Sunny, thank you for that smile upon your face.
Sunny, thank you for that gleam that flows with grace.
Marvin Gaye's cover of "Sunny" washed over San Julian St while 20 tons of snow began to blanket the Mission's parking lot with snow. It set the mood - moving Christmas up six months ahead of schedule to July needed a summer anthem to accompany it.
Right outside our gate, you could see a crowd of children waiting eagerly in line - many who have never seen real snow. Aged anywhere from seven to seventeen, each exhibited the same sort of youthful excitement - even the teenagers weren't too "cool" for this.
The volunteers erected a human tunnel as a pathway into this winter wonderland. Each child walked through the portal with anticipation on their faces and enraptured with the thought of entering into Santa's realm. Goodbye Skid Row, Hello North Pole.
As each foot made its imprint in the snow, as each hand scooped down to mold together a globes of ice, these kids were immediately transformed into experts of the snowball fight. Each of them began to live out the lives of their childhood heroes - Calvin or Hobbes, Buddy from Elf - and a thousand snowballs took flight.
And at every "Christmas in July" event, we have volunteers set up carnival booths for those needing respite from the ice barrage. Basketball hoop, dunk tank, carnival games - there was always something fun to do while waiting to get back in the action!
Unbeknownst to everyone, we had a very special guest accompany SoCal Santa to the festivities this year. Ice Queen Elsa, from the Disney movie 'Frozen', made a special appearance to the delight of all the kids - ages 4 through 40. With a quick nod to the DJ, she began to sing "Let It Go" backed with the chorus of little children entirely mesmerized by her motions.
All of this holiday cheer would never be able to happen without the continuous support from Subway - who have sponsored this event eight years in a row. Though we celebrated the arrival of Christmas in the month of July, it was definitely Sunny for all of the children at the Mission.
It’s not hard to understand why James holds tightly to Jesus’ parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the story of a young man who disgraces his family by living a wild life far from home and finally hits rock bottom — destitute, alone, and with nowhere to live.
“That’s my story,” says James, a 45-year-old native of Korea. “It’s hard to get disowned by a Korean family. But I was. And when that happens, the break is pretty powerful.”
James is the youngest child of a tight-knit Korean family. His parents had high expectations for him. “In the Korean culture, you respect your elders and do as they say. And my parents expected me to be someone,” James says. “The problem was, I just wanted to be average and normal.”
So James did the unthinkable. In high school, he rebelled against his parents, pursuing a life of parties and drugs — including heroin.
“I felt a lot of shame and fear,” he says. “Heroin made me feel like everything was OK. But then my life became unmanageable and dark for almost 20 years.”
He finally hit rock bottom in 2013. “I had burned all my bridges with my family. I had sold everything I owned, I weighed 100 pounds, and I realized I had no one else to rely on and no place to go. I actually had to sleep on the street,” James recalls.
That’s when he came to Union Rescue Mission. “When I got here, I was tired, ashamed, and hopeless,” he says. But everything started to change when James met URM’s Chaplain McIntire. For the first time, James felt like someone loved him and cared about him.
“Chap believed in me,” James says. “He gave me hope and something to live for. There was no way I was going to let him down. Love is a powerful thing.”
Today, James is drug-free and working as a coordinator for Chaplain McIntire. But his story is still unfinished. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son returns home to a loving, welcoming father. Will James’ family embrace him when he returns?
“I still carry some guilt and shame. I caused a lot of disruption in my family,” he says. “But I also have peace I never experienced before. I’m no longer James the failure. I’m James — child of God. Now I just hope my family will forgive me and welcome me back.”