A Message of Hope for Unprecedented Times


Dear Friend,

I love Christmas at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. I call it “organized bedlam” — fun, loud and a little chaotic, but in the best possible sense … like watching children excitedly tear into their presents.

I don’t expect that Christmas cheer to change much this year. We may still be wearing masks and practicing social distancing, but not even COVID-19 can dampen the joy of the season.

What I do expect will change is the number of families coming for help. The local economy — especially the service industry — has been hammered by the loss of jobs due to the pandemic. Countless families are facing homelessness and hunger for the very first time, having lost so much because of circumstances largely out of their control. And yet, hope remains.

That’s what Christmas at MRM is all about.

We always aspire to see lives changed. Often, that begins by meeting someone’s immediate needs — usually food and shelter. While Christmas toys may not be as critical, they do help struggling families look beyond their circumstances to feel comfort and joy and a sense of community during the holidays.

Still, the most important message we’ll deliver this Christmas is the message of the Gospel.

For the precious souls who walk through our doors, it’s often a hot meal and a warm bed that begins their road to recovery — but it’s God who walks with them every step of the way, working everything for their good. We want everyone who walks through these doors to know that Jesus loves them. Jesus, whose birth in a manger, death on the cross and resurrection from the dead gave us the promise of eternal life in Heaven. All because of His great compassion for us! That’s a powerful message of hope, especially in these uncertain times.

And in these uncertain times, you are helping to share this hope. You are helping to transform lives! As you gather with family and friends to celebrate Christmas this year, please know that many of our neighbors have new hope and a future because of your kindness.

Thank you for helping fill the hearts of those in need during the holidays with the peace and joy of the season! May God bless you this Christmas!


Patrick H. Vanderburgh, D.Min.

A Time to Give Thanks


If you asked me in 2020 what I miss the most in one word, I would say normalcy. But if you asked me what I think I need most in 2020, I would use a different word—perspective.

2020 has been—in the purest sense of the word—unprecedented! There really is nothing in my experience that I could compare it to, in terms of the unexpected, unsettled, disruptive, even scary. Now as we approach the end of this unprecedented year, we enter the holiday season in search of tradition and longing for normalcy. The season begins with what is probably my favorite holiday—Thanksgiving.

When I think of Thanksgiving, of course, I think of giving thanks. (I have a knack for the obvious!) But this holiday is also profoundly about perspective. The history of our American holiday is compelling when it comes to perspective. When we think of this holiday, we think of that first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims. That Thanksgiving was declared by the Pilgrim governor, William Bradford, calling for a three-day celebration in October 1621 specifically to return thanks to God for His providential care.

Here is the perspective part. Their three-day celebration of God’s grace came after their first year in the New World when 47 of the 102 original colonists died—and it came on the seasonal doorstep of their second cold and dark New England winter.

Abraham Lincoln declared the first official national Thanksgiving in 1863, asking Americans to observe a day of prayer and giving thanks to Almighty God. The perspective: it was in the midst of the Civil War. That November, Grant faced Lee in the trenches surrounding Petersburg, Virginia where thousands died. Earlier that same year, thousands of Americans died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. In the midst of a war that would claim over 1,000,000 lives, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday a day of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day was declared a permanent national holiday by Congress in 1941. Here’s the perspective: that fourth Thursday, November 28, was only days before America was drawn into the costliest war in human history. In spite of the dire circumstances of the early years of World War II, it seemed reasonable for the highest legislative body in the nation to declare a Day of Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving 2020, my wife Barb and I look forward to our traditions. We’ll come to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission and join with our staff and volunteers and guests to celebrate blessings and return thanks to God. And, as I always do, I’ll reflect on the history of this great American holiday. That perspective will bring me comfort, peace and courage as I reflect on 2020 and anticipate 2021.

May God bless you and yours with perspective, comfort, safety and strength this season. Happy Thanksgiving!


Patrick H. Vanderburgh, D.Min.