I wanted nothing to with God or the church. After my mother died when I was 16, and my older siblings basically abandoned me, I turned my back on God and left His family behind.
But I found a new family — my Crip gang. And I reinvented a whole new life. I changed my name to J-Loc and started selling drugs, stealing high-end sports cars, and living the fast life. I was so broken inside, I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I’d drive 160 MPH through traffic, do wheelies on a motorcycle at 55 MPH, or lead cops on highspeed chases. Anything that could kill me, I loved.
I earned quite a name for myself on the streets. But by 2001, I was no longer the big gangster. I was just another crackhead who’d steal a car for some dope. That’s when a friend of mine brought me to Union Rescue Mission.
I was still mad at God, but I heard a preacher say I never gave God a real chance and I’d never given myself the opportunity to live. He was right. I decided then and there to give God His one chance.
So I threw J-Loc in the trash can and focused on Jesus. I learned about addiction and what it had done to me, and I faced my deepest pain — the pain I felt when I thought I’d been abandoned by my mother, my siblings, and by God. The hurt I felt at never feeling worthy of love. And slowly I realized I was actually worth a lot — I was worth God’s sacrifice of His only Son.
As I worked on my issues, I changed. I started visiting churches and sharing my testimony. I started a singing group, the Brothers in Christ, and we visited churches all over Southern California. In the process, I fell in love — not only with God, but with His church and also the people of Skid Row.
When Union Rescue Mission asked me to become its Church Relations Director, I thought, Well, I’ve been hustling for myself all my life. I might as well hustle for the Lord and folks on Skid Row.Like me, the people on Skid Row need to learn how much they’re worth and how much they’re loved.
They’re priceless. And that’s what churches all over Los Angeles can give them. So that’s what I invite them to do — to come down and show them how much they’re worth.
Because we’re all worth a lot . . . God’s only Son.
Making a Difference in a Mad Max World
The 50-block area of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row is really a Mad Max world, fueled by drugs, and ruled by gangsters and predators. And anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 men and women call those streets home.
It’s tragic what people on these streets endure, even what they adapt to — almost all due to drugs. There’s the brutal cold in winter and the savage heat in summer. Giant rats prowl fearlessly through the dirt and garbage. Men endure beatings by local loan sharks and thugs. Women are regularly sexually assaulted and raped. People who die can lie there for hours or days in a pile of trash before anyone notices.
One of the things that breaks my heart is that many of the men and women who live here think no one cares. And I know a lot of people in Los Angeles who really don’t care. But I love these people with all my heart and I know a lot of other compassionate people do, too. And the hurting people on these streets need our help. Skid Row sure isn’t going anywhere unless we do something.
Fortunately, organizations like Union Rescue Mission are already doing something — and what they’re doing absolutely matters. But Skid Row needs more.
It needs caring people like you and me, it needs people of faith to reach out in love, it needs people to lose their indifference and open their hearts and wallets. It needs people willing to work alongside the professionals like URM to make a real difference, to show the people here that someone does care. Until that happens, Skid Row will never change.
It’s hard and often messy — and easy to give up hope. But personally, that’s where my faith kicks in. Jesus Christ never gave up on anyone, including the people of Skid Row. If He won’t give up, then neither can I.
And right now, He needs people like you and me right here in the trenches of these streets. Change is possible. I’ve seen it happen. And when you see one life change down here, it’s like hitting the lottery. It’s euphoric.
Together we can do it!
Love & Mercy in a Hell on Earth
I’ll never forget the man who described Skid Row as “hell on earth.” Drugs . . .prostitution . . . rape . . . death . . . despair. He was right. Skid Row is a violent, soul-destroying place.
That’s why I often walk these streets and invite hurting folks to come into Union Rescue Mission for a bed, a nutritious meal, a night of safety — and most important, the chance to rebuild their lives.
URM isn’t just a shelter offering beds and meals. Yes, we do provide emergency shelter and meals to more than 550 men, women, and children every night. But shelter and meals alone are not the solution to homelessness.
When hurting me and women walk through our doors, they have the chance to enter into a long-term program that can — and does — transform their lives. Every year, men and women get the real help they need to rejoin society as whole, healthy, precious individuals.
But it’s more than a program. What folks find here is love. From the volunteers to the chaplains to our own staff — our halls are filled with love. And that love changes lives.
Sharing God’s love and mercy with hurting men, women, and children. That’s what your gifts and support truly provide.
Rev. Andy Bales