“Uncle Al” Finds a Family
Al’s traumatic childhood left him alone and at war with the world — and himself. Love gave him a family.
Al never had a family to speak of. Both his parents were raging alcoholics, so Al was passed around 54 times as a child to various friends and family. Later his father and sister were brutally murdered. He grew up never knowing love, safety, or trust.
“I bottled it all up and retreated into myself,” says Al, 56. “I hated the whole world and everyone in it.” And he hated himself. He was an alcoholic and crack addict who went to bed each night with the muzzle of a loaded gun in his mouth, hoping to pull the trigger in his sleep. He took up skydiving, hoping the parachute wouldn’t open. He tried provoking police to shoot him. And he served three long prison terms for robberies and violent crimes. “I was hurting,” he says, “so I wanted to go out and hurt other people and society.”
But during his third term in prison, Al found Jesus. “That was the beginning,” he says. “I started praying, ‘God, if you lead me, I will follow.’” In 2003, God led him to Union Rescue Mission. Recovery was the hardest thing Al ever faced. “When I came to the Mission,” Al says, “I already self-destructed in every area of my life. And I had no clue how to put it back together.
“Most of the time I found myself grasping the edge of my bed, repeating, ‘This is where God wants you, don’t fight Him.’” Soon, Al found friendship with two men: his chaplain, Steve Borja, and his supervisor, Bob Forney. “Those were the first two men I ever trusted in my life.”
Over the next four years Al experienced love, trust, and safety he’d never known. It transformed his life. But when his friend Bob left Union Rescue Mission and moved to Oregon in 2007, Al faced another crisis: “He abandoned me, just like everyone else. I didn’t take that very good.”
But a few months later, Bob wrote Al a letter, saying, “I bought you a trailer. I want you to come up and live with me and my family.”
Al didn’t hesitate. Today he owns the only bike shop in Oregon City, near Portland, and he’s a leader in his church. He builds bikes and gives them to children in need. He leads a ministry that reaches out to men recently released from prison and he mentors men who are still incarcerated. But best of all, he’s part of a family he never had.
“Bob’s family adopted me,” Al says. “It’s not only Bob and his wife, I have dozens of nieces and nephews, and they all call me ‘Uncle Al.’ I never knew people could experience so much love.”
Love Saved My Father from a Hard Life
Al’s story in this issue of The Mission reminds me of my own dad when he was growing up. Life was cruel to my father.
Dad grew up in an alcoholic home filled with violence, chaos, desertion and homelessness. When he was nine, his mom deserted the family, and the Des Moines Register featured his story, describing a little boy praying by his bed for his mother to return home. Then he went away to Boy Scout camp one year, and when he returned home he learned that his entire family had left him.
What saved my dad was the love he received from a family that took him in … and later, the love of a wife who believed in that boy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the most effective way to combat homelessness and hopelessness is through love. That’s why we work so hard to build healthy relationships with men and Union Rescue Mission.
Love gives them the courage to give life another try.
Andy Bales, CEO