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!