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.”
The Love that Lifted James
By Mike McIntire, URM Chaplain
When James first came to Union Rescue Mission, I knew he was Korean and very out of place. We see very few Asian men come through here because many believe that coming to a shelter like this will bring shame upon their families. So I knew it was a big deal for James to be here.
So I immediately sat down to talk with James and shared that I’d like to be his chaplain and to work together through his struggles.
As a chaplain who works with addicted men at URM, I know that nearly all addicts are trying to cope with some kind of relational trauma in their lives — molestation, abandonment, abuse, neglect, etc. James was no different. He felt like he had deeply hurt his family and had been running from them ever since. And if relational trauma was the problem, I had to model a healthy relationship with him.
James arrived broken and hopeless. But I told him I loved him, whether he wanted it or not, and I would find a way to make him believe it. I was determined
to never do anything that would bring any more shame to James and to help him regain his honor.
Over the next year, James opened up more and more. And as he learned to trust me and believe I truly loved him, he began to change and to believe he was a man worthy of respect again. Today, he has hope that he can rebuild his broken relationships. And one day, I believe he’ll be a man who’s capable of reaching other hurting men with the same love and care he received here.
The Horrors of Heroin
Overdose deaths in California have doubled since 1990. They’re now the second-leading cause of accidental deaths in California for people 15-34 years old, second only to traffic accidents.
— Los Angeles Overdose Prevention Center
Heroin essentially rewires part of the brain, so when users try to give it up, they crave it even more.
— Fox News, LA
Heroin addiction is on the rise nationwide and in Southern California. It can be a deadly high, and young people are the most vulnerable . . . The number of heroin deaths increased by 250 percent between 1999 and 2009.
— ABC Local News
Police seizures of heroin in Los Angeles have almost tripled in the past three years.
— Department of Justice
In 2007, there were an estimated 373,000 heroin users in the U.S. By 2012, the number was 669,000, with the greatest increases among those 18 to 25. First-time users nearly doubled in a six-year period ending in 2012, from 90,000 to 156,000.
— Huffington Post
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug
addiction, please give us a call at (213) 347-6300 and we can connect you with someone who can help.
So many reasons lead to the desperation found on Skid Row; addiction and poor choices, trauma and abandonment, the lost of a job or death of a loved one are just a few. Everyone on the streets of Skid Row is broken and hurting. But just like you and I, they are made in the image of God and need a second chance at life.
And because of generous people like you, these same hurting people find that chance for new life at Union Rescue Mission. They begin to live life the way God always intended — filled with joy and gratitude.
Your generous gift of $25, $35, or more will help provide nutritious meals, safe shelter, and the real help these precious people need to put their lives back together and return to their communities healthy and whole. So I urge you, please send the most generous gift you can today. Thank you!
For more information, or to put your gift to work even faster, go to urm.org/ChangeLives
Notes from Andy
Instruments of God’s Love
They’re coaches, mentors, friends, and God’s instruments of healing and love in the lives of our guests struggling with addictions and homelessness. The eight chaplains who work here at Union Rescue Mission and at Hope Gardens Family Center, including Chaplain McIntire in this newsletter, are the very core of our Mission. I get tears just thinking about the work they do here every day.
One thing I’ve learned after more than 25 years of ministry is that the only way to truly end someone’s homelessness is through personal relationship and trust. Our guests need more than a roof or a meal. They need someone to believe in them, encourage them, cry with them, stand alongside them. They need someone to love them.
That’s what our chaplains do. That’s what James experienced when Chaplain McIntire took James under his wing. Not all our guests are ready to respond to that kind of love, but we nevertheless offer that love to our guests every day.
In that way, our chaplains are really YOUR hands and feet. They channel YOUR love, embodied in all your gifts to Union Rescue Mission, and offer that love to our guests. Thank you for being instruments of God’s love with us.