What a weekend at Union Rescue Mission! Yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, we graduated one of our largest classes ever from our intense, year-long Christian Life Discipleship Program for men. 25 formerly homeless men proudly wore cap and gown and, in front of their very proud families and friends, celebrated their accomplishment of making it through this rigorous program that should help them greatly as they move from homelessness to success, purpose and a hopeful life. I told them their hard work at the Mission this year helped make it possible to move our moms and children to the safety and hope of Hope Gardens Family Center. As I considered their success, I thought of how their efforts have made it possible for children all over Los Angeles to avoid a future of homelessness and poverty completely. I told them how early Saturday morning I rolled out to Hope Gardens Family Center to connect with the moms and children and set up for a wedding we held for a co-worker, and former graduate of CLDP, Jeremiah, and his bride to be, Patricia. It was a beautiful day.
As I pulled into Hope Gardens, I saw a new little boy, happy and smiling, his blonde hair shining in the sun as he sped by on a borrowed bicycle. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Peter* and then he proceeded to tell me all about the world as we know it. He is an extremely bright 9 year old little guy and he and his mother are originally from Russia. I learned that he and the other 7 older children (ages 7-10) had been borrowing bicycles from the children of a Union Rescue Mission staff member, Scott Johnson, but, although it is a fun place to ride a bike, the bicycles were in short supply and causing some lines and friction. Seeing this, Scott and I invited Peter to come and be the expert in children and bicycles, and we took off to Wal-Mart. Peter rode in my car and I learned that this little boy from Russia likes listening to rap music (I deftly changed the channel to a mellow station while he was distracted). We had a great time getting acquainted – this little fellow knows much about a lot of things, including music, bicycles, cars, nature, and the world. Well, when we arrived at Wal-Mart, Peter proved to know his bikes, even where they were in the store! We picked out seven different bikes for each older child and one little bike with training wheels for one young lady around 4 years old. I wish you could have seen the faces of these youngsters and sensed the joy that I had in my heart as I realized that these little ones have a real shot at growing up healthy and whole and avoiding the struggles with homelessness and poverty that their moms and they have faced up to this point in their lives.
My heart was especially touched by one little girl, Margerie*. She is 9 and a beautiful little Latina girl. We bought her a sparkly purple bike made just for a precious girl like her. I learned that she and her mom and little brother had previously lived in an emergency shelter, and, just before that, lived in a box on Skid Row, where they saw a man murdered one night right in front of their eyes. What a delight to see her now dashing around the campus of Hope Gardens Family Center on her new bike! Thanks to all who have made this possible!
Rev. Andy B.
*names and photos changed to protect guest confidentiality