Click to Read Chapter Two from Rev. Joe Colaizzi’s book, Takin’ It to the Streets — Again
Jarrette Aycock’s Legacy
The 49ers were playing the Dolphins that year in Super Bowl XIX. Miami kicked off at 3 p.m. just about the time I officially kicked off my career as executive director of the Kansas City Rescue Mission (KCRM). Marilyn and I were excited. Even if I was the only paid employee, and even when the discussion at my first official District Properties Committee meeting centered on the question, “Should we sell the building and shut down the ministry?” We saw no problems, only opportunities.
A deteriorating turn-of-the-century building had been home for the Mission for more than 22 years. It was a three-story brick structure with a basement, located in the River Market area of Kansas City. Only the basement and first floor were in use and usable.
The ministry, focused primarily toward homeless men, offered hope in Christ through daily chapel services as well as food, shelter, and clothing. A crew of six formerly homeless men lived there full-time and handled daily chores–cooking, cleaning, and laundry. They’d take turns answering the only phone in the place. They all assisted with crowd control during the busy times; these occurred daily. Every evening 20 or so homeless men converged on the Mission just before the doors closed at 7 p.m. when the gospel service began. Then came dinner, a shower, and sleep. Mornings, after breakfast, the overnight guests would leave, and the crew went to work on their chores. A noble plan that, at times, played out somewhat as described but lacked supervision, accountability, and leadership. And that fact energized me. It gave me purpose beyond the books, a tangible outlet to combine and apply New York experience and textbook theory. Through hands-on ministry opportunities to preach, teach, counsel, administrate, dream, and grow, the Mission provided fulfillment. School no longer overwhelmed me. KCRM was a gift.
Homeless people have needs. One is to be needed. I’d learned that firsthand in New York. Kansas City was no different. The Mission building had needs as well. Faucets leaked. Lighting and air circulation were poor. Windows were broken, even missing. Walls needed paint. Doors were broken, and the carpet was worn and torn.
Past experience had taught me the basic skills to address most of these concerns, but I needed help. We had little money for such luxuries. Our total income that first year was less than $32,000. Twenty percent of that had come from the Church of the Nazarene’s Kansas City District office, because District Superintendent Milton Parrish was convinced that the Lord wanted the Mission to survive. But I wouldn’t ask the district for more money. We needed to find another way.
It was George who first stepped up. That’s when he learned I needed him.
The basement shower was dark and dank. Most of the paint had long since peeled from the ancient stone walls. Shower heads leaked profusely releasing hot water, enough to erode mortar, promote mold, and fill a gallon jug every 60 seconds, wasting 1440 gallons of hot water every day!
With a couple of rusty old wrenches I’d found among the tools scattered throughout the Mission, I attempted to repair the leak. That’s when George offered unsolicited advice, revealing knowledge far beyond mine. I soon learned he’d had a successful career in building maintenance until alcohol got the best of him. He’d been at the Mission off and on for several years. Recently he’d become one of our six crew members. George was a natural leader. Under his direction we quickly repaired the shower. It wasn’t long before he became the “foreman” and shaped the rest of the crew into the beginnings of a renovation team. With the tools we gathered and a few minimal supplies, we went to work, room by room. Soon, we were joined by board members and several interested laymen. We repaired the plumbing, installed new chapel lighting, built shelves, carpeted floors, repaired bunks (George even built one), painted walls, improved the ventilation system and, in general, began to upgrade the looks and function of the entire KCRM facility.
At the same time we worked hard to improve attitudes, meal quality, and the overall safety of the Mission. We improved chapel services and emphasized prayer and reading the Word. All the while we built stronger relationships with the crew, our homeless friends, and our neighbors.
Less popular with some were the new ideas we implemented to enhance ministry standards and services. We raised the behavioral bar for both the resident crew and overnight clients, screening more carefully for drugs, alcohol, and weapons. Clients were no longer granted Mission services while under the influence. Instead they were referred to agencies better equipped to handle them. Threats and violence also became cause for denial of Mission services.
Our objectives were clear. Constantly demonstrate the love of God. Treat clients with respect and dignity. Empower, don’t enable them. Encourage them to leave their past behind, seek forgiveness and reach for a hope-filled future in Christ.
The precedent for those objectives had been set long ago.
* * *
At eight years old he was chewing tobacco and rolling his own. He was the youngest of eight children, the favorite, pampered by the family. They tried their best to steer him straight but his knack to find trouble led to fights and mischief most of the time. By the time he was a teen he was constantly in trouble and rebellious at school. At 15 he was drinking whiskey. After 7 attempts at 7 different schools, Jarrette Aycock sold everything he owned, went to the town water tank, and waited for a freight train to anywhere. For years he drifted around the country, hopping freights from city to city. An alcoholic and a wanderer, sometimes a tramp, he gambled and drank. Yet every once in a while, he took on the responsibility of a job.
One night, though holding down a job at the time, a bitter and dejected Aycock walked along skid row in Los Angeles, cigarette hanging from his lips, the fumes of whiskey on his breath. The sound of a gospel song stopped him cold. There between two open saloons he saw the Union Rescue Mission. “Go in lad,” a stranger said, “you might hear something that would do you good.” As he walked through the doorway a sign that read read “There is hope for all who enter here” caught his eye.
“The place was filled with derelicts, drunks, dope addicts, and all the odds and ends of skid row,” Aycock later reported. “As I sat there looking them over, I got to thinking that I had been like them before and that I would be like them again unless I could somehow get free of all the old habits and the ceaseless downward pull that had plagued my life for years.”1
The speaker that evening was Mel Trotter, himself a hopeless drunk until, on the brink of suicide, he met the Savior at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. Trotter became an evangelist, and for the next 40 years established over 60 rescue missions across the country.
Aycock listened as Mel Trotter shared the story about how Jesus had changed his life. Then others shared their stories.
“Some of them seemed to be telling my story,” Aycock said. “They told of years of wandering, bound in sin and habits, loss of friends, loved ones, and a disappointed, brokenhearted mother.”2
An invitation followed the testimonies, and Jarrette Aycock made a difficult but very necessary decision.
“It took a tremendous effort,” he wrote, “because before we are ready to ask Jesus to give us a new life, we really have to be sick of the old one. We have to know that the person we have been so pleased with and so proud of for so many years, the person we have pampered and almost ruined, isn’t really any good at all and won’t be any good until we let Jesus Christ rule that life. That isn’t an easy decision. But the results of it are all glorious. I know because I made the decision myself that night, and Christ has never failed me.”3
At the altar of a rescue mission, Jarrette Aycock walked away from his troubled past and into a hope-filled future. After working for a short while at another mission, he then began studying for the ministry. Two years after his conversion Aycock married Dell Davis. He entered the evangelistic field the following year and was ordained five years later in the Church of the Nazarene, where he served for 32 years as an evangelist.
In 1942, now Dr. Jarrette Aycock became superintendent of the Kansas City District. In 1950 he founded the Kansas City Nazarene Rescue Mission that three years later became Kansas City Rescue Mission. Here the objective would be that others would have the same opportunity young Jarrette Aycock had received years before.
I learned a lot about the Mission during that first year as executive director. It had been anything but smooth sailing from the outset. Originally located at 916 East 12th St., the Mission had moved four times during its first five years in operation. (See appendix A) Then the building at 523 Walnut Street was purchased. It had been the Mission’s home for nearly 23 years. Leadership had also changed much, at least 11 times during the Mission’s first 35 years.
Dr. Aycock worked hard, even after his retirement, to keep the Mission’s door open. As his mantle was passed on, it eventually rested on the shoulders of Milton Parrish who, along with C. W. “Bud” King, then president of the Mission’s Board of Directors, and Dean Quillin, board secretary, was equally determined to see the ministry succeed. They became a strong support and encouragement to me.
1 He Lifted Me by Jarrette Aycock, pg. 17, Beacon Hill Press.
2 Ibid. pg. 18.
3 Ibid. pg. 18-19
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