Update – Kidney Transplant

I reported in my last blog regarding my upcoming kidney transplant surgery.  My wife, Bonnie, has decided to donate her kidney to me.  If that is not humbling enough, the transplant procedure will now happen on January 30th, my wife Bonnie’s birthday.   I’ve tried to convince her I’m fine on dialysis and continuing to work, as I’m doing now. I’ve even tried to get in some hot water by spending too much at the Bass Pro Shop, but my wife seems very determined to make this huge sacrifice of love.

I’ll be out of the office, beginning January 30th, for approximately three weeks.  In my absence two of our Senior Leaders, Linda Wood, and Steve Borja, will take turns as Acting Directors.  If you, as a contributor to the amazing work of Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens Family Center, wonder at all about what you could do for my family and I during this life changing event, please know that besides praying for us, the absolute best thing you could do for my health and well-being, would be to financially support URM during the time that I am out of the office.

We met with the team of surgeons this week and I negotiated permission to begin light work; phone calls, conference calls, and writing personal thank you notes on receipts, shortly after surgery.  I’ll be returning to the office for limited duties after three weeks away.   This will be difficult for me, as I love the work that I am privileged to do at Union Rescue Mission, and I look forward everyday to coming to Union Rescue Mission to witness the Life Transformation that takes place here each day.

Thank you, for all of your amazing support!  If you want to keep up with our adventures, follow me at twitter.com/abales.

God bless you!

How Do You Say Thanks for Too Big a Gift?

Just before Christmas I heard an outstanding message by Pastor Chuck Swindoll on our local Christian radio station, KKLA 99.5 FM. He was discussing the definition of gift, with baby Jesus in mind. He started with the Merriam-Webster definition of gift; something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation. I felt this was an excellent definition. A gift is given without any expectation of compensation or anything in return. In the case of the gift of baby Jesus, Chuck went on to say that sometimes we receive extraordinary gifts that dwarf anything we could give or do in return and gifts that make a simple thank you seem like not quite enough.

This is how I feel about the many generous contributors to Union Rescue Mission. You
overwhelmingly responded with year-end gifts and helped us reach a daunting $4.5 Million goal! We had to reach this goal in order to move ahead with launching a much needed jobs program for our graduate men and women, and moving ahead with our plans to relocate 12 moms and up to 30 precious children from the dangerous streets of Skid Row to the safety and peace of Hope Gardens. There was absolutely no way we could do this without your extraordinary gifts. We were completely powerless on our own. Your extraordinary gifts dwarf anything we could do or say to properly say thank you, but all we can do is say Thank You, from the bottom of our hearts! We can also express our thanks by helping URM move ahead with our good plans to bless our graduates and our moms and children.

In Acts 20:35, Paul says that Jesus taught, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. I would agree with that completely. I’d add, “It is much easier to give than to receive”. It is easier to be on the giving end and it is more difficult and humbling to be on the receiving end, especially when the gift is extraordinary and overwhelms anything you could do to return the favor.

With all of the practice I’ve had with 34 years of ministry and 34 years of depending on the gifts of others you’d think that I would have developed a certain level of humility and become an expert on saying “Thanks”. However, when the gift is too big, like the gift of baby Jesus, or too big, like gifts of a much needed $4.5 Million, my words of thanks do not seem like enough.

I’m getting ready and struggling with accepting and saying “thanks” to yet another too big of a gift. My wife, Bonnie, is getting ready to donate her kidney to me and give me the gift of a longer life. I get tears in my eyes even writing this. It’s a humbling gift, and causes me to crumble. It’s so big and such a sacrifice that I’ve tried every way that I can to talk her out of doing it – to no avail. I’ve told her that I don’t mind the 12 hours a week of dialysis, that I feel fine, and that I appreciate the extra time I have during dialysis to write personal thank you notes to our URM contributors. I thought I had her on the ropes and ready to say no in front of the surgeon when we were discussing potential complications, but then the surgeon said to me, in front of her, “As a type 1 diabetic, you only have a 50% chance of lasting only five years on dialysis. That sealed the deal.  We find out Friday, January 4th, the January date of the transplant surgery.

Please keep us in your prayers. Pray for the protection of my wife, Bonnie, as she shares this too big of a gift with me. Pray for me, that I will somehow know how to humbly accept this too big of a gift, and live up to being the man that she must think I am. Sometimes, it seems, thanks is not enough.

Thank you!

Rev. Andy Bales, CEO

Giving 105 Percent

I spoke to a church yesterday about our work here at Union Rescue Mission and I have to admit just how thankful I order generic viagra was to be alive and representing URM and Hope Gardens.  After a year in which I had a heart attack, a quadruple bypass surgery, and kidney failure, I am thankful to be strong enough to continue in my job as CEO and to energetically get up and speak about our involvement in transforming the lives of our precious guests.

This may sound odd, but when I was battling for my life for several months, especially the entire month of July, my wife will attest to the fact that what I was most concerned about was not my life, but being able to return to this work and the people that I love so much.  I know it does not make sense.  You can’t return to work if you’re not alive and well!

However, this work and these precious people are what drove me to persevere, listen to doctors, follow a strict diet, work through cardiac rehab, step into dialysis, all in an effort to gain the strength to carry on in this ministry.

In this Christmas season, I am most thankful for the strength to carry on.  I am so thankful it is difficult to put into words.  Thank you for all of your prayers and support!

I am definitely strong, however, I am concerned as well about having enough resources to carry on in this ministry.  Our URM Board of Directors has mandated that we raise 105% of the budgeted revenues by January 1st, in order to open a newly renovated 16 unit building at Hope Gardens and before hiring a jobs assessor and a job developer to serve URM graduates.  The board of directors wants to be certain that we can sustain this ministry. The 16 unit building will serve at least 12 more moms with 30 precious children, rescuing them from homelessness and Skid Row.  The jobs assessor and developer will pave the way for our graduates to escape homelessness in the best way I know, a life transformed followed by a job, and then a home.

In order to reach 105% of our revenues by January 1st, 2013, we need to raise $4.5 Million in December.  That may seem impossible, however, in December of 2005, we raised nearly $5 Million!  We need not only some miraculous large gifts, but we need many of our friends to give what they can, and it will all add up to enough and will change lives!  Please, in this Christmas season, consider giving all you can to transform the lives of our women, children, and graduates.  Your gift could make all of the difference in the world for someone.

Thank you,

Your co-worker in Christ,

Rev. Andy Bales, CEO

He Has Written You On His Hands

I recently received a call from the leader of another Mission.  He was enduring a difficult time in leadership much like one I experienced not too long ago.  It has really shaken him up, and I understand his pain. Not long after that call I received another call from a loved one who just didn’t know how he could carry on in this life.  He’d attempted suicide twice in the last few weeks and was focused on ending his life.

It is difficult to know just what to say to someone who is so discouraged, especially when you are facing lots of challenges yourself.  However, I was really helped by the daily devotional that I send out to my team every day.  It is called Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, and some times it hits me right between the eyes! The scripture and lesson that helped me know what to say to these two gentlemen, and to myself, came from Isaiah 49:16.  I shared it with both of these men and I also shared it with about 300 people experiencing homelessness when I preached in Union Rescue Mission’s back parking lot last Sunday for the Love LA Service.

“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”

-Isaiah 49:16

“I have graven thee.”It does not say, “Thy name.” The name is there, but that is not all: “I have graven thee.” See the fulness of this! I have graven thy person, thine image, thy case, thy circumstances, thy sins, thy temptations, thy weaknesses, thy wants, thy works; I have graven thee, everything about thee, all that concerns thee; I have put thee altogether there. Wilt thou ever say again that thy God hath forsaken thee when He has graven thee upon His own palms?

-Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening.

If you believe God has forsaken or abandoned you, don’t be mistaken.  Not only has he not forsaken or forgotten you, but he has written you on the palm of His hands!  Wow, how encouraging is that?  What a picture that is of Jesus Christ, even from the Old Testament, in that when He took those nails into his hands on the Cross, He wrote us into his hands, all our pains, all of our sins, and all that we are, into His hands.  I hope this will encourage you as much as it has me.

Bless you,

Rev. Andy Bales, CEO

We Still Need Shelters

As you may know, I’ve been speaking up for Rescue Missions and shelters, while much of the country has been discrediting our work.  In some recent blogs I have said:

“Resources are moving and moving quickly, away from shelters and transitional housing beds, towards housing first initiatives, which is believed to be the new way to end homelessness.  See my earlier blogs for notes on this.  As the resources move, shelters, transitional housing, and the beds therein are being removed from the scene, and the number of precious people on the streets, in tents, and in cars continues to increase.  However as the next count rolls out, the easier more accurate part of the count-those in shelter and transitional housing beds-will have dwindled, and the more difficult, nearly impossible part of the count, going out on the streets looking for people, will continue to be difficult, and it will appear, or be made to appear, that homelessness has decreased, when in fact, homelessness has increased”. Continue reading »

Trutanich Fighting the Good Fight on Skid Row

One week ago, I sent the below article to the LA Times in hopes they would publish it.  Unfortunately they declined.  However, I hope you will take the time to read this article and stay informed on the situation of Skid Row.

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich has a strong record of supporting solutions to Skid Row’s problems so it was disappointing to read a recent Los Angeles Times editorial that implied otherwise.

Trutanich first distinguished himself through an innovative lawsuit to protect the many Skid Row residents trying to stay drug-free. From lessons he personally learned during his monthly Skid Row walks, Trutanich filed a pioneering injunction in 2010 against 80 persons known to sell drugs to people experiencing homelessness. This injunction bars these 80 predators (and other individuals as they are identified) from setting foot on Skid Row. The injunction was crafted after Trutanich consulted with social service providers who know that easy access to drugs is a curse for Skid Row residents fighting addiction, mental illness and drug abuse.

Continue reading »

Bouncing Back

I am no Job from Bible fame, but I’ve recently gone through some difficult times and learned a couple of valuable lessons I would like to share with our URM friends.  The last 40 days of our fiscal year which ended June 30th were both challenging and exciting.  We were at risk of not meeting our budget which meant many of the plans we had in place for the summer and fall would be postponed or even canceled.  I spent many sleepless nights praying, our team spent time praying, we shared our needs with our faithful friends and supporters and ultimately raised a record $5.8 Million.  There was much to celebrate.  Then on June 29th, I experienced a heart attack.  I spent the next few days in the hospital as the doctors determined the extent of the damage and for the first time since coming to Union Rescue Mission, I was unable to attend the ceremony celebrating the most recent graduates of or Men’s Life Transformation Program that took place on July 1st.

On July 5th I had a quadruple bypass surgery.  My heart had failed, and I had filled up with 32 lbs of fluid, mostly in my lungs.  So, when they wheeled me into surgery, and I said good-bye to my family, I truly believed I would not see them again on this earth.  I even texted a good-bye/thank you note to my wife, because I couldn’t speak it or I would have crumbled.  She did the same.  I was in tough shape!

I was pleasantly surprised to wake up from the six hour surgery!  I was so surprised that I tried to rip the ventilator out of my mouth and four people had to restrain me.  I went home within a week, my wife taking time off to care for me, and I was back at URM in 16 days, half-time at least, and I’ve bounced back so far that I am now working full-time and setting some records on the cardiac rehab machines three times a week.  I can’t help myself, I try to set a new record each morning!

I’ve also been studying the book of Job, one of my favorite sections of Scripture, and though I don’t understand our suffering on this earth, or specifically my own struggles, I’ve realized that suffering brings about such a dependence and turning to the Lord that causes character to be built in me that would not come about without that suffering, so in the end, I am thankful for even the toughest, deepest, darkest struggles.  Hopefully I am a better man, Dad, husband, friend, Grandpa, and CEO because of it.

I’ve also learned what Job’s friends should have done, rather than lecture or blame him.  As I returned to work at Union Rescue Mission, some of my co-workers walked in my office, told me it was good to see me, and gave me a hug.  As I walk through the halls, guests of URM, perhaps going through the most difficult time in their lives, experiencing homelessness, greet me and tell me how good it is to see me.  The same happens as I go out on the streets and hand out bottles of cold water.  People that I don’t even know or recognize, struggling on the streets, stop me, and hug me, and tell me how good it is to see me alive and well.  That has caused an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and joy within my soul.  That is what Job’s friends should have done-simply told him how good it was to see him, and given him a hug.  I hope that you’ll remember that the next time a friend is suffering.

Thank you, for all of the prayers.

Rev. Andy Bales

Through My Father’s Eyes – From Depression to Recession

During my dear father’s last days on the earth, he shared the most painful period of his life – his difficult days as a child experiencing homelessness in Southern California during the Great Depression.

Tears welled in his eyes as he described holding onto his father’s neck so tight that he choked him as his family jumped on the moving freight car of a train. It was terrifying! He told me of the embarrassment of living in tents, sheds, even a garage in Compton.  The mere fact of knowing he was homeless, an outcast, as he attended school, was a blow to his self-esteem and overwhelming to my Daddy, Carl Lee Bales.

I see their faces every day. Children, just like my father, overwhelmed with homelessness, walking into URM with their devastated parents. Real unemployment at nearly 25%, a housing crisis, and a flawed approach to solving the crisis of homelessness has left 20,000 precious kids experiencing  homelessness in Southern California – and the numbers of children, families, and individuals continues to increase.

This is not the 1930’s Great Depression, this is the Great Recession of 2007 and beyond.

On Skid Row in LA, someone’s precious son digs through garbage cans for recyclables during the night and sleeps only sparingly during the day in order to be safe. Somebody’s precious daughter pairs up with someone, even an ex-convict, in a tent on the filthy sidewalk, to avoid being prey to any other vicious predator on the streets.

It is a terrifying, overwhelming scene happening each day and night for my friends experiencing homelessness. Because of my Dad, I know the impact this is having on their souls. We need to continue working to make their plight known, until we’ve ended homelessness as we know it on the streets of Skid Row.

Rev. Andy Bales

Keep Hope Alive

Dear Friends,

It’s been two years since we alerted you and our many contributors that Hope Gardens Family Center was in jeopardy of closing. In response to our plea, more than 5000 friends responded with financial gifts to keep it open and thriving. It didn’t matter what size the gift was, what made the difference was the number of caring people who responded generously. We raised $3.8 Million in 37 days and kept Hope alive. Thank you!

We are in a similar position today.  We need to receive an outpouring of generous gifts from as many of our faithful friends as possible.  Here’s why:

  • We plan on moving 12 more moms and their children to the safety of Hope Gardens, bringing Hope Gardens to capacity.
  • We plan on strengthening our downtown recovery program for women, making it on par with our excellent men’s recovery program.
  • We plan on strengthening our job readiness program to the point where we can place our program graduates into careers that will absolutely end their homelessness.
  • We plan on bringing some much needed relief and encouragement to our hard working staff.

The first step towards accomplishing all this and much more, is to finish this fiscal year strong by hitting our budgeted income goal.  To ensure our success, we need to raise $4.8 Million between now and June 30th.  If we do not, our plans for the coming year will be put on hold. I can’t begin to express how devastating it would be to our team and to me personally if we do not raise these funds by June 30th.

For the last 3 years our dedicated staff has worked hard, sacrificed, and welcomed our guests with love.  They’ve taken two 5% pay cuts, accepted increased work loads and had their wages frozen.  And as disappointing as it would be to postpone the plans we have to improve our programs, what’s even more troubling to me, actually, heart-wrenching, is the thought that we will not be able to carryout our plans to restore a small portion of the benefits our dedicated team has given up for the sake of those we serve.

We simply must hit our budget goal for FY2012 by June 30th!

There are some who’d like to see Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens fade into the sunset and disappear. They don’t believe in recovery or life transformation.  However, the 2700 guests who count on us each day for a good meal, and our 700 resident guests who are diligently involved in recovering their lives in our transformation programs believe strongly in the life saving work of Union Rescue Mission.  I know that you do as well.  Thank you!

I too believe strongly in the work of Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens.  I’ve poured my life into it! As you know, I’ve stayed on, battling kidney failure, in hopes of helping URM & Hope Gardens move into the future in a strong position. It would be tough on me to not see us succeed.

As you consider giving an extra gift at this time,  please consider the powerful life-transforming work of Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens, remember our miracle from 2 years ago that kept Hope Gardens going strong in the midst of the Great Recession, and give what you can to help URM and Hope Gardens move into 2012-2013 with great strength.

The size of the gift you send is not as important as simply responding.  Your generous gift, joined with others will Keep Hope Alive in the hearts of our dedicated staff and make a huge impact in the lives of our precious guests.

Your co-worker in Christ,

Andy Bales

Ps. Your generous giving makes life transformation possible for the men, women and precious children living at Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens Family Center.  Thank you!

To make your gift on-line go to urm.org/KeepHopeAlive

Why I’ll Be Weary of the Next Homeless Count

There have been some interesting statements put out by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Los Angeles Services Authority, and others, that homelessness throughout the nation is down—- by 1%.  Please do not believe everything you read or hear concerning this.  At our ground level on the streets of Skid Row, and in talking to people on the ground around the country, this is not the case.  Even as these reports have come out, 55 new tent cities have sprung up around our country.  In Camden, New Jersey alone, a challenging place to live even if you are housed, four brand new tent cities have sprung up.

Homelessness has gone off the charts – nearly out of control – as many Americans have found it hard to keep a place of their own.  I recently read of a church in Arroyo Grande, California, opening up their parking lot so that people living in cars could have a place to rest for the night, and the church is asking for partner churches around their area to join them.  People are living in tents, cars, and doubling and tripling up with friends and family.  Thousands of school children in LA and around the country are battling homelessness while the Federal Government, local governments, and foundations have decided to focus only on the chronically homeless and veterans, while leaving many, literally, out in the cold.

However, when the next homeless count comes out again, I expect the numbers to be down, and here is why:

The most simple part of this count (and this count can really only be described as an attempt at an educated guess) has always been a pretty accurate count of how many people are living in shelters and transitional housing.  That number has been steady, pretty accurate, and with the help of shelter leaders and staff has been a reliable number.  This number is much easier to track than the hidden people who are homeless in their tents, in the woods, in cars, or even the uncounted who are doubling and tripling up.  However, this easier to track number is going away.

Resources are moving and moving quickly, away from shelters and transitional housing beds, towards housing first initiatives, which is believed to be the new way to end homelessness.  See my earlier blogs for notes on this.  As the resources move, shelters, transitional housing, and the beds therein are being removed from the scene, and the numbers of precious people on the streets, in tents, and in cars continues to increase, however as the next count rolls out, the easier more accurate part of the count-those in shelter and transitional housing beds-will have dwindled, and the more difficult, nearly impossible part of the count, going out on the streets looking for people, will continue to be difficult, and it will appear, or be made to appear, that homelessness has decreased, when in fact, homelessness has increased.

Whether this future inaccuracy in counts will be determined by an ideology that is bent against shelter, transitional housing, recovery or even if it is done with the best of intentions, I want to assure you now, that I will wearily watch the results of the next count of people experiencing homelessness, and I will compare that to what I see and experience with my own eyes, and I’d advise you to do the same.