A Cry for Compassion

Unbelievably, his face appeared to be the least of his problems. Jodi had run to me, “There’s an injured man. Don’t know what happened but he looks bad.” Several guys carrying plates of food spoke to me “Eric, there’s a guy… don’t know what happened, he needs you.”

On the ground, under one of the trees, – fighting to sit up – trying to hold his plate of food, crying, I found him. His wrist, in such odd shape, unable to hold the plate, I could only assume it was broken. Trying to lay down on the concrete he cried out, cursing, “My ribs must be broken.” Through tears, barely coherent, he said “I have to eat.”
Sitting in front of him on the sidewalk, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, I held his plate for him. Close, so he only had to reach inches, and waited as he adjusted the fork in the hand he could still use. I moved the plate as he battled to put the softest of the meal Jackets for Jesus had served that night into the part of his mouth he could still chew with.

Our team continued to serve. No one driving through the city stopped to help. 28 years, every Sunday night on the same street, and I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve watched the tragedy unfold before their eyes and have stopped to help.

I try not to dole out judgment on those who stop at the signal of 3rd and Main St, gawk, pull out phones to take pictures, then drive away. I’ve been in that uncomfortable position of not knowing what to do when someone obviously needs more help then we know how to give. The first thing I’d done is beg him to let me call 911. Told him how desperately he needed to see a doctor. He refused. Said he’d walk away if I called. We’ve had that happen before as well.

Asking his name, he was open and more than willing to tell me about the three separate beatings he’d received that day. When I asked why, looking at me like I was from another planet he merely said; “They always beat you. Always.”

Coughing… food flying everywhere… cursing again he said: “My ribs have punctured my lung. I can feel it” he wheezed. Frustrated with his broken appendages, he simply dropped the fork, filled his hand with a fist full of macaroni and cheese, and began to refill his broken mouth… his broken life.

I’m not sure how he gets beaten so frequently. Even after 28 years in the heart of the city there’s so much that goes on that I have so little understanding of… I’m quite certain he would have told me everything – he wanted to talk – needed to talk but maybe like the people stopping in their cars to take pictures, I wasn’t certain what to do, how to address the deeper issue of a broken life, so I talked with him about his broken body.

His plate nearly cleared, struggling to stand, I again begged him to let me call 911. Asked him to lean in close to me and I took this picture of his face – showed him the blood – tried to convince him that this was real and he shouldn’t ignore it. Again he looked at me like I was from another planet. How could I not understand what was going on? He asked if I was going to post the picture on my fb. I asked if he wanted me to post it? Was that ok? “Sure. Show everybody. I don’t care.”

He didn’t. My heart broke to imagine that a perfect stranger could care a bit more about his condition than he did.

I could tell you how he was dressed, how his nails were done, invite you to speculate on what kind of lifestyle takes him into a framework of believing that “they always beat you” is ever acceptable behavior. But I already feel guilty sharing his picture, even when he said I could. I don’t like to speculate on what might be or tag a label on someone as if that’s an excuse for driving by and ignoring their pain.

We show so little compassion for people who may be different from us… not if they’re affluent, on television, in magazines… but if they’re in the gutter; broken, crying out for help, starving… it’s so much easier to label them “homeless” and be over it.

I’m writing this so you will know that in our comfort, wealth and relative ease – people just like you and me – children, siblings, and parents are fighting to make it through the day. Often the poverty they battle is not just the simple economics of food to eat and where to sleep but it’s mixed up with the confusion of their own personal battles that have often brought them to their knees, begging for compassion and finding none, they dwell with a poverty of spirit and look out on much of the world as if it’s a wasteland that’s rejected them, simply because they didn’t fit.

Too often we have. Too often they’re right.

Those of us who profess to follow Jesus would do well to remember that He not only fed the starving and healed the leper cast off from society but he also refused to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery. Against the religious leaders of her community he knelt in the dirt and found his alliance with her, showing compassion, in grace – forgiving – and sending all the other’s away.

How are you doing in the compassion department these days? How is your heart for those who are broken daily and yet somehow, remarkably, get back up and give it another go – knowing full well that “they always beat you.” Would you be strong enough to continue with life so brutally stacked against you, when you were broken, bleeding and rejected again? I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near that strong. Think I’d throw in the towel and call it a day.

Sitting on that filthy sidewalk he didn’t gross me out. His strength to continue in a world that had shown him so very little compassion inspired me. Inspires me still today. I suspect it’s one of the reasons I keep going back to the heart of the city every Sunday night. Unsung heroes live there. The world calls them failures, homeless, cast offs. God calls them children. His children and as long as we’re bold enough to pray “Our Father,” we’ve still got brother’s and sister’s living in desperate straits who deserve our love, attention and compassion. It’s how we become family. It’s how we make the family whole.

We’re going this Sunday night. No clue what to expect. No clue how we’ll pay for the dinner. Last week a friend gave us gift cards that covered the meal. You can help. You can donate to lift up a fallen brother or sister with a meal. You can come and help Jodi and the team cook and prepare. You can join us on the streets. Incredibly, people are waiting to welcome us. Together, we can bring our brokenness and find Light and Healing in the darkness. God is too good. You’re Invited!

for changing lives,

Eric M. Denton

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Touched by Christmas

eric-with-jays-mom-and-aunt-christmas-2016It’s about so much more than a backpack.

Patsy and Margaret, sisters, came to Jackets for Jesus Christmas Party on the streets Sunday night.  They’d flown in on Thursday – one from Florida, the other from Georgia – in hopes of connecting with Patsy’s son by Sunday night at the party.  Long estranged, knowing he was living somewhere on the streets, they’d started searching for him online more than a year ago when they found him in one of our videos.

Imagine… lost in the mass of our nation’s population of poverty, there was his face, his voice, being chatted up by me in an impromptu interview.  “He was lost but now was found, dead, but now alive, they had to celebrate.”  I’ll never forget the first time they called “How does he look in person?  He looks healthy in the video.  Is he okay?  Where’s he living?  Is he hungry?”  Every question asked with tears and laughter… disbelief… they had a connection.  “Have him call me… please.”

I saw him sometimes on Sunday nights.  Didn’t know the answers to their questions and when I told him I was in contact with his family he became angry.  When his mother started sending money, birthday cards, letters, gifts – he refused them.  There are so many reasons that people live in the heart of Los Angeles.  Jackets for Jesus doesn’t go to judge but to love and serve.  Just the same, by that time, friends on fb with his mom and on the streets with him, I heard both of their pain and it broke my heart.

Jay would get mad at me for passing along information and I’d flatly tell him that I was a parent, if he were my son, like his mom, I’d be desperate for any word of hope and life, I wasn’t going to stop.  He got a job this year.  Told me I could pass the information along to his family.  They’d been begging from the beginning to visit – just to hold him again – he said he might be agreeable.

Moms, the unstoppable force of love… last week I got a call from the heart of Los Angeles – they were here but couldn’t find Jay.  I wasn’t encouraging but we chatted and I mustered up any ideas of location – not many – and I wished them luck.  Remember getting off the phone and telling Debi; “50,000 people living in homelessness and 15 million people in the city… two women in Los Angeles for their first time… it’s going to take a miracle.”

Saturday evening I received a text that simply said: “Hello Pastor Denton: Just wanted to let you know we met up with “Jay.”  Wow! He was so glad to see us!  Looking forward to meeting you, Jodi and the entire team.  Patsy

They were waiting for us in the middle of the crowd Sunday night.  They’d brought a donation from Jay’s very grateful grandparents.  They were easy to spot – HUGE smiles – like Martha and Mary after being with Lazarus – telling their story to anyone who’d listen, they served the line alongside us, meeting each man and woman as if it were Jay, laughing, smiling, amazed… they’d spent all day Saturday and Sunday with him, had a meal in the restaurant he’s working at and most importantly, discovered reason for hope and joy again.  No longer lost but found, they had to celebrate!

We celebrated with them.  It’s our prayer every Sunday night, with every jacket, every meal and at Christmas with every backpack – that someone might take one more step towards home – it’s not often we get to share the miracle.  We did last Sunday night and it was amazing.

Monday morning – after my faithful Sequoia broke down on the way home from the streets, one too many Christmas crowds…, well after 3:30 in the morning that we finally climbed into bed – some of the luster worn off the evening of wonder after sitting on the side of the freeway in a cold, hard wind, waiting for a tow truck and I received a text from Jay’s mom – waiting to board her plane home at LAX:

Good morning Pastor Denton.  We are on our way home.  What a wonderful experience and time we had seeing my son and last night with Jackets for Jesus – Simply Awesome!  We truly Thank God for ALL His marvelous blessings!  A memorable visit.  Happy holidays to you and your family.  Patsy

It’s about so much more than a backpack.  To say that our 28th Christmas Party on the Streets was a success would be putting it mildly.  It wasn’t our biggest crowd – maybe 500 people – but we’d struggled to put together money for backpacks and to get people to fill them this year.  All the regulars – long time friends of Jackets for Jesus – stepped up in amazing ways but it’s a BIG EXPENSIVE venture.

People ask me if it’s worth it?  Ask Jay’s mom, his aunt, his grandparents… they asked me to pose for pictures for the grandparents of a man I only know on the streets… January 1, 1989, our first Sunday night on the streets – I never would’ve believed this improbable story.  Never would’ve imagined posing for pictures for grandparents – I barely had any – my one little granny, born in Choctaw Nation, daughter of a circuit riding Methodist preacher who also ran the little supply store on the reservation – was dead by the time I was 18, in the fall of 1972.

She would’ve loved Jackets for Jesus.  Her door was always open to people in the little part of Phoenix where she lived out the end of her life – impoverished neighbors coming to use the only phone in the area to reach out to family – picture of her missing son on the piano, lost at sea in the battle of Iwo Jima, it wasn’t uncommon for a knock to come at the door, and hope in her heart, the same improbable hope that Jay’s mother and aunt carried into the heart of one of the largest cities on the planet – no address, no knowledge of the darkness in skidrow – granny would go to the door and say “Maybe it’s your Uncle Doyle.”  I’d laugh under my breath, crazy granny, her perfect blue eyes would twinkle… when it was just a neighbor… needing the phone… she’d open the door and let them in and they’d take one more step towards home.

All these years later, now a grandfather myself to 4 grandchildren I love with my whole heart, I gladly posed for pictures for other grandparents – what if Jay had been one of mine?  I would’ve gladly written a check for all I had to know he was well again… surrendered a thousand well loved Sequoia’s… it’s about so much more than a backpack… it’s about generations of love – now living on the streets and treated by society as if they’re nothing – when they’re son’s and daughter’s – grandchildren – the little kids who once ran up and down our streets… neighbors.  Jesus told us to love our neighbors.

We call them homeless because it’s a much easier label then daughter, son, grandchild, neighbor… what kind of people would abandon their family, their neighbor’s into poverty?  Not just Christianity but every major religion teaches against it.  Every family that’s survived a single generation knows that it requires love that gets on airplanes and crosses continents just to wrap arms around a son, so very far away, and make sure that he remembers that he’s someone, that he’s loved, that he still has a place in the family.  That when back home there’s a knock on the door – someone’s holding out a crazy hope that it’s him… coming home.

Slept in Monday, exhausted in more ways than one and wanting to avoid some of my adult responsibilities of the days to come… Monday evening I watched some of the video’s from Sunday night’s party – I take them but rarely watch them.  One, nearly 40 minutes long, captured me completely at a moment three fourths of the way through where I walk up on Jay’s Aunt Margaret – “lining the line” as men and women walk through for a backpack – and she’s excitedly at the end of retelling the story of how they flew out, met Jay, the miracle in it all… everyone around her is spellbound… smiles growing wide… laughing in amazement.

Somehow they know they’re hearing the story that they’ll retell in their families.  One miracle was quickly becoming many miracles.  It was obvious that there was nowhere else they’d rather be then on the streets of Los Angeles with Jackets for Jesus.  They’d been touched by Christmas.

Thank you so very much for filling a backpack, supporting our work in the darkness, sharing Christmas with us.  Your monthly support not only feeds and clothes, it makes the way for Christmas Miracles.  What happened last Sunday evening at the party on the streets was the fruit of years of Sunday nights that hardly anyone but God, those who serve so faithfully, as well as those waiting on us in poverty, noticed.

We try to remember that every jacket, every meal, every moment we’re on the streets, we go for Him.  We pray that we’re going for you as well.  That if you could, you would be with us.  What kind of people wouldn’t be going as long as anyone’s child is drowning in the darkness?  Who wouldn’t celebrate a mother and child reunion, at Christmas?

Sunday is Christmas, we’ll be on the streets again, still not sure how we’ll get there, but you’re invited.  January 1, 2017, New Year’s Day, Jackets for Jesus celebrates 28 years serving in the heart of Los Angeles – think of the historic events of the last 28 years… – God’s honored us and allowed us to continue through it all.  Lord willing, we’ll be going again and starting a brand new year of service together.  So many people are waiting.  The adventure, the miracles of our lifetimes are still out ahead of us.  You’re Invited!


Joy in the Storm

Leaving the streets tonight a guy in his early fifties stopped me as I was going to get in the car “Hey, you’re that guy. I know you.”

Better looking than me and dressed much nicer than I ever dress, I asked if we’d met. He said “yeah, in the line.” He was smiling so beautifully, couldn’t help but step forward, do what I do, shake his hand. Ask when he’d been on the corner.

I was never here. You don’t remember me. It was years ago, in front of the old Union Rescue Mission. You guys saved my life more nights then you could ever know. I got in one of their programs. Got clean. Got sober. Got working. It was a long time ago.”

He was really smiling as he told the story that ended with “You’re still out here. That’s amazing.” And then “Thanks. It’s so good to see you. Really, more times then you could know.”

Moved. But soaked. I thanked him for the kind words and jumped into the car, trying my best to remember him. It would’ve been at least 20 years ago. Possibly even more.

Drove home through the storm. We all were just about dry when we got to the church and the heaven’s opened and we were soaked a second time as we unloaded the trailer and I forgot all about it, until I laid my head down in bed and his smiling face, obvious success, genuine gratitude all flooded over me when I closed my eyes.

It had been a chance encounter that lasted just a few minutes in the rain but to him it had been a lifetime. A life saved. “You guys saved my life more nights then you will ever know.”

His hair and neatly trimmed beard both sported a silver of success and happiness. I was drenched and feeling a few decades more than my age, ready to head home.

People question our work in the heart of the city. There are those who’ve criticized us, saying we’re enabling the chronically homeless. We don’t argue with them. We just keep on doing what we do. Vaclav Havel said some of the things we do just because they make sense. That’s all. There are cold and hungry people in the rain tonight, it just makes sense that we keep on going.

And there are men and women whose lives are forever changed – we celebrate their success – and thank God if we ever had the opportunity to play a small part in their taking the first steps towards healing and home.

So many Sunday nights. This morning my heart is so full I couldn’t sleep. Filled with images of friends slipping out into the cold, wet night and the memory of a man bursting with the opportunity to say thanks. It’s what happens on the streets, The Eternal Miracle sometimes just breaks forth and wakes us up again.

It happened tonight. Wish you’d been standing beside me to hear the story, to share his joy in the storm. Who knows, it might happen again next week. I’d love for you to share it. You’re Invited!


Saint Teresa – Simple Miracles

Mother Teresa letter

With Mother Teresa becoming Saint Teresa tomorrow, the correspondence she had with my mom becomes just a bit more precious. Mom gave me this letter, way back in 1990, when she had been writing her about our new work with the poor on skidrow, Jackets for Jesus. I keep it in my office as a reminder of the wonderful women who’ve lifted our work and me personally up in prayer.

If someone needs miracles in order to be canonized as a saint, Jackets for Jesus has experienced enough across the years to cover Mother Teresa a dozen times over.

Always humbled to think that so many lift us up in prayer. Tomorrow I’ll celebrate a bit as one of Jackets for Jesus very own prayer warriors takes so special a place in the life of the church. She was an amazing example of love to all humanity and if anyone ever deserves so high an honor, it would be her.

Thanks for your loving and prayerful encouragement and support as we took our first steps into the darkness. God speed as your witness continues to lead us into The Light. Give mom a hug for me.

If I had the dough think I’d catch a jet to Rome tonight so I could join the throngs at the Vatican’s celebration tomorrow. Maybe Pastor Ken will buy me a Saint Teresa medal when he’s there!


The Unexpected More

Wiping away tears, he said: “I didn’t think any of them would ever want to talk with me again.”

Middle of the evening a friend on the streets had asked me to take his picture.  He hasn’t been around for a number of months so he’d already filled me in on the loss of a job and getting back to work.  He looked better and said life was improved in every way.

I don’t know where he sleeps.  He may have one of the small room’s downtown or he may have etched himself a “safe spot” somewhere in the city to get a night’s rest, stash his stuff and be able to head to work.  He has a smartphone – probably through one of the free phone programs – so after I snapped his photo I simply attached it to a text and he had it.

Looking at himself.  Clean.  New haircut.  Smiling at me he said: “Wanted something to send my family.  This will be perfect!”  I gave him a thumbs up and headed back to my work.

As the night was winding down – men and women living in varying degrees of urban poverty – having been fed, many getting clothes or shoes, Sunday evening conversation at a close, people began to wander away.  Some stop to say goodbye.  Others take a few minutes to pick up trash while a few wait to close the evening in prayer.  My friend, looking at the picture of himself on his phone, stood next to his bicycle and waved for me to come to him, he said he had something he wanted to tell me.

He jumped right to the point of the story: “I never knew anything about facebook, the internet, or any of that stuff until about five months ago.  When I first got on facebook it was little more than an empty box with a question.  It asked: ‘What’s on your mind?’

Like a journal I started writing everything; how I lost my family, ended up on skid row, how much I loved and missed them, how it was all my fault.  I just poured it all out thinking I was the only one who’d ever see it.  I didn’t know other people could see your name, read what you were writing, look for you…”

His family, like so many others who’ve lost someone into poverty and feel like they’ve come to the end of hope and help, had been searching the internet, spending time on facebook, holding out the last shred of hope that he must be somewhere – maybe he was on facebook – somehow, impossibly, maybe they could find him.

They found his personal journal.  The words he thought no one would ever read.  His apology to the universe.  The words he wished he’d find the hope and opportunity to someday tell those he still loved and carried with him daily in his heart.  They read it all… and asked to be his friend.

They’re in the process of reconciliation.  He said; “I can’t believe it, they said they miss and love me – they want to see me.  I can’t wait to send them this picture.”  He was crying.  How could he not?  He’d sent out his heart, without hope, to the universe and it responded with hope, love and an invitation to family and home.  He still belonged.

We hugged.  Quietly, silently, I marveled at the life God allows me to live and I gave thanks.  He’s too good.

Every Sunday night doesn’t have this story – but every Sunday has a story – a miracle – a knock you out of your socks kind of “Chicken Soup for The Soul” moment that you can experience but you have to open up your heart, your life, your time, even your finances to the vast expanse of the unexplored and unexpected “more” that awaits us when we love and serve.  It can happen every day.  It’s what we were created for.

My time this week has been made a bit fuller by the image of family, carefully sharing with family, spreading it across fb, in texts, in emails a simple photo that I took of a friend.  It’s a miracle in their homes.  Like a sacred document, holy text, a masterpiece – the photos been printed and printed and printed again, through tears, with love as they put it in a frame, a wallet, on the refrigerator – where they stop – search out every detail – suck in the reality, he’s alive.  Dad’s alive!  My son’s alive!  My brother’s alive!  The years that once felt like the dark cavern of death once again hold hope, the stone has rolled away, He’s Alive!

People ask why we go to the streets on Sunday nights.  Miracles live there.  We get to share the adventure.  To give our lives.  I’m always amazed that we’re ever broke.  I read this story – and I’m living it – and I want to send money!  Who doesn’t want to restore hope, feed the hungry and bring new wealth to the wasteland of urban poverty in the heart of our city?  We can be the miracle!  The answer to the prayer that every family prays when their loved one is missing.  We can be that first step towards home… and sometimes we get to hear all about it.  We did last Sunday night.

His picture’s a little celebration on my phone.  I’d share it, but I haven’t asked his permission, maybe I will this Sunday night.  We’re going back to the streets.  It’s been so very many Sundays, even still, after all these decades, it’s only Tuesday, and already I’m excited.  It would be such an honor to surrender part of this joyous work into your hands.  To spend whatever remains of my life with you on Sunday night.  And if not side by side on the streets – with Jodi in the kitchen – in prayer throughout the week – in your personal financial support.  We belong together.  You’re needed, now, more than ever.  You’re Invited!

for changing lives,

Eric M. Denton

Jackets for Jesus

http://www.jacketsforjesus.com


Watch “An Invitation to Healing” on YouTube

My friend Amari shares his story and then prays for you.   Don’t miss your blessing.


Christmas Party on the Streets

December 20th, Sunday Night – YOU’RE INVITED!

Christmas Party on the streets with Jackets for Jesus!

The party on the streets is this Sunday night. You’re Invited!  Last Year’s Challenges WILL NOT STOP US!  Pray that all goes well.

You’re doing so much to make this an incredible Christmas on the streets for hundreds of people living in urban poverty.  Thank You!

Backpacks are still available for pickup at Central Community.  If you have extra jackets, gifts, etc… bring it with you and we’ll stuff it in remaining backpacks.

Suggestions For Filling Christmas Backpacks For The Homeless

Food Items:
Water bottle, Snacks (Raisins, nuts, candy, dried fruit, crackers), hot chocolate, cookies, gift certificates to McDonalds/Starbucks etc.
Clothing Items:
Jacket (even a good used one is fantastic), Sweatshirt, T-shirt, underwear, new white socks, jacket, rain poncho, warm hat, gloves.
Personal Care Items:
Toothbrush, toothpaste, mints, gum, lotion, soap, shampoo, wash cloth, hand towel, comb or brush, floss, toilet paper.
Miscellaneous Items:
Bible, stationary, stamps, Radio or MP3 player, books, magazines, watch, first aide kit, phone cards/calling cards, a Christmas card, etc.

Gift Cards have been highly requested this year.  Small amounts for fast food, Kinkos, Staples, etc…

Think of what you would like/want if you were homeless and living on the streets. Feel free to use your imagination!

Filled backpacks can be returned to Jackets For Jesus, at Central Community, no later than Sunday, December 2oth at 5:00PM.  Alternative drop off is our meeting pointMcDonald’s just off Peck Rd exit and the 60 fwy (1185 Durfee Ave., South El Monte, CA, google map at link)  – we’ll leave in a caravan from there to the streets at approximately 9:30pm.

Backpacks can be dropped off with us at the McDonalds between 9-9:30pm, even if you’re unable to join us on the streets.  All packs must be in the LARGE TRUCK before we leave McDonalds.

We’ve rented the parking lot on the corner of 3rd and Main St, downtown, for parking convenience and security of the truck.  Plan on parking with us.  All of our work this year will come out of the parking lot.backpacks 2

Thanks so much.  Looking forward to a fantastic evening together.

Merry Christmas!

Eric