There is only one publication documenting the history of the Lebanon Rescue Mission. The Lebanon Rescue Mission: The Story of Its Founding and Its Founders 1945-1982, written by Julia E. Mark begins this way:
“To tell the story of the Lebanon Rescue Mission is to tell also the story of Lester and Dorothy Miller, for the two stories are too closely intertwined to be separated. The Mission has been the Millers’ life and the Millers have been the life of the Mission.
The Lebanon Rescue Mission continues to be a haven for the destitute and a monument to the faith, hope, charity and hard work of its founders, a couple who refused to give up.
It is a place of clean, soft beds for the homeless; bountiful Thanksgiving dinners for those with no other place to celebrate the day . . . a place for a mother to feed and clothe her children; and a sanctuary for worship.”
Rev. Lester Miller and Dorothy Ritzman were married in the early 1940s. By then, Lester had a strong vision for the life he felt God had called him to lead. He had survived the Great Depression and felt a deep sense of compassion for people in need. Dorothy shared his conviction.
In 1945, the couple established the first Lebanon Rescue Mission in a rented room on North Lincoln Avenue, near Cumberland Street. Lester worked tirelessly to develop the fledgling organization, while Dorothy kept a factory job to provide the couple’s livelihood. Dorothy’s mother, Sarah, became a full-time volunteer, cooking, cleaning, and doing household tasks.
The Lebanon Rescue Mission was registered with the International Union of Gospel Missions (IUGM) and a Board of Directors was created. Over the next four years, the Mission moved from location to location, but awareness of its good work had already begun to spread. Finally, on Palm Sunday 1949, the Lebanon Rescue Mission found a home at the corner of Sixth & Elm Streets. Despite financial difficulties, construction began on a new building. The founders prayed that God would bring them the money they needed to complete the building project. Little by little, the community rallied to the Mission’s support. Donations trickled in. Kind people volunteered their time. The Millers’ vision, given to them by God, was finally a reality.
May 2, 1984, the Lebanon Rescue Mission mourned the loss of Rev. Lester Miller, as he went home to be with the Lord he loved and served for so long.
In December of 1984, William C. “Bill” Coleman would be named Executive Director of the Lebanon Rescue Mission. Bill and his wife Elsie dedicated their lives to the Lebanon Rescue Mission. Bill served as a Board member for over thirty year and then became the Executive Director for nearly twenty-years. Even after his retirement, Bill stop by the Men’s Campus to visit with both staff and the men in our program every day. He never missed an opportunity to share a cup of coffee, prayer, encouraging words or a story about his years with the ministry. In 2013, Bill served as the Honorary Campaign Chairman to raise funds which led to the successful purchase and renovation of our new building on Bittner Blvd. Bill and Elsie were both able to attend the ribbon ceremony for the opening of this new facility, which would expand the Men’s Program to 52 beds and provide space for all the administrative office for the full ministry. Bill and Elsie are remembered and missed every day. For the staff that had the privilege to get to know him, it is these words that live in our hearts…GOD is ENOUGH.
The spark lit by the Millers’ faith is still on fire in Lebanon today. The Lebanon Rescue Mission continues to help homeless men find jobs, education, and new lives in Christ Jesus. Agape Family Shelter provides a safe house and unconditional acceptance for homeless women and their children. The Lebanon Free Clinic provides free medical care to people without insurance. All operate under the same creed: “To provide Christ centered sanctuary to ‘rescue the perishing and care for the dying.’ To serve the whosoever through shelter, nourishment, clothing, education and healthcare . . .”