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In tough economic times, let’s embody hope

By Bill Mollard, President, Union Gospel Mission

Vancouver, BC—As the holiday warmth begins to fade, and the reality of post-Christmas bills and financial challenges emerge, we would do well to pause and consider what role money really has in our lives. Recent news says Canadians are more pessimistic about their economic future. What does the threat of genuine scarcity really mean to us? For some, it meant a smaller Christmas bonus this year; for others, it was the look of disappointment on their child’s face; and yet for others it was having no means to travel and be with loved ones for the holidays.

It would serve us well to pause as we begin a new year, and consider what it is about the recession that worries us.   

There is a lesson to be learned from “the least among us.” Where I work, at Union Gospel Mission, on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, people experience the grave financial anxiety that some of us now feel—yet they have lived it more profoundly than we likely ever will.  

Nevertheless, during the holiday season, true joy erupts all over this little, misunderstood corner of Vancouver, as well as in many homes or makeshift homes of the truly poor in our city. This is not to sugarcoat or romanticize the systemic problems of poverty, addiction, and homelessness, but what I notice here—as in many areas of the world faced with suffering—is that by rethinking our concepts of success, prosperity, and expectations for big gifts, space can be created for true giving and receiving.

One of our UGM friends Mary, a low-income resident of the Downtown Eastside, recently noticed that a man had left his wallet on the counter of a Downtown Eastside convenience store. She ran outside, spotted the man, and returned it to him. Overwhelmed, he insisted on rewarding her with $100—a huge sum of money for someone in Mary’s position. When an outreach worker saw her a day later in the Cornerstone, UGM’s drop-in centre, she told him the story.

When he asked her what she would do with the money, her response stunned us all. “Oh, I donated it to UGM,” she said. “This is where my family is, and you guys have helped me so much. It’s great that I have an opportunity to give back!”

 I was humbled and speechless when I heard this. Mary gets it. At the heart of her gift was love, trust and an embodiment of hope. While others remain anxious about the future, despite living in the most challenging economic circumstance, Mary has faith that God will provide. By embodying hope, she can be free to give good gifts to others.  

Even though Mary’s story involved a “donation,” this is not a request for a donation to Union Gospel Mission, or any other charity. It is, however, a call to choose, in 2012, to embody hope. As difficult as scarcity is, it is an opportunity to look beyond your circumstances and truly give your energy, love, time and other gifts to those whom you care for. Try it, and you just might experience what the old Christmas carol says, “A thrill of hope,” as “the weary world rejoices” as we step into 2012.

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of men, women, and children for over 70 years. Through its 9 locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counseling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. To find out more, visit


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