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.”