Rosarito, Day 6

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.

 

Rosarito, Day 5

This is a day late – due to the fact that we rolled into where we’re staying at 10:30 p.m., absolutely fried after a long day. Here’s what I recall:

For our devotions this week, we’re going through the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 120-134. It’s a collection of songs that Hebrew pilgrims would sing as they climbed the hills toward Jerusalem during the 3 major feasts on the Jewish calendar. Each morning, a team member or 2 takes one of the Psalms, reads it out loud, & shares what stands out about the Psalm, what God is speaking to them, &/or something significant. Then the rest of the team weighs in with their own insights. We close with prayer & start the day.


After breakfast & devotions, we headed to Hope Chapel Rosarito to join Emily & our buddy Mario for a prayer walk in the neighborhoods around the church. We broke into 2 teams, & took some ‘invitation flyers’ to pass out to anyone we happened to see, then we headed out. As we walked, we encouraged all of the team members to pray for the people of the neighborhood – that they would come to know Christ & find a life-giving community to be a part of. Over the next 2 hours, we didn’t engage a whole lot of people, but we did cover a lot of ground & spent some time praying over a section of property next to the church… asking God that it would be used for His kingdom & His glory. TheWeez used an app to determine how far we traveled & it turned out we walked about 6.5 miles. No wonder my feet are tired & sore.


 

The afternoon consisted of lunch & preparing for Friday night church at Vista Marina, HCR’s spanish speaking outreach to a neighboring community. We arrived around 4:45 to find most of the church gathered, awaiting our arrival. We played some soccer, gave horsie rides, & engaged the people as best we could in conversation. Service this week consisted of some worship (in Spanish) & an encore presentation of the 2 dance numbers we did earlier in the week. Shake it, shake it we did.

I had an opportunity to speak, & I explained about what we’ve been doing at Hillside – sharing our story, an area where God has intersected our life in a powerful way (based upon the Scripture Revelation 12:11, which says, “they overcame hm (the enemy) by the blood of the Lamb & by the word of their testimony… & they didn’t love their lives to the death.”  Four members of our team shared their stories, & I wrapped up with an encouragement from Matthew 5:14 – reminding each of us that we are the light of the world… & we bring God glory when we let it shine. Further, even if it seems our light is small & insignificant, it shines bright & drives out the darkness.


We went straight from Vista Marina to the beach, eating the sandwiches we had prepared on the way. Beach night means a bonfire with the fledgling HCR youth group & their youth pastors, Jose & Megan. Fire is always a good idea, & when accompanied by marshmallows, chocolate, & graham crackers, it is even better. Add to that the sound of crashing waves & a beautiful night & it was pretty awesome. Most of all, I was so proud of how our team engaged with the others. It made for a great night of conversation, snacks, & burning every piece of wood we could find, culminating in our s’mores sticks. Rolled into the Casa de Descansa (House of Rest) at 10:30, & quickly debriefed about the day, then straggled off to bed.

At this point, we’re tired, sore, kinda stretched thin & worn out. And yet, its a good tired. Feels like significant things are happening with our team, & with our friends at HCR. We’re finding it easier & easier to go to sleep & harder & harder to get up in the morning. It helps that Tony Mac gets the coffee brewing bright & early, & the smell of fresh java makes its way up the stairs & helps shake off the last remnants of drowsiness, reminding us, we’re still on a mission & we’re not done yet.

Please pray for us – for endurance, flexibility, & sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

Rosarito, Day 4

Today was our designated “Rest” day, which meant sleeping in a bit, pancakes & bacon, & a slower pace for the whole day. To me, a rest day on a mission trip isn’t a “waste” of a day – rather, it is a celebration of the fact that even when we ARE on a mission, we benefit & are strengthened by stopping from our labors, resting, & enjoying ourselves. Plus, its a reminder for all of us for when we return home to our local “mission from God,” we need time for rest, recreation, & reflection.

After breakfast, we meandered down to the local flea market (it’s not a flea market, but that word gives you the idea of the atmosphere) for people to buy trinkets, ponchos, jewelry, & handwoven backpacks & the like. I didn’t buy anything, but I did walk around & make sure nothing hinky was going on, accompanied by my new friend Alejandro. His nickname is “Tiny” which of course means he would fit in in any NFL locker room at the defensive lineman meetings. Goodness. And I’ve loved hearing his story of redemption – how God took his heart, full of hate, mistrust, & violence, & healed it so he could love & trust again. Gentle dude.


When the shoppers had had their fill of acquisitions, we walked across the street to Paisans Tacos. It was our 2nd trip there in 3 days, & this time, there was barely anyone there. Which meant we could get seconds if we wanted. And I wanted. I ate carne asada tacos & 2 asada burritos with some of the best homemade salsa on the planet. My body revolted against the yummy goodness after burrito #2, but it was nothing Mr. Tums Antacid couldn’t get me through.


Rest day also equals a day at the beach. It’s not really the kind of ocean you just go swimming in – it looks & feels a lot like Santa Cruz, where you’d only head out if you were a) surfing or b) silly. I was neither today, so the closest I got to the water was walking down the beach holding hands with theBean as the water rushed over our feet. Being around living waters (rivers, lakes, & the ocean) feeds theBean’s soul, so you can only imagine the smile on that girl’s face as we walked up & down the beach, talking about everything & nothing, plotting together for next summer when we get to go to Puerto Vallarta. Boom.

One of the highlights of our day was when a school of dolphins appeared in the surf less than 100 yards out from our spot on the beach. We watched them do X-Games-style stunts, jumping & sailing through the oncoming surf, dancing on the surface, splashing around & generally entertaining anyone who happened to be on the beach at the time. It was one of the coolest sites I’ve seen in person. Yes, I’ve seen trained dolphins at Sea World, but man, this was dolphins doing what dolphins do “For Love Of The Game.”


If the sun & surf really took it out of us… the activity back at the place we are staying finished the job. Actually, Tony Mac & I read, a couple others worked out, & the hoopers played hard for a couple of hours, until we decided it was time to end our feeding for the day with chili nachos. All of us were fading as we headed to our daily debrief, but talks about our day’s highlights revived us enough to get us through til bed time.

It’s relatively quiet now (10:27 p.m.) save for the barking dogs outside, the occasional drive by truck with a megaphone announcing a sale on propane or pizzas, or the sound of Jordan being… Jordan. The sea breezes are just about reaching us & are making the rooms almost cool enough for sleep.

Tomorrow, our main activities are heading to the Vista Marina church, about 15-20 minutes from Rosarito, where we get to do our special dance again, set to “Every Move I Make.” And a couple of people will have the chance to “tell their story.” After a sack-dinner, we’re heading back to the beach to meet with the Hope Chapel Youth Group for a bonfire & S’mores. Yes. This is a rough life.

Thank you for your prayers – we feel them & appreciate them.

Rosarito, Day 3

We started our morning at the children’s home, with breakfast & devotions. Made a sack lunch & packed up our bags for the transfer to our new ‘home away from home, then made our way out past the “Cliffs of Insanity” to Joseph House. Joseph House is a home in the making, sponsored by Hope Chapel Rosarito – it’s purpose is to provide a safe haven, a place for deported men to stay, live, & be discipled. There are currently 5 men living in the home, & many of them have jobs (a rarity for deportees.) Our tasks for the day were simple:

  • Paint the 2-story front of the house, as well as 1 of the 2-story sides. No ladders, just extension poles. (Light baby blue. It was nice.)
  • Assemble a corner desk – without instructions, & perhaps without all the necessary pieces.
  • Rearrange the home so that the 5 occupants could better live life in it. After all, dudes are dudes & we need help organizing & designing stuff.
  • Clean the kitchen (see above)
  • Dig holes for a fence to establish the Joseph house property boundary. Make the fence. Using only reclaimed wood, scrap metal & nails.

Boom. We did it. Finished all of the projects with the help of some skilled labor (Mario & Alejandro, 2 of the once-baddest-but-now-big-softies-for-Christ-that-I’d-want-walking-with-me-on-any-street-in-the-world type of guys) & a lot of sweat. And sun. It was hard work, & took a lot of ingenuity on the part of Tony Mac, who rigged two extension poles together in order to finish painting one section of the house, & of Janelle, who came up with the idea of hanging out the upstairs windows to paint other parts of the 2nd story. Good times.

An added benefit is that we met a family from the US that just relocated to Rosarito. Jason & Dulce have 3 kids, & the funny part is that Jason went to the same high school theWeez currently attends in the greater Reno-Sparks Metro area. Small. World. Jason is a photographer & videographer working in Baja, & he’s been shooting a bunch of pics for us.

At the end of our work day, we took time to pray for the house & for the men who do (& will) live in it. It was very moving to know that this place is (& will be) a refuge for men who have lost everything… & that they will become men who have found everything again when they find Christ.


We were dead tired (& dirty), so we made our way to our new home, the House of Rest. It is sponsored by Calvary Chapel & is a world-class place, with room for 64 people & some really great features. The best one so far was the SHOWER because I was covered in baby blue paint sprinkles.

Freshly scrubbed, we made our way to Grandma’s House, a Baja restaurant specializing in (wait for it….) food like Grandma used to make. Ate to our hearts content. And with eyes glazing over & people starting to nod off, it was time to go home.

Wrapped up our day with a brief discussion, a song, & prayer, & the promise of PANCAKES & BACON for breakfast in the morning. Another happy thought is that we will be sleeping in & having a rest day. Without a rest day on a trip like this, it would be easy to lose focus, get burned out, & turn into virtual zombies. With the demands of our schedule Friday-Sunday, we can’t afford that, so Thursday is rest day/beach day/buy a poncho day for those that so desire.

And it will be grand. Thank you for praying. It makes a difference.

Rosarito, Day 2

Slept great, & woke up just before my alarm. Because we’re staying at a children’s home, they get first dibs on the kitchen for breakfast prep/clean up. This means we get the kitchen around 8-8:30 & prep breakfast. We’re trying to take turns making breakfast/cleaning up so that everyone gets to experience the joy of washing dirty dishes. There’s nothing like it.

After breakfast, most of the team was charged with engaging with the special needs children. Very cool to see how many of the little ones have changed, grown, developed, & gained areas of function. The year between our visits really displays the significance of a place like “Catherine’s Home” to help those who society has abandoned or given up on, & invested time, energy, & the love of God.

The boys were tasked with painting a clear-coat wood sealer over a mural in the kids main play room. While the kids were playing in it. We were given rollers & a paint tray, & pointed in the ‘right direction.” And did I mention that the clear-coat sealer came with explicit instructions NOT to apply the sealer with a roller? Or NOT to apply it indoors? Well, that was fun. It made my brain feel silly, as did watching the rest of the team attempt to “lasso the wind” as every mobile kid in the place tried to make a run for it, hoping to bathe their little hands & faces in the toxic goo we were applying to the walls.

And then we ran out of sealer, 1/2 way through. So, Tony Mac & I did what anyone would have done in our places. We jumped in the van, with Daniel the Man, & went looking for “the Home Depot” we’d seen when we came in yesterday. Found it too. Boom!

Turns out, they didn’t have any toxic goo similar to what we’d used, & after attempting to translate into Spanish what we wanted, we were handed off to the English language Paint specialist, Eduordo.

ED: why do you want clear coat wood sealer? Are you painting wood?
ME: Nope. Drywall.
ED: So you want a drywall sealer? We have that. It comes in white.
ME: Nope. We want a clear coat wood sealer.
ED: But you’re not painting wood.
ME: Nope.
ED: How about concrete sealer? You want that?
ME: Nope. We need the wood sealer. I know it doesn’t make sense, but we want the toxic goo we put up to be the same kind of goo we already used.
ED: Sorry. We don’t have it.

It was an adventure. We bought ourselves a celebratory Coke Zero, & went home.


Most of our afternoon was spent walking a dirt road neighborhood that could only be accessed by helicopter. Not really, I made that up. It simply required that we drive the van up sheer, boulder laden cliff-like roads at great risk to our personal safety. I dubbed them “the Cliffs of Insanity.”

Not really, but it was steep & rocky. Our team talked to many kids. I was lagging in the back, & was tapped on the shoulder by a 60ish man named Augustine. He knew gangsta-rap English (all the swear words too) & we were able to communicate very well. He walked with me for about 10 minutes, & then told me he needed to stop & head home because his back hurt. Because he was old. So I asked if I could pray for him, & did, in broken Spanish & Spanglish.

He burst into tears near the end of the prayer – & gangsta-Spanglish spilled out as he thanked me & our group for coming to his “god-forsaken barrio, a place of hopelessness.” Then he thanked me for having a real conversation with him, & treating him like a person, a real person. Because he is a worthless alcoholic, deported 30 years ago, who lost his wife & kids in the deportation. And now his only meaning in life comes from giving pesos to little kids so they don’t starve. And losing himself in the bottle. He thanked me again, & headed wobbily down the street. I wept.


TheWeez was called upon to give the message at the outreach – she had the crowd of mostly U12’s waiting on her every word. She started her talk with a chant, “UH – LEESE! UH – LEESE! UH – LEESE! UH – LEESE!” The crowd went wild. She told them how Jesus delivered her from bad-dreams when she was a little girl, how she had been taught to call on the Name of Jesus when she was afraid or in a time of need.

Off to the side, I wept.


Turns out, when we were on our paint run, we missed most of morning dance rehearsal. Yes. Dance rehearsal. For our outreach this afternoon. Missing rehearsal doesn’t mean you miss the performance. It just means you get to shake it like there are no repercussions for doing so. And we did. Tony Mac, Daniel the Man, & I. Booyah!


We got back to the children’s home, had dinner & cleaned up. We’re heading to a debrief (let’s talk about the day) in 10 minutes. Then, it is sleepy time. Tomorrow, we’re heading back up the Cliffs of Insanity to do some work at the Joseph House, Hope Chapel Rosarito’s outreach to deportees.

Good night. Thanks for praying.

Rosarito, Day 1

Met at the church today at 5:30 a.m. & had the van packed by 5:50… on the road by 6. Quickest pack job ever. 9 of us prayed & piled into the van for the long trip that would eventually end with us in Rosarito, Mexico for day 1 of our mission.

I was the driver today… didn’t initially plan to drive the whole way myself, but it worked out… & I don’t feel like a zombie. The only difficult part was when everyone in the van went to sleep, leaving me cruising down the I5 attempting to will any drowsiness away. Didn’t turn on the radio until we hit LA traffic.

Made it to our destination, Carl’s Jr in San Diego where we met up with Don & Sandy Godwin, the pastors of Hope Chapel Rosarito, & their daughter Emily (who lived with theBean & I for several months last year.) They will be serving as our hosts for the next week. Don & Sandy guided us the remaining 3 miles to the border, & led us across. Our van was stopped by a border agent – he asked a question or 2, looked in the van, & sent us on our way. Rosarito here we come.

20 minutes later, we were reminded WHY we have been told over & over that we need to be flexible – the place we were supposed to be staying for the next week turned out to be double booked, & we, like Joseph & Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth, found there was no room at the Inn. Stables, anyone?

A few phone calls were made & we found that we would be able to stay at the same children’s home we did last year – this could be a win-win situation, as we are already familiar with the home & many of the children… our only wild-card is we don’t know how the ‘cooking our own food while the children’s home staff are in the kitchen prepping their kids food” thingy will go. Here’s to a couple of necessities: Flexibility & Humility.

Emily prepped us for some of the outreach work we’re doing tomorrow, & gave us all a lesson in cultural norms & appropriateness. We wrapped up our day with a short debrief & a quesadilla snack. The weariness of the day’s travel is setting in. Please pray for us over these next days – our team is safe & doing well.