A Love That Changes Lives

“For I am convinced that … neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” —Romans 8:38-39

Every Christmas, I am reminded how foundational God’s indissoluble love is for someone trying to re-build his or her life. For someone struggling to overcome poverty, homelessness or addiction, this love could look like many things. It could be a new, waterproof coat from a stranger. Maybe it’s a bed in our Emergency Shelter on a rainy night. Or maybe they’ll feel this love when they receive a hot, hearty meal at our upcoming 77th annual Christmas Dinner.

However it’s conveyed, I am convinced that this love will change lives this Christmas. And for just $3.29, you can provide a meal that demonstrates this care. As you know, one meal fights so much more than just physical poverty. It offers a way out of isolation and into a community who cares enough to help people move forward in their lives.

When guests walk through our doors this Christmas, I hope they are greeted by name and feel their worth. One thing’s for sure: because of you, they’ll have a place at the table.


William B. Mollard

My Newfound Peace

RJ’s Story

If RJ could summarize his new life in one word, it’s peace. “When I lived with pain and turmoil, there was no peace,” he explains. “With my newfound peace, I know I’m never alone.”

Growing up, RJ felt isolated in a family of nine siblings. “My dad was an alcoholic,” he explains, “and there was some incest in our family. My mom was the backbone for us kids. My childhood was really about survival. That’s all.” At 16-years-old, RJ ran away from home. “I was running from fear and abuse,” he explains.

RJ ran from an inexplicably painful life, but didn’t have anything else—let alone anyone—to run towards. He spent his adult years building a seemingly standard life. But beneath it all, RJ still struggled. Slowly, he turned to alcohol to cope. “Drinking was about masking the pain,” he explains. “I became a functioning alcoholic.”

“I had a house but I felt empty,” he says. “All the material things in my life didn’t make me happy.” It wasn’t until later—much later, after dealing with the end of his marriage in 2014—that RJ decided to face his addiction for good.

After moving into subsidized housing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, RJ met someone who worked in the kitchen at Union Gospel Mission, an alumnus of UGM’s A&D Recovery Program himself. “At the time, I was asking myself: what am I doing this for?” RJ explains. This friend told RJ to check out UGM.

RJ had tried recovery before, but nothing stuck. But after a difficult divorce, he was hitting a new low. “I was so depressed,” he shares. “That’s when I got a phone call to come on down to UGM.” He had an appointment with an A&D Counsellor named Jack, to discuss a place in the program. “I ended in tears with Jack,” RJ recalls. “An Outreach Worker took my bags and said, ‘don’t worry—we’ll take care of these.’”

God accepts us for who we are, with unconditional love—and that’s what UGM does too.

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RJ’s addiction to alcohol was deeply rooted in complex emotions about his own worth. “I didn’t know how to let people into my life because I felt a lot of shame about who I was,” he shares. “My dad used to say to me: ‘You’re stupid, you’ll never amount to anything in your life.’ It was how I saw myself, and how I thought people saw me. I was trying to find what was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what was missing. All I knew was that I was in pain.”

In A&D Recovery, RJ learned to work with that pain. Knowing he needed multiple supports to sustain his chances at success, he dove into UGM’s continuum of care. At first, he started volunteering to garden. “Gardening is a healing process for me,” he explains. RJ then completed the Work Internship Program through UGM’s Employment Services, and was an active participant in Career Development classes. “As time went on, I started believing in myself more. Career Development gives you time to regain your confidence. I got that confidence here.”

I was trying to find what was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what was missing. All I knew was that I was in pain.

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Another invaluable part of RJ’s recovery has been giving back to others who struggle like he once did. Each December, he lovingly serves the Christmas Dinner meals that our generous donors provide. RJ’s confident, friendly demeanor makes each guest feel right at home.

Collectively, RJ’s compassionate volunteer work intersects with all the other pieces of his recovery to create a foundation for his newfound confidence. “I needed all these things to piece together my new life,” he explains.

Today, RJ is an irreplaceable part of UGM’s alumni and an invaluable part of UGM’s Maintenance Team, where a unique role was created just for his specific gifts. “UGM has really believed in me, hasn’t judged me, and has supported me. It’s like what Bill has said so many times: ‘by yourself you’ll have a hard time in life, but with two people back to back, we can do a lot of things.’ God accepts us for who we are, with unconditional love—and that’s what UGM does too.”

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Coming Alongside a Crisis

How Your Support Saves Lives



According to this year’s BC Coroners Report, released September 2017, the presence of fentanyl in drug overdose deaths is on the rise. Likewise, we’ve lost more lives to fentanyl in the Lower Mainland (Richmond, North Shore, Vancouver, and Fraser Valley) this year than ever before.


Marcella* is a regular guest at UGM’s Outreach. She struggles with her own addiction, but has currently been free from heroin for five months. One thing that motivates her is having seen two near deaths, both of which were caused by fentanyl-related overdoses.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate narcotic. It’s a legal drug when prescribed for pain management, but has recently flooded the drug market due to its cheap heroin-like properties, and its addictive quality. As little as two milligrams of fentanyl—equivalent in size to just two grains of salt!—can cause overdose and death. You can imagine how many vulnerable lives this endangers.

We see so many people in the program who credit naloxone as saving their lives.

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Marcella was living with her mom in Surrey, when a neighbouring house caught fire in the night. “I woke up to screams,” she recalls. Seeing the fire, another neighbour broke the windows to wake the residents up, and got glass in his eyes while doing so. After making sure everyone was safe, Marcella’s neighbour went to use illicit drugs. “He was in so much pain,” she explains. When he mistakenly overdosed, Marcella grabbed her naloxone kit and CPR mask. By the time paramedics arrived, he was stable. Marcella had saved his life.

When someone has too much fentanyl, naloxone is one of the best chances that person has to live. It too is a synthetic drug, but one that blocks opiate receptors in a person’s nervous system. As a result, it’s an effective antidote for overdose. Just a few short months after the fire, Marcella administered naloxone in her Downtown Eastside apartment building, and saved another precious life. “I’m quick on my feet in an emergency,” she shares. And for that, we thank God.

Marcella isn’t the only one to save lives with naloxone. For the past year and a half, this courageous act has become more and more common in the communities we serve. At a recent graduation ceremony, one of UGM’s Alcohol & Drug Recovery alumni, Joseph*, held up a naloxone kit in his commencement speech. “This saved my life,” he said seriously. “We see so many people in the program who credit naloxone as saving their lives,” echoes Matt Hislop, UGM’s Chaplain. Often, these near-death experiences lead to significant self-examination, as Joseph’s recovery indicates.

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The Lower Mainland has seen a vicious spike in fentanyl-related deaths in the past two years. Matt explains the impact this persistent climb has had on UGM’s guests: “We regularly see people come to our chapel services or put in prayer requests that say, ‘I’ve lost a loved one or a friend that I was on the street with, would you pray for me?’”

In response to this growing need, UGM’s Outreach has shifted hours to increase one-on-one care for those who need counselling for their newfound fear and grief. During these appointments, caring staff listen and offer prayer for those who’ve lost loved ones too soon. “In many ways, our response just looks like intentionally walking with people in this confusing time,” Matt explains.

“We’ve also increased the number of street walks we do each day,” he adds. On these street walks, experienced Outreach Workers walk around the neighbourhood with water, snacks, and naloxone kits. The purpose of these walks are to build relationships with people in the neighbourhood—many of whom are already guests at UGM, but some who’ve never set foot in our doors. It wasn’t until recently that these street walks took on a life-saving angle, too.

Perhaps the most critical part of our response to the fentanyl crisis, UGM has ensured that each Outreach Worker is equipped with naloxone training. For one Outreach Worker named Jenn, this training was essential when a beloved guest overdosed on the street outside reception.

“The naloxone training I’d received helped me stay calm and do what I’d been taught,” she explains. After Jenn’s intervention, this guest quickly stabilized. She waited with him until the paramedics came. “The crisis we’re in can be so disheartening,” Jenn shares. “But it’s moments like these that serve as such incredible reminders of how fragile life is, and how important this work is.”

Our Chaplain embodies UGM’s Christ-centered vision in this crisis, sharing his careful hope and compassionate care for a community that’s struggling. “It’s vital that we mimic Jesus and continue to welcome the stranger into our doors,” Matt explains. “We will continue to welcome everybody, regardless of who they are or what they’re struggling with. We see a lot of desperation for God here. Our job is to create a space of incredible inclusivity, and in doing so, to point them towards this God who welcomes all, too.”

We’re so grateful that you, our big-hearted donors, share this vision. Thank you for providing the resources that support extra street walks, an increase in counselling hours, vital naloxone training, life-saving naloxone kits, and more. With your generosity, we can continue to welcome vulnerable people into UGM’s life-changing continuum of care—helping them overcome addiction, one life at a time.

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