Sam is Finally Home

If you have received January's newsletter, you have probably read about Sam by now. A unique story in its own right, Sam exemplifies of what it means to be "Johnny on the spot," here at Union Gospel Mission. If you ask Sam to do anything, he quickly helps you out no matter how mundane the request may be -- and he does it so energetically with a smile on his face. You'll always see him with a smile.

As I interviewed Sam about his origin, I could not believe some of the experiences that he had to endure growing up in a country during a civil war. Not only did he escape the situation with his mother, but he also had to live in another terrifying environment with a family friend after escaping.

After living in an abusive and toxic environment, Sam went to an orphanage -- displaced from his family, Sam felt lonely and scared. I cannot imagine the circumstances Sam went through to get to where he is today. The traumas that he experienced can leave anyone shaken to the core.

Finally, Sam reunited with his family in the United States, but his transition proved difficult. When Sam arrived in the United States, he did not have much of a way to communicate with his family since he lost his native language and couldn't speak English well.

With his past unresolved, Sam dealt with it by drinking while in college. Although the drinking started off as a casual event either for weekends or celebrations, it quickly snowballed into something more serious.

After two encounters with law enforcement for driving under the influence, Sam landed in jail while on probation for his first offense. After serving time in the King County prison in Washington, Sam came home to shocking news about his mother.

When he arrived home he did not recognize his mother's appearance. At the time, his mother had stage-three cancer. She had gone through chemotherapy and radiation leaving her unrecognizable to Sam. During his time in prison, his mother did not inform him of her illness.

To deal with the shock of his mother's condition and health, Sam resorted to drinking again after his mother pleaded with him to not drink in his parent's home. Sam's family discovered that he drank again leaving them disappointed in his decision.

In Sam's moment of intoxication, he decided to go to California to start fresh. However, he only made it as far as Portland. When he arrived in Portland, he stayed one night in a hotel, and with no place to go the next day -- he became homeless.

Homeless in Portland, Sam said, "I was tired; I was exhausted; I didn't want to drink. I just wanted to be off the street and have a meal, have a bed, have a shower -- that's what I wanted initially -- that's the reason why I came."

He eventually made his way to Union Gospel Mission and learned what the mission could do to help get his life back on track from a volunteer named Mark. The next morning, he met Alvin, the outreach pastor, and Alvin explained to Sam how LifeChange rooted itself as a faith-based program.

Eventually, Sam joined the LifeChange community three days later and said, "... it was one of the best choice that I could have made for myself."

Sam's time at UGM has greatly improved his quality of life through the LifeChange program and community. As part of the program, Sam works within the mission as part of his work-therapy. He has held various roles within the mission from working in the kitchen to working in the UGM Thrift Store. He recently has worked in the day room at the mission helping the volunteers and serving the homeless population.

 In regards to working with the homeless population, Sam said, "If I can give a homeless person a warm jacket, or a meal, or coffee -- it's just so joyful to see that somebody is caring for them -- it's a blessing."

Although I don't work with Sam on a daily basis, Sam has a heart of gold that displays his charisma on a daily basis no matter if he interacts with staff, volunteers, or homeless guests. You can always count on him for anything. I have come to admire Sam for his attitude, patience, and kindness.

Watch Sam talk a little about his life in his own words.


Communications Coordinator, Jojoe Nujoy,  wrote this article. You can contact him at jojoen@ugmportland.org.