Pops is a 70-year-old former heroin addict, bank robber, and drug dealer. He was once considered so dangerous and mean, the gangs along the U.S. border with Mexico nicknamed him “El Diablo” — The Devil. For 30 years, he also dealt drugs and death on the streets of Los Angeles. But he came to Union Rescue Mission in 2009, a decision that transformed his life. We originally published his story in February 2012. But that was just the beginning of his remarkable new life . . .
It’s a beautiful day in MacArthur Park and Pops is enjoying a stroll through the area. After kicking a 50-year heroin addiction at Union Rescue Mission in 2009, he’s determined to enjoy every moment of his new life.
Suddenly he overhears two youths talking about drugs. “You boys addicts, huh?” Pops says. “What of it?” they reply. Pops shows them his heavily scarred arms . . .
. . . and tells them about his miserable, life-long addiction and how fortunate he was to survive it. He encourages them to get help now, before it’s too late. It’s the kind of opportunity Pops lives for now.
Dealing Death, Ministering Life
After leaving Union Rescue Mission in March 2012, Pops moved into a complex for seniors near the park, which is a notorious area for drugs and gangs. “I used to do my gangster thing in this park,” he says. “I used to fight the gangs over drugs right here. So I was scared to move back. But now I believe God brought me back to minister to these guys. I’m counseling three boys right now, two of them just 19 years old. I also helped one of the local gang leaders get off heroin.”
And when he isn’t reaching out to addicts in MacArthur Park, you can find him back at Union Rescue Mission almost every day, counseling guys there. He’s so grateful for what God and URM did for him, he wants to give back. “I can help anyone struggling with drugs. But I don’t want to just get them off drugs, I want to lead them to the Lord,” he says.
But this year, Pops had another mission far more daunting than reaching addicts: reconnecting with the family he abandoned in 1981, when he moved to Los Angeles to ply his destructive drug trade here.
“I met my wife in 1968,” he recalls. “She had joy. She sparkled and laughed easily. She was everything I wanted in a woman. I adopted her two sons and we had two daughters of our own together. But I couldn’t stay clean.”
Twelve years later, he took a shot of heroin, said goodbye to his wife and kids, and left. Over the next 30 years, he never saw or spoke to them again.
“I thought about my wife and kids every night and wept,” he says. “I prayed to God to get me out of the hole I was in, but I was just totally lost.”
After Union Rescue Mission helped Pops get his life together again, Pops started looking for his family. At the same time, a granddaughter he didn’t even know he had found him on Facebook last August. Within weeks, a URM donor bought him a round-trip flight to Tucson to visit his wife and kids.
“I’m not scared of much, but I was scared of that visit,” Pops says. “I wasn’t sure how they’d react. But when we met in the airport, I broke down weeping, then they started crying, and we were hugging on each other. I tried to apologize for the last 30 years, but my son said, ‘That’s yesterday. This is today. Now we have a brand-new future to walk through together.’”
A Love Reborn
Pops spent the next month getting reacquainted with his ex-wife and kids. They laughed and cried and shared old stories. Pops told them all about how God and URM had saved his life, and about the ministry he’s now involved in back at the Mission. “I was filled with the Spirit of God,” Pops says. “My wife just kept watching and watching me, amazed at how much I’d changed.”
One day his wife said, “Honey, I love you. But I know where your heart’s at, back at Union Rescue Mission. I’m not going to keep you from the will of God. If you need to go back, I want you to go.”
Pops knew she was right. It was hard to leave, but he returned to Los Angeles, URM, and all the guys he wants to help escape drugs and misery.
“I was a dead man when I came to URM in 2009. But today, I am a new creation in Christ,” he says. “For me, it’s all about Easter — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every night, I meditate on the blood of Christ flowing through my body, healing me. I’ve been through death. Now I’m seated in heavenly places, far above the principalities and powers.”
Thousands of people struggling with addictions and homelessness in Los Angeles this Easter season feel confused, helpless, and even hopeless. But there IS hope! When Jesus rose again on that first Easter morning — He gave the hope of new life and a new start to hurting men, women, and children.
When men, women, and children experiencing homelessness come to Union Rescue Mission, they experience that hope for themselves and receive the real, tangible help they need to rebuild their lives. That’s what your gifts really mean to hurting people at Union Rescue Mission — thank you!
Your gift will provide hot meals — and new life — this Easter!
Your generous gift of $25, $35, or more today will help provide hurting men, women, and children with hot meals, safe shelter, long-term help — and hope for new life this Easter season.
So, please send the most generous gift you can today. Thank you!
To put your gift to work even faster, go to urm.org/Easter2014
I remember when Pops first came to Union Rescue Mission in 2009. He was an ornery, wild-eyed, quick-tempered man with a face that spelled trouble. I could easily see how he’d earned the nickname “El Diablo.” Looking back, I think Pops was an even more devilish version of the murderous, drug-dealing Walter White character in Breaking Bad.
But over the next two years, I watched Pops literally transform right in front of me. The hard exterior and wild eyes disappeared. A kind of soft, calm tenderness emerged. Tears of gratitude often filled his eyes. And today, I see Pops here at the Mission almost every day, ministering to other guys trying to escape drugs.
No, Pops’ story isn’t Breaking Bad. It’s Breaking Good.
We see lives like Pops’ change every day here at Union Rescue Mission. But how does it happen?
It’s simple. Easter — when the Son of God rose again three days after dying on a cross, conquering sin and death forever. And today, He’s our risen Savior who promised to live in us and transform our lives. And that’s the transformation we witness every day in the lives of struggling men, women, and children seeking our help.
Union Rescue Mission does more than feed and shelter people experiencing homelessness. We don’t just put a new suit on a man like Pops. We put a new man in the suit. Because of Jesus, folks here experience complete healing — body, soul, and spirit. That kind of transformation simply isn’t possible apart from Easter.
So this Easter, I thank the Lord again for the incredible privilege of watching these kinds of transformation stories. To witness people made brand new. To celebrate them Breaking Good.