Just an Ordinary Graduation

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    Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries held its 11th Annual Graduation ceremony for 441 men and women this past week.  Their achievement was that they had completed transitional or permanent housing, substance abuse treatment or vocational programs this year.

    The banquet hall where the event was held buzzed with all the usual fanfare of a graduation ceremony.  Graduates had already busied themselves with getting new outfits and fresh hairdo’s and were receiving well-deserved compliments for their efforts.  Television cameras and photographers studied the scene and recorded memorable moments. Family members ranging from grandmothers to little babies came to celebrate and rustled in their seats to catch site of their loved ones.  Busses dropped off people who have not yet completed their own programs but look to the day they too will be honored. Dignitaries gave heartfelt encouragement to the graduates.  The choir sang. Finally, members of the DRMM graduating class gave commencement addresses or, as they are known in Rescue Mission language – their testimonies. 

    Just another graduation ceremony.  But it was not just another graduation ceremony.

    What kind of achievements were celebrated?  As graduates wrote their names on index cards, to be read by the presenter, they also recorded the accomplishments that mattered to them.  “14 months sober.” “2 years sober and getting my own place.” “Clean – and staying clean!”  “Certified by Marygrove College in Peer Support Counseling.”  “Servsafe certification.” “Nominated for an award by Gateway East.”  “Microsoft Office certification.”  “CPR certification.”  “ Culinary Arts.”  “Welding at Macomb Community.”  Life Support Training Institute.”  “GED.”  “Associates degree and just hired.” “DRMM choir member and 90 days sober.”  Southwest Solutions Green Works certificate.” “Staff aide.” “ Working for a roofing company.” “Machining Essentials and Technical Training at Focus Hope.” “On my own again and doing fine.” Dancing down the aisle and dancing for joy.

    Does the sight of seeing someone celebrate the accomplishments of a heart-felt dream ever get old?  I don’t think it does. 

    As over 600 people gathered for yesterday’s event knew, there was electricity in the air, a stirring of deep satisfaction as people were publicly recognized for a job well done.  I know from my own experience that I don’t have to personally know a person to feel good about what they have achieved.  All I need to do is see them hug their counselor or teacher – tears streaming down their faces as they rejoice together over the achievement.  All I need is to watch their loved ones, seated quietly but attentively, as they wait to see or snap a photo at the moment a diploma is handed out.  All I need to do is see the smiles as graduates pose for photos, holding their diploma and their heads high.

    Bob Ficano (Wayne County Executive) came for the eleventh year in a row to give encouragement to the graduates.  “Give yourselves a hand. You have come a long way.  But know that, ‘no one ever does it alone’.” Kandia Milpon, aide to Representative Gary Peters, a first-time speaker, said, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.  You began your first steps when you went through Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries’ doors.  Don’t stop here.  Keep going!” Greg Roberts, the Faith Based Director for former Governor Granholm and a former DRMM Program Director as well said, “You are breaking the chains holding you back.  Keep breaking those chains.  Listen. . . . you can hear those chains fall!”  Highland Park’s  Mayor DeAndre Windom quoted Philippians 4:13  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and said, “Don’t forget the long line of men” ranging from Martin Luther King to our own Greg Mathis to President Obama “who didn’t quit.” Martha Scott, Wayne County Commissioner, talked intimately about the God who gives her strength every day and of her father who taught her to always be ready for change.  “Make sure for those who come after you that you let them know you stood up for them”.

    We want to see people do well.  We have a deep-seated need to applaud, encourage, and praise when we see them overcome mighty obstacles that have stood in their paths.  We draw strength from seeing people rising again after disasters or tragedies and seeing ordinary people achieve everyday victories.

    At yesterday’s ceremony, the audience heard from a man who had been ‘hit by two cars, ran over by a tractor, and been on fire from head to toe”.  He described how he had battled ‘three months just to hold my hands steady” and how, when he entered our Christian Guidance Center substance abuse treatment program, he found encouragement and professional support.  He movingly described how he came to his personal decision to serve Christ and listen to those around him who were trying to help him.

    Then the audience heard from a 65 year old grandmother who proudly introduced her own faithful and supportive 86 year old grandmother in attendance.  Describing a life of 47 years of heroin addiction, heart-ache, loss and shame, she told how she came to end of her resources when she took on the responsibility of raising her five grandchildren whose mother – her daughter- had died from a violent murder. After naming classes she took when she came to our programs that ranged from Crime and Consequences, 4th Step, Computer Skills, and Exercise, she said, “Addicts – my heart goes out to you.  We are not bad people.  We just make mistakes.  But we have to forgive ourselves.”    People in the room cried tears as she spoke.

    Some of us know the song, “I love the old, old story of Jesus and His love.”  In just that way, telling the old, old story of our graduates at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries fills me with delight and encouragement.  It may be an old, old story, but it is never ordinary. It is never less than a taste of heaven.  To those celebrating a graduation in their own lives, I congratulate you

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