Men stumble through the door of the Lutheran mission in Havre de Grace, old and tired and a little confused.
First, Brian Trostle, coordinator of the mission, makes sure the men, mostly veterans from thePerry Point VA Hospital across the river, have taken their daily medicines.
Then the 24-year-old reassures them gently, "You're gonna be OK. It's gonna be OK today."
The center, one of two missions in Harford run by the Lutheran Mission Society in Maryland, offers a refuge for needy people as the society's first center did for immigrants coming through the Baltimore harbor at the turn of the century.
From counseling to giving away food or providing a temporary home for unwed mothers, the mission centers try to fulfill their vision: "Moving people toward wholeness in Jesus Christ," Trostle explains.
"This is a place of peace for people," says Trostle.
"In Havre de Grace, weget many people released from the VA hospital and some street people. Their minds are so fragile, many are mentally ill, and they just need somebody to say everything's all right."
The Havre de Grace center, located on Congress Avenue, handles about 30 people a day. A center in Hickory that opened last month has been busy but daily visitorstatistics haven't been compiled yet. Statewide, seven centers assist more than 300 people every day.
Like many missions, the Lutherancenters try to meet physical needs first. Racks of clothing, sold mostly for $1 or $2 per item, give the interior of the red brick centerin Havre de Grace the feel of a crowded boutique.
You can pick upalmost anything in the mission, from a used Bible to a strand of pearls.
Next door to the mission center, a second brick house serves as an office and as a storage area for emergency food distributed on Thursdays.
People come to the mission centers with every need imaginable, says Mike Alley, public relations director for the Mission Society.
Every day, Trostle says, he sees people who need referralsfor health needs or help contacting a government agency.
One recent afternoon, two men traveling from Michigan to New York City neededmedical assistance. Trostle fed them and took them to a hospital.
A local hospital called to say they had no place to put a street woman who had just given birth to a baby, so the mission found a place at one of their temporary homes.
And, a 16-year-old girl, diagnosedwith pneumonia, came in because she didn't have the money to buy penicillin.
Women with small children come. Senior citizens come. Homeless people show up. Some arrive just because they want to sit and be part of a hymn sing-along.
Whatever the physical or emotional need, the mission tries to meet it, says Trostle.
But the mission has a distinct spiritual goal, says Dr. Richard L. Alms, executive director of the society.
When volunteers from communities near each mission center or staff workers hand out food or clothing or arrange shelter, they also give the message that Jesus is the real solution to life, he says.
"Doing that means that we tell them about Jesus andhis love and forgiveness. That's often what turns a person around. Unless God changes a person's heart, it's very hard for them to changetheir lifestyle."
The Mission Society has been able to retain itsevangelistic character primarily because it doesn't receive any government assistance, and so doesn't face a church-state conflict, says Alms.
The society depends completely on contributions from individuals, businesses and churches to meet an annual budget of nearly $1 million.
"This independence (from government aid) allows us to serve the whole person, physically and spiritually," Alms says.
Trostle's theme is the same: Helping someone's soul is the most important kind of help.
He recalls a recent visitor, a prostitute with emotional and family problems.
Trostle listened as the woman wept for hours. He provided food and clothing for her son, helped her establish contact with family members who had disowned her and then talked to her about a personal, loving God.
The woman returned later, announcing that she'd gotten an apartment and a job.
Her son was doing better in school. Most importantly, she felt that "God was there, and God was there for her," Trostle recalls.
"We can't fix everything,"he concludes. "But you can give a person a prescription that will have long-term effects. That's God."