Thursday, August 23, 2007 4:26 PM

Heartbreak and Hope

By Rev. Andy Bales, President, Union Rescue Mission and American SiCKO

LOS ANGELES -- I usually do not struggle with a theme to blog about, but this week each time I tried to prepare and write, my heart hurt a bit too much to get it out. Even as I was interviewed by the LA Times writer, I couldn’t get out the word ‘involving’ as tears came to my eyes when I said, “We are used to tragedies, but not … babies.”

The thought of a two-month-old baby dying overnight at Union Rescue Mission was too much for me to bear, but that is the news I received over the phone on the day we were getting ready to celebrate my son’s wedding out of state. I hope I held up well during what should have been a happy day in my family and the happiest day in my son’s life, but I have to admit I was extremely broken-hearted for the precious baby, her mom, and for all involved.

All of the details are not in, but what we do know is that our staff -- concerned for the baby’s health and safety -- called the Child Abuse hotline Tuesday morning and the Department of Children and Family Services showed up on Wednesday to connect with the mom and child but could not find her. So, DCFS came back on Thursday and connected with mom and baby, but did not decide to take the baby into protective foster care. Early Friday morning, the young mom dressed her baby, as if she was still alive, and tried to leave the building quietly in the early morning hours. Our staff was alerted and stopped the mom at the door.

Meanwhile, a Department of Children and Family Services staff member was in our elevator on her way to see mom with an order to take the baby into custody and the police had been called, but it was too late to save baby Jasmine’s life or prevent tragedy from striking this young mom and Union Rescue Mission.

Last Saturday at 6:00 a.m., I awakened to a phone call from a concerned lady from Tennessee –Jasmine’s aunt – and I then realized the story had broken into the news. I tried to quickly wake myself up and console the sister, after which, I came down to work to await the throng of media that might show up at the Mission. Jasmine’s aunt sent pictures of the young lady during a happier time in her life, showing a young beautiful mom who had been a successful Atlanta businesswoman before struggling with bipolar disease, leaving home for the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, but only to find the mean streets of Skid Row - my heart was even more broken for this family.

I went out and searched the streets for the young mom, now childless and apparently wandering the mean streets yet again, as I hoped to connect her with her family, someone who could help her through this horrible circumstance, but I could not find her.

Some want to blame the social worker, some want to blame DCFS, while others want to cast all of the blame and responsibility on the young mom. We at Union Rescue Mission have decided to mourn for the precious baby, weep for the young mom, pray for those who are dealing with the load and burden of guilt, encourage our staff to not grow weary in doing good, and shape future policy to make sure not one child ever slips through the cracks again.

Here is the note that I sent to our staff. Keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.

I always pass good news in the media about URM, and so I also feel obligated to share some heartbreaking news in today's LA Times. As I said in the article, we are going to step up our efforts to be extra vigilant and diligent to connect families with County Workers and get children full health screenings right away, in order to make sure we never suffer such a loss again, but our staff did take the action that could have saved this precious child, and I am thankful for all of your hard work and ministry here at Union Rescue Mission. Please take time to weep and mourn this tragic loss, but do not grow weary in doing good.
I am honored and blessed to serve here with you.

Galatians 6:9 (ESV)
9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Philippians 4:5-7 (ESV)
5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Your Co-worker in Christ, Andy B.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5:11 PM

'SiCKO' Premieres on Skid Row

By Rev. Andrew J. Bales, President of the Union Rescue Mission

How often does a big time Hollywood Movie premiere on Skid Row? Never in anyone’s memory, until last night! It started out as a wild idea to shut down one of the toughest streets in America and show the movie, Sicko, to some of the folks who were featured in the movie, but would not likely have an opportunity to walk a red carpet or even see this powerful film in theaters, and huge-hearted filmmaker Michael Moore made it all happen just outside the back doors of Union Rescue Mission.

We closed the streets down at 4:00 P.M.; men began building a platform and back drop for a 37 foot Screen. It was a bit windy so our Mission staff weaved together several tarps as a wind break. 600 chairs were set up in a theater setting on the street, and a magnificent projector and deck were brought in by the Weinstein Company, and what seemed impossible happened.

San Julian St. became a walk-in theater! Michael Moore personally came to salute these folks who live a tough life on the streets. I introduced Michael as a man who shared with the House Judiciary Committee that his motivation for making this film about healthcare came word for word from the book of Matthew, chapter 25. Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV):

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

The crowd went wild with enthusiasm that Michael Moore himself came to greet them and share words of wisdom with them. I thanked Michael later -- just before he rushed off for another event -- telling him that he had brought a night of joy to folks that really live in what only can be described as “hell” on earth. More than that, he affirmed them and their dignity as people of great importance. Throughout the movie I heard their hearty amen’s to the injustice that they have experienced first hand in America. Folks have been thanking me for acting as a host throughout the day.

Thank you, Michael, for making this once-in-a-lifetime event possible! Thank you, most of all, for speaking up for justice for folks who until now, have not had a voice.

Andy B.

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