This week was an especially encouraging week despite all of the challenges. In our Tuesday morning chapel, we heard the stories of 5 men who are graduating from our intense, 1 year training program here at Union Rescue Mission. These were 5 men with 5 powerful stories of transformation. All of the stories were amazing, but I will only share two:
Antonio shared the struggle of having a son who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, at only a few months old! On shaky ground already, Antonio dealt with the pain by falling deeper into drug and alcohol abuse until he lost everything, including almost losing his family. But his wife directed him to the Christian Life Discipleship Program here at Union Rescue Mission. For the first time, Antonio read the Bible and experienced a change in his heart through accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior. After completing the program, Antonio shared that he now has his family, his sobriety, and a job! He has committed to living a pure life, so that his son, now 6 years old, will be able to accept a healthy lung transplant from Antonio when his son reaches age 18. Antonio has important reasons to stay alive and to live a healthy life. We were all brought to tears by his story and his commitment to save the life of his son.
Irvin then began to share his journey. He kidded that he started a camping trip in the year 2000 and it didn’t end until 2007. “Nobody goes camping for 7 years!” he said. Then Irvin got serious. He shared how he had run from God and for 7 years he was trapped by a cocaine addiction on San Julian, the mean street just behind our Mission. He said that one day, he was lying out there on the sidewalk, starving to death, thirsty in the heat, and he decided to come into the Mission. Irvin said that he came in with a commitment for 3 months only, but after arriving decided to give his whole self and heart to God. Irvin has now completed a year, works all over the Mission with our Maintenance department, and is looking forward to coming on staff at Union Rescue Mission. When Irvin mentioned that he was starving to death on the street behind the Mission in 2007, I suddenly saw the face and body of a man who I had handed a cold bottle of water to late last year. I remembered Irvin in red gym shorts, unable to stand up, a wisp of a man, ribs showing. I remembered calling my friend, Sergeant Deon Joseph of the LAPD, and telling him that a man was dying on the street on San Julian. After chapel, I asked Irvin if he remembered a big, strong, African American police officer coming to his aid on the streets. Irvin said, “Yes, he gave me your card and told me to get off the street and into URM’s program, but I wasn’t ready quite yet.” But Irvin didn’t forget. He came in and experienced a complete life change, when most experts and the world would have said it was too late. That shriveled up, dying man, lost in addiction is now a strong, hard working, friendly ambassador of life changing power.
I had a renewed strength and passion to go out onto the streets this week with cold water. Last night, as I joined a monthly neighborhood walk with several dignitaries, a young man approached me and said he needed help. He said he had been homeless in Portland for 10 years and had just arrived in town. I shared with him about our programs and opportunities at URM. I thought about waiting until after the walk to take him back to the Mission, but I looked at him and said, “I think you have done enough walking.” As we left the dignitaries and the walk behind, he was startled by the violence, behavior and smell of Skid Row. We only walked one block back to the Mission, but this young man asked me, “You walked all the way out here alone?” We walked into the Mission and were quickly met by staff members who are former program graduates. They welcomed Ray and after a tour of URM, he joined our program. What a joy it is to work at the Mission and get to be a part of bringing life changing hope to people who are struggling. Andy B.