Restored To Be Restorers

Being born in Rwanda during a time of civil war made for a tough upbringing for John Rushemeza. He recalls that at 9 years old, when the conflicts broke out, there was a lot of killing and genocide and his family was forced to flee to Congo, eventually settling in Zambia.

While he grew up in the church, he chose to deal with his inner turmoil in a different way than his siblings … having his first taste of alcohol at 10 … with his family and everyone else in his community identifying him as an alcoholic by the time he was 15.

When he came to the United States, John was, in his words, “messed up” – selling drugs and even winding up incarcerated.

“I really have the testimony to tell people… through God all things are possible.”

Upon John’s release from prison, he visited his sister to ask her for a pair of shoes. His sister shared with him that she was scared to pick up the phone, fearing being told that he was dead. She also shared that she wasn’t proud to tell him that she was pregnant (with the first addition to John’s family) because he was “no good and wouldn’t be around.”

It hit John that there was going to be a new member of the family that “could potentially look down on him like everyone else.” He decided at that moment that he needed to do something before this new life came into the world. John wanted the child (that would become his first niece) to be able to hear stories about how he was and “maybe not even believe it.” He didn’t want her to experience the heartache that he put his brothers and sisters through.

When he first came to Water Street Mission, he met with Chuck, his case manager, who showed John love and understanding and explained the resources that were available to him at the Mission. John also had other men in the residence who offered to talk with him and pray with him, showing him love and acceptance.

Prior to coming to Water Street, John’s idea of a mission was just a place where homeless people came to sleep. But as he actually saw more and more what Water Street had to offer, he purposed in his heart to take advantage of it. With our Enrichment Center staff walking alongside John and counseling him, he learned to use a computer and attained his G.E.D., and he got connected to his church family where he still serves.

Believing that God spared his life for a reason, after his successful move out, John applied to work at the mission and serve others who are like he was. John is currently a life coach, which he describes as the “best job in the world.” Every day, John uses his past experiences and perspective of being “on the other side of the fence now.” John is happy that he has the testimony to be able to tell people, from experience, that with God, all things are possible.

We celebrate the restoration in John’s life and we’re thankful that he is using that restoration to restore others!


An Update from Jack 5/4/2020


Dear Friends,

Throughout this season, we have encountered a number of challenges in operating our shelter safely. Thankfully we have been blessed to see no community spread among our guests. This is due not only to the work of our team, but also the ways that upgrades to our facilities came at just the right time.

For example, Providence Shelter, which opened in November 2019, provides additional spacing and a top-tier air filtration system. We have also been able to implement the same air filtration standards in our dining hall prior to the most recent wave of COVID.

Because a high percentage of our guests have preexisting health conditions, we have had to be diligent in our safety protocols, doing our best to ensure their safety. For us that has included implanting all CDC disinfecting, masking and social distancing from the very beginning. This has led to major changes in roles and responsibilities of staff. Staff have taken over disinfecting in shifts all over campus. They have also delivered much of our support services and programs through zoom, hosting counseling sessions and classes virtually and meeting in-person with plexi-glass dividers only when necessary.

For meals, we’ve changed preparation and delivery to help minimize interaction of guests who live in different facilities. At times that has meant delivering meals to certain Residential Floors so we can keep smaller groups in the dining hall. We have also had to restrict guests’ travel on and off campus to only essential trips such as going to work, the doctors, shopping etc., in order to minimize unnecessary exposure.

Another change in this season has been how we do intakes. Currently, the intake process requires new guests to be tested for COVID-19. They await their test results in a separate temporary shelter we have set up, before entering Providence Emergency Shelter.

All of these changes have been made while severely limiting the number of volunteers on campus. At one point, all volunteering was completely put on hold. Now, we are running with a third of our normal volunteers.

And it’s been tiring, for both staff and guests. We have had times where many staff were working remotely due to their own health risks. Other times where staff or guests have been quarantined due to exposures. But even with all of the schedule changes, increased overtime, and cross-shift working, our team has done an amazing job persevering through all of the challenges.

What to Expect This Winter Typically we have over 200 total guests on campus, over 100 in our Residential Programs over and 100 in our Emergency Shelters. Although our Residential capacity remains about the same, we have had to reduce the available beds in Providence Shelter to ensure safe spacing overnight from about 75 to 55.

Winter always presents its own challenges, so we anticipate this year will be no different. Women in our Providence Shelter have moved over to the shelter at St. Mary’s across the street, run by the Lancaster Food Hub. During their stay there they have full access to all of our services, including showers, food and staff support. Not only does having women shift to St. Mary’s enable us to free up additional beds for men, it will help us keep the shelter populations separate and limit the risk of spread.

Thank You We have been so encouraged by the support we have received this year. Without a community coming around us and our guests, we would not be able to keep our guests safe and continue to guide them in their restoration journeys. We truly couldn’t do what we do without you.

Jack Crowley