“I know the dark side. I’ve seen it and lived it — I know what evil is,” says “Pops,” a 68-year-old guest at Union Rescue Mission.
Pops grew up the son of a sadistic, alcoholic father who beat him almost daily. He still carries the scars from the whip his father used. By the time he was a teenager, Pops turned his hurt and rage into a string of armed robberies and car thefts. He ended up in prison at age 19, where he quickly earned a reputation as one of its meanest men.
After his release in 1968, he started smuggling drugs. After several ruthless gun battles with rival drug smugglers on the Mexican border, they dubbed him “El Diablo” — The Devil.
By 1983, Pops was one of the most influential drug dealers on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, where he dealt addiction, misery, and death for 26 years. Yet Pops’ own heroin and alcohol addiction slowly sapped the life out of him.
“By 2009,” he says, “I knew I was dying. My legs were black, I couldn’t walk, and I’d burned out every vein on my body from the needles. One night, God spoke to me and told me to go to Union Rescue Mission. I couldn’t fight anymore, so I did.”
For two months, Pops sat by a trash can vomiting and praying God would give him the grace to make it another day.
As his body healed, the love and grace he experienced at the Mission started to heal his soul. “One day, I went to my chaplain’s office and I started weeping and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve never experienced love before. But the love I experienced here saved my life,” Pops says.
“Colossians 1:13 says it all: ‘For God has rescued me from the dominion of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of the Son He loves.’”
Today, Pops’ only desire is to return to the streets where he used to deal death to get as many men, women, and children off those streets as possible. He’s already persuaded nine men and women to get help at the Mission.
“If anyone knows these streets, I do,” he says. “I’ve been in the worst areas with the meanest people. And I’ve seen the kids. When I see those kids now, I just start crying. I want to help them. And I believe that’s what God wants me to do.”
After a lifetime of dealing in darkness, Pops now lives in the light, where you’ll find him walking every day with tears of gratitude.
Our Winter of Discontent
After a lifetime of dealing in darkness, Pops now lives in the light, where you’ll find him walking every day with tears of gratitude. For more than five years, the numbers of people living outside on the streets of Skid Row were dropping. A couple of years ago, their number had dropped to 600 — which is still tragic, but far better than the thousands of people living on these streets 10 years ago. But this winter, the unthinkable has happened. Due to the economy, more people being let out of prison, more lost jobs and lost savings, and a decline in government services, the number of people living on the sidewalks and back alleys on Skid Row has more than doubled to nearly 1,700.
This winter they face bone-chilling rain and cold, nights without sleep, weather related sicknesses, and some will even die. We must take action.
Thanks to your support, Union Rescue Mission offers an additional 140 beds to hurting men and women every cold, rainy night — and we use that opportunity to invite every one of them to come in out of the rain and change their lives permanently. Our love, care, and humanity for hurting people demands it. I wish we could do more. But thanks to you, we’re doing what we can.
Rev. Andy Bales
Have You Created Your 120 Fund Yet?
I hope you will join us as we celebrate our 120th birthday — and 120 years of bringing compassion, love, and hope to people on the streets of Los Angeles.
None of this work would have been possible without the support of friends like you. YOU are the Mission. That’s why we hope you will go to urm.org/120 and create your own personal fundraising page.
Your birthday gift will help feed, shelter, and restore precious souls experiencing homelessness. Thank you.