was; ‘Is that the basis of faith!’

   The sermon was a forty-five-minute-long thunder speech of a very manipulative manner.


   The bottom-line was, that we all were sinful creatures.

   If the officer was right, I was doomed. The only way to save me from burning in hell was a complete dedication towards God.


   I only could reproduce a few lines of his sermon because it was quoted out of the bible and he also mentioned where the text was located in the bible. I wrote them down in my scratchpad:

Psalm 103:13,

I Peter: 2:17,

Romans 3:18,

Isaiah 66:2.

   Later, when I am back home I can find the text in the bible.


Psalm 103:13:

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him."

I Peter: 2:17:

" Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor."

Psalm 25:12-14

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he will teach him in the way he chooses."

Isaiah 66:2 and God said

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at my word.”


   He often used words like "God-fearing man.", "fear and trembling."


   At the end of his sermon he warned us with a quote of himself because it was not followed by a reference to the bible. So I wrote down the whole line. 


It is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God"


   After the last prayer the officer told us:


   “Listen very carefully because I will only tell it once.

   I will call numbers and when I call your number, you walk to that door.

   You will stay there quietly and patiently in line till somebody tells you differently.”

   I noticed that he meant the number on my stamp.

   When all numbers had been called and the line was complete, we were escorted to the dining-room.

   I really enjoyed the food, not only because it tasted good, but it was also nice to be one with all those homeless at the dining table. 

   I ate as much as possible to build a reserve and meanwhile it felt like a great adventure looking at all those men, each with their own story.

   Some looked neat and had excellent table manners. Others had already been too long away from normal life and had forgotten all their table manners.

   What struck me was that you only heard eating sounds.

   Nobody talked or looked at each other.

   They all were completely focused on the substance on their plate in front of them.

   I was the only one who was looking around.

   Not quite, because the man next to me made an indirect remark that this had to be a completely new experience for me.

   I told him that he was right and told him my story.

   He was very reserved but still interested in my story.

   I noticed by his eyes and by the few words he said that he was a well-educated man.

   I do not know why, but I also told him about Flo and my concerns. I was probably hoping he could give me some advice or some comforting words. 


   He didn’t have the advice I asked for because he advised me to go to the local radio and TV station and tell them my story.

   “They probably pay you for the story,” he told me.

   That was probably the businessman of the past talking to me.


   After dinner we had to go outside on a little plaza and we had to wait there for fifteen minutes.


   Leon, the man I talked with at dinner, stayed close to me and asked me to follow him to a spot so we could talk in private.

   “Peter, I want to tell you my story.

   I never told it to anyone, but it will be a great relief for me to tell it to somebody and get an honest judgement.

   Also, because tomorrow our lives will go in different directions and we will never meet again.

   Will you listen!”

   “Only when it is not a crime I will listen,” was my reaction.



   My father was an alcoholic and left the family when I was twelve.

   In 1956 at an age of twenty I managed a restaurant and it must be around that time I started drinking more than a regular drinker.

   Two years later I got married and worked my way up in the hierarchy of the restaurant chain, but still continued to drink heavily.

   A few years later I started a headhunter business.

   I charged around a 20 till 30 percent fee to the people that worked for me.

   During those years I earned tons of money.

   My alcohol use increased, but my perception was that I could function better with alcohol.

   The next six years nothing changed.

   In search of a new challenge I started to invest in the foreign exchange markets.

   I read in a financial section of a local newspaper that investors in these markets were making money by betting that one foreign currency would go up when another goes down.

   During the first week I made $57,000 and I was hooked.


   If you are prone to addiction, these markets are like drugs.


   I started to lose money, but it did not worry me because my bank account could easily handle it. 

   During the next two years, it drained all my savings.

   My wife had no idea; she thought I was still recruiting.

   When I ran out of money, I got more money, by mortgaging off our house.

   Within a few months I lost that money too.

   It got worse when I convinced my brother and sister-in-law to mortgage off their home and give me the money to invest in a “sure thing.”

   They trusted me!

   By June 1968, I had only $1,200 in my account and had multiple debts.

   At any moment my wife could find out.


   And what do you think I did?

   I ran!

   I packed my bags in the middle of the night and drove to Nashville, Tennessee.

   I worked four months in Nashville, working as a handyman and lived out of my van.

   Almost all my money went into alcohol and for the first time it had a negative influence on my work.

   After a few warnings I was fired.

   Two days later, my gas tank was almost empty and the only thing I could do was to drive to a car dealer.

   With the money I was able to buy alcohol and live in a cheap motel for a month.

   When this money was almost gone, I could not even stay in the motel anymore and had to find another shelter.

   The only option was The Salvation Army.

   I entered the Mission in Nashville on June 1968 and since that moment I’ve made regular use of the hospitality of the Missions.   

   Because of the climate and the possibilities, I went to San Diego and now I have been here already for ten years.

   Sometimes I work a few days and sleep in a motel.

   When I’m broke, I live on the streets or I go to the mission.

   Since I left my wife I’ve never had contact with her or my brother.”


   He looked at me expecting a reaction.


   I was not his shrink or advocate and I did not feel sorry for him. I was too angry to give him a tactical answer.

  “Sorry Leon, I do not want to lie to you.

  I think you still pity yourself and not your family.

  You do not show remorse.

   In your decisions you chose what is best for yourself and not what’s best for your family.

   I do not feel any pity for you, only for your wife and brother.

   My opinion is that you are a coward and a criminal.”


   Leon looked at me for a minute, turned around and went to the opposite corner of the plaza without saying a word. From that moment on he ignored me totally.