How UGM has changed me

Posted by Union Gospel Mission Feb 6, 2019 5:00:15 PM

"Change"  is one of UGM's distinctives. It defines our piece of the pie. We are here for people currently living in addiction or homelessness who are ready to change their lives, and we believe that life transformation is possible for everyone. But, make no mistake, it's not just the residents who are changing. Life transformation is happening across the ministry, in the lives of staff members as much as anyone else. Ask any of our employees how UGM has changed their lives, and we’re pretty sure they’ll respond with something along the lines of what our senior leadership and communications team share here.



Hannah Christensen: Web Specialist hannah

1. UGM has helped me to better understand the causes behind homelessness and addiction.

As I have volunteered and worked in homeless services over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to interact with many who are experiencing homelessness. Although each of them have a different story, they all have something in common: broken relationships, trauma, or debilitating circumstances that eventually led to homelessness and addiction. UGM has helped me to understand the underlying causes of homelessness and addiction and the wounds that must be healed before the behavior can change.

2. UGM has helped me to better understand myself.

The authentic and grace-based environment at UGM has made me take a deeper look at myself. To my dismay, I have found that I am just as broken and in need of Jesus as the alcoholic on the street. I too have idols and addictions that must be dealt with. As I hear the stories of those who have come to UGM for help, I realize that we are more similar than different. We are all loved by the God who created us. We are all undeserving of His grace and blessing. We all struggle to measure up to the standards we and others have set for us. We are all in need of change.

I feel so privileged to be part of the team that gets to tell people’s stories. I am daily inspired by the work God is doing through UGM and the people who are experiencing life transformation. I hope that as we tell these stories of hope and real change, your heart and perspective will be changed too.


james-1James Bishop: Videographer

I remember struggling before being hired by the Mission. I didn’t know how to help those who I saw were homeless, or what responsibility I had to them as a member of the same community. I knew they needed help, but I was afraid that my help might make things worse by enabling bad behaviors. I was plagued by this struggle.

After being at the Mission for almost 7 years, I know how to have compassion on those in homelessness, and I know what generally helps and what doesn’t. I think that’s important for all of us, because having an informed community means that we make smarter choices concerning the homeless population, which means loving them better and more wholly. The better we care for one another, the better (for all of us) our community is.


Lynn Yount: Staff Writer 

At the beginning of my nearly 9 years in UGM’s orbit, it was deeply eye-opening for me as a suburban, middle-class 20-something from an intact family to see what pain our residents have been through. The power of God was on display in healing people who had suffered multigenerational family dysfunction, abuse, injury, and other trauma I can only try to imagine.

Getting to know the people we serve has also been bringing me to recognize my own areas of poverty, my own desperate need for recovery from my “addictions”: comfort, praise from others, and control over my own time, to name just a few. These things habitually get in the way of the fully dependent relationship with Jesus I want to have.

As with substance addictions, rejecting these false dependencies will be a lifelong process for me. And it’s funny how God is also using my day-to-day, non-spiritual-feeling tasks at UGM to bring me to acknowledge my daily need for recovery far more effectively than any sermon or song would do. He’s using every aspect of UGM to remind me, every single day, of who I am, who he is, my need for him, and his sufficiency. Thanks be to God!


Marshall McLean, Graphic Designer marshall-1

The most lasting change in our lives usually happens slowly. Roots don’t grow deep overnight, and just like a tree, our hearts slowly root themselves into the place we are planted. It’s not that I didn’t feel compassion for the homeless when I first started working at UGM; of course I did. That was one of the reasons I wanted to be here. But now, my compassion runs deeper and my love is stronger. Over the past several years, here are three ways that UGM has changed me:

1. I now feel like I belong to a community of people who are helping our city in a profound way. I didn’t realize how hungry I was to belong to a team of people that were united by compassion and service and the fulfillment that I’ve experienced as a result has brought new joy into my life that has been absent for a long time.

2. Being a part of UGM has empowered me. Working on the Marketing and Communication team, I feel like the ideas that our team generates often come to reality and being able to see an idea come to life makes me feel alive and effective in the community.

3. Working for UGM, my love and compassion have grown stronger and more mature. I knew almost nothing about homelessness before UGM, even though at the time I would have told you I did, and now that I’ve spent time working here, I am humbled by the complexity of the issues that homeless men and women face. In response to that, I have found a deeper trust in God that He is working together all things for good in his own mysterious way.


JoAnn Zajicek: Director, Center for Women & Children

JoAnn says her whole family has seen improvement from what she's learned at UGM.In the interviewing process of hiring potential staff, I always communicate that if they choose to accept employment at the Union Gospel Mission, the person who will most likely grow and change the most will be them.  It is not uncommon for staff or volunteers to think that they will use their gifts and talents to help others, but it is almost impossible to enter the doors of this ministry without being personally impacted.

I have learned so much over the 7 years of working at the Center for Women & Children.  There have been many times that I have felt like I have been in “program” along with the residents, learning to identify false beliefs, set healthy relational boundaries and effectively communicate my needs.   I am more willing to engage in those hard conversations, knowing that it can lead to stronger and healthier relationships. 

I share the tools I have learned with my family and I have seen them change as well.   My daughter recently shared with me that our family is stronger and healthier because of UGM.


Sonny Westbrook, Director of Ministries sonny-2

 I am in my 12th year of working here at the UGM, and I can note three major changes that have occurred in my life over these years.

1. My life has been deeply enriched by the outstanding people who serve the Lord here.  We say that our staff are the most important resource the Mission has.  Beginning with Phil, our executive director, to all the people who make up our staff, God has provided an amazingly gifted and diverse group of men and women to carry this ministry forward. I have been strengthened and blessed time and time again by the opportunity to serve our wonderful Lord with this group of people.

2. Seeing God provide all the resources it takes to fulfill this ministry has enlarged my faith in Him.  When one contemplates the finances, the gifts in kind, the volunteers, the staff, one can only conclude: “Here at the UGM, every day is a miracle of God’s provision!”

3. Every year we see God do amazing things in changing people’s lives.  He still is saving all who come to Him in faith, and this has strengthened my confidence in His love, mercy and amazing grace.


Barbara Comito, Director of Marketing & Communications barb

Working at UGM has humbled me and made me realize how inclined I am toward self-righteousness, how easy it is for me to slip into the role of the Pharisee, thanking God “that I am not like other people,” when, in reality, I’m exactly like other people. UGM reminds me of our shared humanity. We are all created in the image of God with wonderful, beautiful potential, and we all share a sin nature and tremendous capacity for evil.

Every time I interview someone, I identify in one way or another with their feelings, their fears, their striving to find love and significance. I know what it means to look for love in all the wrong places. I know what it means to act impulsively, to make bad choices. And I know how important it is to be loved, to be understood, to be heard.

UGM has bound me to my fellow man and reminded me that we are in this together.


Wil Wilhelm: Development Director

Wil bro

When I joined UGM 8 years ago, I brought with me a lot of organizational development and leadership training, education and practical experiences.  I was encouraged by Phil to “take it all in before making any changes” and to “learn the culture first.”

My natural inclination and how I am wired professionally, is that when I see a better way to do something, I tend to push hard to make the necessary changes happen. This drive to get things done served me well in the military and secular for-profit arenas. I wanted to apply proven leadership models and business efficiency practices to the “issues” I saw within my area of UGM. The problem was that the models and practices I had in mind were not suited to be a secondary strategy.

In the for-profit and military environments, the Gospel of Jesus was not the core purpose behind their existence. But UGM’s sole purpose is to “Partner with the Inland Northwest to reach the poor with the love and power of the gospel so they may become God-dependent, contributing members of society.” Many of the leadership models and business efficiency practices that I thought would help the Development Department become more effective would have actually moved how we did our work away from the core foundational element of why our organization exists.

By sticking to our agreement to not change things right off the bat, I was able to see that any organizational change had to be in support of the “main thing.” Regardless of the different activities each department does, our work and daily focus is primarily about improving our ability with “the main thing,” and not just getting better at our individual tasks.

I have learned time and time again that we need to keep the main thing the main thing. Sharing the “love and power of the Gospel” is far more important than anything else we can do.


 Jessica Morgan: Art Director

2L7A385610 years ago, I started my job as Graphic Designer for UGM knowing very little about homelessness, abuse or addiction. But I had a big heart and knew I could produce great promotional materials – maybe even help refine the brand. But during my experience at UGM, my perspective has been refined as well. Through all the firsthand stories I’ve witnessed, the expert knowledge of the staff, my team’s research on the issues surrounding homelessness, I can think of three major realizations since working here that have changed me.

 1. Informed compassion is more powerful than impulsive compassion. This lesson is one I’ve learned to apply as a designer and in my personal life when helping others. I am cautious now with how I respond when I feel sympathy toward someone’s needs. Sometimes our good deeds make us feel productive when they may actually be harmful in a scenario. Becoming curious and understanding a situation is key to providing real help!

2. Social and emotional poverty is a far greater issue than material poverty for those experiencing homelessness. UGM’s emphasis on recovery and community has taught me to look underneath the physical symptoms in our lives to see what is truly lacking or where patterns may have originated. This has given me a whole new way to see issues in myself or others and how to address them.

3. Hope is the best medicine. At UGM we’ve seen the most severe cases of suffering and destructive lifestyles turned into beautiful stories of redemption and life. And it started with hope – someone hoping in them, someone sharing the hope of salvation through Jesus, or the hope from a testimony shared by a peer. Hope is a light in the darkness – something anyone can offer and anyone can receive.


Does this sound like a team you want to join? We’re always looking for talented and compassionate Christians to join our staff! Check out open job listings here.

Topics: life-transformation, employment, change


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