A moment of pastoral crisis occurred on Christmas Eve 1987. Between the two scheduled candlelight services at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, PA, was sufficient time for the one remaining pastoral visit Rev. Donn Ed had yet to make. The household lived not far from the church. They were an impoverished family whom he had visited several times before. The single mother and her five little children resided in a small, 2-room concrete block building at the end of a quiet lane. His call upon the household would include the delivery of a bag full of groceries, a big holiday turkey, a sack of potatoes and a cash gift of 50 dollars. The church served nearly 50 disadvantaged households in this way every Christmas season, and he was proud to represent such a caring program.
Donn drove to this family’s home, delivered the gifts from the church and visited a while with the mother and her children. She thanked him, with tears of emotion, for the gifts. As he struggled with a response, it seemed as if time suddenly slowed to a near stop as he absorbed the suffering that surrounded him. There in the corner, an open firebox was glowing, fueled with wood from pallets she had scavenged from local businesses. Across the room on a cardboard box, which served as an end table, was a sprig of evergreen, decorated with pieces of paper and string. This was the only Christmas tree the children would enjoy. Crates and planks served as makeshift furniture. The bare concrete walls were dark with smoke from the fireplace. The poor-quality windows served more effectively as vents. The concrete floor was carpeted with flattened cardboard cartons. As Donn silently observed these conditions, his heart broke for the children around him. He wondered how life would feel for a young person caught in the grip of poverty.
Donn looked toward the mother in preparation for his departure and deeply struggled for words that would allow him to leave gracefully. Finding none, Donn grasped at a phrase often used in the pastorate when nothing else can be said. “My prayers will be with you,” he easily remarked as he opened the door. She thanked him, and he took her response as the most appropriate moment in which to exit the situation. As Donn walked hurriedly away from the house, he rationalized that his quick pace was related to the upcoming worship service at the church. Deep inside his soul, however, Donn sensed he had been somewhere he had never been before. He felt confronted by the tension between pastoral propriety and professionalism and the suffering servanthood of Christ whom he ostensibly represented. As Donn got into the car to drive away, he looked back, once again, to the little concrete house and considered that the living Lord was approaching the flimsy front door to be in the company of the people inside, even as he was anxious to speed away.
And the dream was born . . .
The long endured period of dilemma following that life-changing Christmas Eve suddenly ended when Donn ultimately opened the Hebrew lexicon and learned that in Jesus’ day, the word ‘hosanna’ literally meant “rescue me now, Lord please!” In that moment of understanding, his entire theological world shook to the foundation.
Within moments a vision unfolded. It would begin a new form of ministry. Its name would be “Hosanna Industries,” combining the desperate cries for help with the value of human work offered as an expression of service to Christ. Tools and equipment would be needed. A truck would be required, painted with a new coat of bright Hosanna green. Mission workers and an operational location would have to be secured. What Donn saw in his mind’s eye was only an idea at the time. How and when it would take on form was an issue that both intrigued and frightened him at the same time.
Hosanna Industries was officially begun on Palm Sunday 1990, during the worship service at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown. The first three mission workers were commissioned during that service. It was a bright and promising occasion.
In 1998, Hosanna Industries moved from the first facility in Bakerstown and acquired their own campus in New Sewickley Township in Beaver County. The campus was formerly New Tribes Mission. This campus serves as the headquarters for the mission’s charitable work. The volunteer dorm, chapel, community center, trade skill learning center, etc. are all a part of this campus.
In 2015, Hosanna bought an approximately 8 acre piece of property in Richland Township in Allegheny County. A struggling non-profit, Four Directions, owned it previously. The women who owned it originally, Eliza Miller and Janet Decoux, were sculptors and artists. Among many other artworks, Janet made the statue of William Penn that is at the state capitol. The property came with their studio workshops and several of their pieces, and Hosanna is using the property to help people grow spiritually and creatively.
Although aware of the growth and expansion of this mission and its viability in our cultural context at each and every turn of the road, Donn says he cannot fully comprehend all that has happened. He considers his life and the ministry of which he is a part to be incomprehensibly blessed. “It has been, vocationally, the great experience; personally, a ponderous mystery.”