After breakfast & devotions, we joined Pastors Don & Sandy, their daughter Emily & our buddy Mario to go to a rehabilitation center located about 5 miles from the middle of nowhere. It’s a place for addicts to get clean & to receive spiritual training & become disciples of Christ. The program is 9 months long, & there are currently 36 men going through the program.
I’m not kidding when I say the center is in the middle of nowhere: once you leave the highway & paved roads, it’s another 5 miles on a bumpy, pothole ridden “come to Jesus” dirt road, so named because it is so treacherous it makes you repent & cry out to the Lord for deliverance. The rehab center has no running water or electricity; the guys at the center survive day-to-day off the land. They cut firewood for heat/heating water for showers/dishes. They draw their own water & lug it by hand to their kitchen, dorms, & restrooms. They wash their clothes on ancient washboards, & hang them to dry on cacti (true story!) They raise rabbits, chickens, & a pig for… food for special occasions. (The pig is for Christmas.) They pray & read their Bibles on the top of a hard-to-climb hill with a million dollar view, deafening silence, & a tangible presence of God. The center is rustic, yet homey. Isolated, though in the “Moses in the wilderness” type of isolation. There are several guys who have been through the program who serve as mentors & coaches for the newbies, whether they are detoxing in the infirmary, or actively participating in the daily chores necessary for survival.
Our guide, Frank, explained: “God uses everything here at the center to teach us, to help us to grow, to overcome addiction. We work hard, but we see His hand in our lives, & we experience salvation, deliverance, healing, & redemption. Many of us tried to waste our lives, but God had a plan to rescue us, & He’s using this place to help do that.”
The team arrived just as a church service was starting – most everyone went in, while theBean & I partnered with Emily to prepare the hotdogs & other food we brought for lunch. The service went on for quite a while (3 hours?) – & it would be easy for me to say, “man, that was too long.” At the same time, for many of these guys, this is the last option they have, the last chance to get clean, to save their lives. And they treat their church service like it matters, like it can change their lives. Like they’re desperate for change, desperate for God to do a miracle in them. They’re doing the hard work of admitting their wrong, their sin, & their inability to solve the problem themselves. And by coming to the rehab center, they’re submitting themselves to the mighty hand of God, asking Him for divine intervention. So I guess when they have church, its more than an event on their calendar: its an encounter with God, in the context of relationship with each other.
After the service, the guys came out & set up tables & chairs – & then proceeded to share the tortas (sandwiches) they had made for the day, which just happened to be Family Day. One Saturday a month, the guys’ families are permitted to visit them in the afternoon. On this day, there was 1 (one) lady & her daughter who came. 1 (one) family represented, out of 36 guys. As I think about it, I reflect on the immaculate grounds, the parking spots in the dirt that were freshly chalked & numbered, the tables set in preparation for loved ones that didn’t make the trek. And I weep.
I know many of these guys have burned bridges with years of broken promises – promises to quit using, to quit stealing, to quit lying & manipulating – to be the dad/husband/son/friend their loved ones needed them to be. And they didn’t do it. They have broken many hearts, & some might say they are reaping the consequences of their actions. Maybe they’d be right. I don’t know.
What I do know is this: Jesus Christ REDEEMS broken, twisted, wasted lives. He specializes in resurrecting the spiritually (& even physically) dead, in doing the impossible. And as for the forgotten, abandoned, hurting rehab guys? He places them in families – surrounded by people who will support them in their new life in Christ. And I am honored & privileged that our team was able to be at the center today to act as surrogate family, to share a simple meal, to play volleyball, basketball, & pool. To engage in conversation, to listen to the stories of real CHANGE that God is doing in their lives. To be witnesses to the evidence of what had once been hardened, even bad men, whose hearts have been softened & made new by the love, forgiveness, & redemption available through Christ. And I am so proud of every one of the Hillside-ers for engaging the men in their current life situation, & treating them with compassion & dignity. Not for cameras or so that it could be seen; rather, it was because it was what Jesus would do, if He were walking in our shoes today.
Our crew was somber as we left the center – the significance of what had happened today was weighty on our shoulders & hearts. So we came back into Rosarito & got ice-cream. While we were eating our frozen yummies, we sat outside & watched the life of downtown Rosarito on a Saturday unfold in front of us. American tourists everywhere. Busy police officers directing traffic & dealing with the unruly. Local indigenous people (Mexican indians) weaving in & out of traffic & the sidewalks, hawking their trinkets, blankets, chicle, & ponchos. The sensory experience was overwhelming – sights, sounds, & smells.
We have had a quiet night at La Casa de Descansa – ate leftovers (4th times a charm for me & nachos) & played UNO on the outside patio. Prepped for our Sunday service at Hope Chapel Rosarito tomorrow. Debriefed about our experiences of today, & prayed: for the guys at the center, for our host pastors, the Godwins, & for Hillside. Sang a couple of songs. Headed in the direction of bed. Mostly.
I’ve been sitting at the desk in the room 5 of us guys share, looking out the window at a field full of locals gathered for a night out of music & food. Mariachi music blaring from speakers as big as a truck. Hoping the generator running them runs out of juice soon. Catching up on the SF Giants. Snatching yet another defeat from the jaws of victory (how long must this go on?) Contemplating life here in Rosarito, & what we’ve been exposed to. Pondering home, & knowing that I know that I know that theBean & I are incredibly blessed to have Hillside as our church home & community. I feel such joy & support from those at home.
Well, the music shows no sign of fading, & the dancers in the field must not be subject to foot fatigue like I am, because they’re still going strong after 4 hours. But I’m not. I’m heading to bed, for realsies this time.
May God bless you richly – & may you know the height, depth, & breadth of His love for you – & the power of the redemptive work in your life, through the Holy Spirit. And may God work in you the mercy, compassion, & fierceness of His Son, Jesus Christ, so you are compelled to carry out His mission wherever you are…. Doing what Jesus would be doing, if He was walking in your shoes.
Because He is.