Each Step Leads to Another

Joel's Story

Joel remembers growing up in Fiji as a carefree boy. But somewhere along the way, he lost touch of who he was

I felt like I was in a box. It was so hard to recognize myself and who I wanted to be.

Joel started struggling with depression and anxiety in kindergarten, after getting beaten up for defending a friend

I wanted everybody to be treated the same, and didn't care about getting hurt. I ended up with a broken jaw. My face was all puffed up.

He was introduced to alcohol years afterward, which became a form of self-medication

When I was 12 I started drinking. As a teen I started partying and smoking weed a lot. It carried me through.

Joel's mental health declined, and drug use climbed, when he moved across the world to Vancouver in his 20's

I pretended to be normal and happy. I didn't want to inconvenience anybody else with my suffering.

I became an alcohol addict. Cocaine addict. I was growing pot. Got connected to gangs. Became a gangster. A dealer. There was a lot of danger, pain, and hurt feelings.

Eventually, Joel started feeling trapped by his addiction, lifelong anxiety, and the pressures of gang life. That was his breaking point

I needed to get out of this rage that I had suffered from all my life. It hurt so much. I knew I needed to change.

With recovery on his mind, Joel went to church. That's where he happened to sit next to a UGM guest

He said to me, “I think I know a spot for you. Have you heard of Union Gospel Mission? I'll take you there right now.”

That man accompanied him all the way to UGM. They talked to reception and Joel enrolled in recovery—but first, they had a meal

I had seen UGM while driving by, selling drugs. I always thought, “What's that place? What's that lineup for?” And now, I was there in the lineup with a meal ticket!

At UGM, he began weaving himself into a trustworthy community for the first time

I wanted to do recovery right. I couldn't overcome my anxiety, depression and individualistic ego for a while, and this was an opportunity to become healthy.

Sharing with other people was challenging, but at UGM, there's so much trust and respect. I wasn't judged; I was protected and guided from day one. They wanted to help me have freedom.

What truly helped Joel become himself again was expeditions, UGM's hiking and adventure program

Seeing the landscape, glacier, and rocks gave me a natural high. I was thinking, “Wow. This is what I was looking for.”

I realized while doing drugs, making money, and running after other things, I was really looking for a connection to my free-spirited nature. Because when I was young, I'd fly kites, fish, explore wildlife, pick and eat fruits. That's when life was really good for me.

Without Expeditions, I wouldn't have found that again. I could've relapsed.

To him, overcoming depression, anxiety, and addiction is a lot like the journey up a mountain

There's pain and struggling. But I take baby steps. I know one step will lead to another. When I finish, I'm joyous. I'm thinking, “I did this. I thought I could never do this.”

Those small steps have led Joel to a life that he describes as abundant

Today, he's celebrating five years of sobriety, working in the Downtown Eastside, studying Permaculture Design at UBC Farm, and might even start coaching soccer soon!

And most importantly, Joel isn't just back to being that free-spirited soul—his heart to defend others has been renewed, too.

People come to me from all walks of life and difficulties. Just as I wasn't judged when I came into UGM, I'm doing the same thing to guide others. It's enriched my kindness and generosity.

Despite the chaos he once felt, Joel beams of peace. He's now a beacon of hope to others struggling with mental health and addiction too—only possible because you gave him an opportunity to find solace at UGM. Thank you!

President's Message

“If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one memberis honored, all rejoice together.” — 1 Corinthians 12:26

When Paul calls the church to suffer and rejoice together, I believe it is really a call for you and me to care for people with deep empathy. I know that sometimes this can feel hard to do, especially when people are going through things we haven’t. But perhaps empathy isn’t always about circumstance; perhaps it is about relating to a person’s humanity.

Joel’s story reminds me of what it means to be human. Although we all walk different paths, our hearts experience something similar. We all inevitably feel pain, loneliness, and heartache. And we all deeply yearn for safety, dignity, and connection. By recognizing that these things lie beneath the surface, we can empathize; offering our neighbours the kind of love that brings true healing.

That’s why, at Union Gospel Mission, your support doesn’t just help people overcome the visible challenges of poverty, homelessness, or addiction through food, shelter, and recovery. Your care also seeks to restore their deeper pain. For those who have been betrayed, trustworthy relationships are built. For those feeling isolated, they are welcomed into a community. And for those weighted by guilt, they are shown Jesus’ grace.

I thank you for seeing the humanity of the men, women, and families in need in our community. Because of you, they are reminded of their worth daily. From the Mobile Mission to Alcohol & Drug Recovery, to our upcoming annual Thanksgiving celebration, your compassion will ensure that our neighbours will experience connection and gather over hope, all autumn long. And for this, I am so grateful.


UGM President's Photo
UGM President's Signature

William B. Mollard

For just $3.29, you can provide a Thanksgiving meal that can transform a life