BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: We have a story today about an evangelical Christian mission for the homeless in Chicago that has thrived for 130 years doing pretty much the same thing every day. There is preaching, Bible study, and a compulsory sermon before anyone gets lunch. And on the side, an old-fashioned weekly radio drama complete with sound effects and studio organ that is heard all over the world. Our reporter is Robert Jordan.
ROBERT JORDAN: It hasn't officially been designated a landmark, but it is an institution. Just south of downtown Chicago, on what for decades was Skid Row, sits Pacific Garden Mission, a nondenominational, faith-based rescue mission for the homeless. It opened in 1877.
DAVID MCCARRELL (President, Pacific Garden Mission): It's transpired the terms of 23 presidents, some 47,000 consecutive days, and never been closed for a minute.
JORDAN: Six hundred men come here every day to be fed, or to have a place to sleep.
Mr. MCCARRELL: Out of this building alone, I think last month we distributed over 37,000 items of clothing.
JORDAN: The food and the clothing are all donated. The men can also get free medical and dental care and vocational training. The Pacific Garden Mission is so well known in Chicago that it rarely has to ask for money.
(Men singing): Glory to his name.
JORDAN: ore than a hundred of the transients are in a year-long Bible training program. And each day, before they are given lunch, every man who comes here must listen to the Gospel message.
The reach of the Pacific Garden Mission goes far beyond Chicago. The message goes into 147 countries in eight languages, and that message is disseminated via the longest running radio drama in history. The program is called "Unshackled!"
Mr. MCCARRELL: It's the story of lives that at one time were captive to things that aren't very good and have been unshackled by the power of Christ.
JORDAN: Pacific Garden still has a recording of every single broadcast -- nearly 3,000 in all.
KEN SWANSON (Program Manager, "Unshackled!"): This is the very first program -- Unshackled! Program Number One. It was recorded September 23, 1950, and the tapes are still playable.
(From 1950 recording): Come with us right through the heart of Chicago's Loop, into another world of cheap hotels, taverns, missions, coffee shops, and pawnshops, into the street of forgotten men and women -- forgotten, that is, until their lives and hearts, their very lives are unshackled!
VOICE OF WOMAN: Bill, Bill, is that you?
VOICE OF YOUNG MAN: Yeah, it's me, Ma.
ANNOUNCER: Shining the light of the world into the gathering darkness, this is "Unshackled!" True life stories dramatized and produced in Chicago by Pacific Garden Mission.
JORDAN: Every Saturday afternoon, before a live audience, with the actors, the organist, the sound effects man, a new episode is recorded in the old-fashioned way.
(Actors reading from script at recording of "Unshackled!):
MOM: Carolyn, please come in here and shut the door.
CAROLYN: I want to listen to my music, mom.
MOM: This is important.
CAROLYN: (sighs) Okay.
MOM: You know you were such a special little baby.
JORDAN: Carolyn learns from her mother that she is adopted. She becomes rebellious.
CAROLYN: I started smoking in the seventh grade, drinking and using pot in the ninth, wanting desperately to feel loved.
JORDAN: Carolyn gets pregnant at 18. Her doctor's advice:
DOCTOR: Well, there's only one way to solve this problem now. You must have an abortion, the sooner the better.
MOM (knocking on door): Carolyn, are you all right?
CAROLYN: Oh I'm sick Mom.
MOM: Again? (Opening door) Oh, you've been sick so much. I'm worried about you. You're losing weight. What's wrong?
CAROLYN: Mom, I'm pregnant.
FLOSSIE MCNEILL (Story Coordinator, "Unshackled!"): This is her story. All of these pages contain the life story of an individual.
JORDAN: The stories come to Pacific Garden Mission directly from troubled individuals, their families or their friends. Flossie McNeill is the script coordinator.
Ms. MCNEILL: We want to know when did the sin that took you down -- when did you begin that and why. After we've checked their references, and people have written back and confirmed that this person is a believer and they've walked in the faith for a number of years, then I ask very detailed questions.
JORDAN: The information goes to a writer, who produces a 30-minute radio script.
ANNOUNCER: This is program number 2,947.
JORDAN: Carolyn's is a tale of remorse -- of promiscuity, alcohol and failed relationships.
CAROLYN: I was out with my girlfriends at a bar one Friday night when I met Rick. Oh, the attraction was mutual.
RICK: Do you believe in God? I sure do. But I don't have the right relationship with him, as you can tell.
CAROLYN: Well, me neither, but I believe he's real.
RICK: Oh, he's real all right…