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Rescue mission reverend ministers from experience

November 19, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The Rev. William Crowe doesn't feel he deserves to have a building dedicated in recognition of his more than 40 years of work with the Union Rescue Mission in Martinsburg.

But it's too late now.

Though he feels greatly honored by the mission's board of directors' decision to name the yet-to-be-built shelter after him, Crowe deflects any praise.

"I just think that there's many others that it could have been named after," the mission's longtime superintendent said Friday, the day before a dedication ceremony was held at the future building site in the 600 block of West King Street. The project is expected to get under way next year.

Yet Crowe's own rise - from the pits of despair as a young man on the streets of Hagerstown to become a lasting pillar in the mission's outreach to homeless men and families in need - cannot be ignored, either.

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"I'm amazed at times at what God has done for me," Crowe said. "I really am."

At the age of 26, God gave him the strength to overcome his near disastrous penchant for "strong drink," mostly beer, but his share of whiskey, too.

After a 30-day binge of drinking and sleeping in basements and automobiles, Crowe realized he had "hit bottom," and came to the Union Rescue Mission in Hagerstown for help, not to become a Christian or ultimately meet his future wife, Elizabeth, who was active in mission work for children at the time.

"I was disgusted and discouraged," Crowe said. "I was tired of living. I was afraid of dying."

Crowe stayed at the mission for a couple of weeks, but his struggle with alcohol was far from over.

"I didn't come out of the darkness all of a sudden," Crowe said. "I slipped a couple times. I'd do real good for a couple weeks and then slip and fall."

But mission Superintendent Jim Resh didn't give up on Crowe, who was younger than most of the men who had come for help in those days.

"Jim was very patient," Crowe said. "He kept trying to help me."

Resh dismissed suggestions from other people that he give up on Crowe, that there was no hope for him.

About six months after coming to the mission, Crowe said he began to overcome a battle with alcohol that started with wanting to be "one of the crowd."

"I never thought what it would lead to," Crowe said.

After wasting days and months and years with little direction in his life and persistent trouble holding a job, Crowe said the Lord laid it on his heart to take up the mission ministry.

Soon after Crowe married his wife in a ceremony at the rescue mission in Hagerstown, Resh again came to his aid, helping him begin his ministry as a chaplain on a pig farm outside of Nashville, Tenn.

Operated by the rescue mission in town, the working farm was liquidated soon after Crowe arrived, but he stayed on as the assistant superintendent there until being asked if he was interested in the top post in Martinsburg, then "a little country town."

Little did he know what he was getting himself into after he said "yes."

At that time 44 years ago, Crowe said the men staying in the shelter at 602 W. King St. were more or less running things, and they were coming and going when they wanted.

"I felt like just leaving," Crowe said. "I was just so discouraged."

But Jack Peters, his "spiritual father" in his newfound life, helped him overcome the adverse conditions, which began to ebb after about six months and after a board meeting that placed control of the operation firmly in his hands.

"If I would have depended on myself, I wouldn't have stayed," Crowe said of his faith in God.

Since then, Crowe has continued pressing on in his ministry along with his wife, who he said has been the mission's assistant superintendent for about 40 years. His daughter, Sharon, has been the mission's secretary for many years, he said.

Only the Lord knows when Crowe said he will step away from his ministry, which has included pastoring at Broadfording Church of God outside of Hagerstown for the last few years.

"I just take it one day at a time," Crowe said.

Regardless of the new shelter's name, Crowe said the building is greatly needed to replace a structure that is poorly insulated and lacks ideal accessibility for the disabled.

Participation in the mission's residential rehabilitation program has expanded from eight people when he arrived years ago to 38 today, Crowe said.

"We are crowded," Crowe said.

The mission usually provides overnight shelter for more than 60 men on any given day, Crowe said.

The men who come for help these days tend to be much younger and more educated than when Crowe sought assistance.

"And some of them have just blown their mind so to speak ... on heavy stuff," Crowe said. "They have the mind of a child."

But Crowe remembers he wasn't the easiest to work with, either.

"When nobody else wants you, the Lord would love to have ya'," Crowe said.''

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