“It is never hopeless.” Looking back on where Robert has come, he is able to say with confidence that no matter the bleakness of life’s outlook, hope is not wasted. And Robert would know.
The future looked grim
Before he came to Union Gospel Mission of Salem in 2017, Robert was enveloped in desolate darkness. The future looked grim after a divorce shattered his world. Job loss from a stable career and homelessness were collateral damage.
“I was a freelance web developer at that time, and I just stopped doing it. I stopped responding to emails and phone calls. It just all fell away,” says Robert.
For two years, he hunkered down in isolation and addiction.
The first step
Then the day came when Robert took a first step toward victory by entering UGM. For nine months, he found shelter as a guest at the Men’s Mission. During that time, though, he began mulling over joining the New Life Fellowship transformation program (NLF), and ultimately concluded his chances at life change were worth taking the risk.
“I hadn’t really changed anything in that 9-month period,” Robert admits, reflecting back on his motivation to join the recovery program. “In fact, I was probably getting worse. After a while, you just feel like you’re at the end of your rope. And it just starts with making a decision…wanting to change.”
When asked about his initial faith in the program, he confessed to having hearty confidence. The time spent in respite at the Mission allowed him to witness the life change others experienced.
Robert believes that mentorship, and with that, vulnerability, are key ingredients to recovery for participants. “We would just sit and talk about the past week or anything coming up—talk about what we’re reading, studying, how God is working in our life,” says Robert, referring to time spent with one of his mentors, Kevin, who he has a friendship with to this day. “It was good having that consistent reinforcement. And I got that accountability, as well.”
Have you paid enough?
Recovery can be complex—people must peel back layers and confront root causes of their pain. For Robert, shame distorted his reality and made the gift of Jesus’ salvation difficult to accept. It’s no wonder that the “Recovery from Shame” class offered through NLF made a lasting impact, especially the question his teacher asked in class one day: “Have you paid enough? If not, why? How much more?”
“I would continue to beat myself up over things,” Robert admits. Over time, God taught him to relax in His grace and not hold himself to an impossible standard, dragging himself through the mud relentlessly for his past.
About halfway through the program, there was a plot twist in Robert’s story. A very good one. He met Wendi whom he later married upon completing NLF. Like a capstone on all his hard work toward new beginnings and redemption, their marriage has been another example of God’s faithfulness.
Today, Robert works as a web developer for a local marketing firm in Salem. He is no longer homeless, he is joyfully married, and is doing well. When he’s not hanging out with his program cohort who supported each other at UGM, he’s compensating time and energy in people who find themselves where he once stood.
“From where I began [at UGM], I’ve come almost full circle because I’m mentoring a guy down there right now,” Robert says. When he declared mentorship was key, he meant it.
The future looks bright
If you were to ask Robert how he might describe himself before his transformation, he might share he was lost by choice. Akin to Jonah’s deliberate decision to ignore God’s calling, Robert says, “I knew what I was supposed to do, but chose not to do it, chose to hide from God, but that’s a futile exercise. That’s trying to hide from life’s pain and distract myself any way I could.”
Now, he has exchanged those words with three new words: saved by grace. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
If you find yourself lost by choice, just remember that you are saved by grace. This means your life, no matter your choices, no matter your suffering, no matter the trajectory, is never hopeless.
Union Gospel Mission is changing the face of homelessness, one story at a time. When you give, you’re helping people just like Robert.