Now this is what the LORD says-- the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel-- Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
Like many of you, I have been bombarded via my various social media accounts with the story of the recent shooting of a homeless man in Los Angeles by the LAPD . There are many speculations, opinions and judgments on all sides. But I'm not really interested in the vitriol. I have just wanted to know the story of the man who was shot.
The papers have, to date, only mentioned his street name, "Africa." But that wasn't enough for me. I wanted to know his name, where he came from and how he ended up on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
The Rev. Andy Bales is the CEO of Union Mission -- an organization dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless in Los Angeles. From his vantage point in the thick of things, witnessing the horror faced by the ever-expanding LA homeless population, Bales shared these bits of wisdom with Yahoo News:
"We're asking the LAPD to maintain peace in a horrible environment. Skid Row is full of people trapped in an untenable living situation - a Twilight Zone they can't escape."
"The idea years ago was, 'Let's corral everybody in this area and then turn our backs on them so we can enjoy life in the rest of this beautiful city'," Bales says. "We wound up with 2,000 people on the streets and predators moving in to feed their addictions. It's everything you can imagine. People prostituting themselves for cash. People robbing other people. Violence for uncollected debts. It has become survival of the fittest."
I am moved by Bales insistence that this shooting is itself tragic, even as it is a symptom of an even greater tragedy: that there is a such thing as "throw-away" people.
As I have done more research on the conditions of Skid Row, I've come away with the feeling that if the area were in Gotham City, they would just build a wall around it and call it Arkham. The homeless would remain out of sight and out of mind.Yet, Union Mission is there, in the middle of the chaos. Day after day, the doors open, offering food, shelter, recovery services, and other assistance. And just as important as the tangible assistance, Union Mission is also committed to telling the stories of those they serve: the stories of Laquita, and James and Alejandro and Patrice.
When we tell the stories of these people's lives, they are made real for us. When we can call them by their names, we are reminded that they too are made in the image of God.
This is why I diligently searched to learn "Africa's" name: Charley Saturmin Robinet, which, it turns out, ironically may itself be the stolen identity of a French national.
For now, I will call him by that name when I pray for him, because I know that however broken he was, he was a beloved creature of God, someone whom God knows by name as God's own. And I rest content that whatever his true name, he bears God's image; he belongs to God.