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 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.

Man Night, home, & other musings…

Sitting in the coolness of my office with a fan blowing on me drinking an iced-coffee. All to try to avoid the heat of the day, the heat that has been turned up to “11.” Thinking over the soon-to-be-happenings of Man Night. Proverbs 27, especially verse 17.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of another

Got me thinking about the ‘act’ of sharpening… & how in order for a tool (like an axe, a knife, or a sword – c’mon, it’s Man Night, so I’m thinking of wielding Manly tools) to be sharpened, one has to strike the item to be sharpened, skillfully, in just the right places with an item or implement that is stronger & harder than the item to be sharpened.

So how does ‘iron sharpen iron?’ One way for this to work is for the ‘sharpening iron’ to have been tempered – or put through a process of controlled reheating to harden & strengthen the implement. Interesting….

I wonder how this ‘tempering’ translates to people, to me. What does the heating process do? I don’t think of getting heated to red-hotness being something that is desirable.

But the process makes the forever-changed implement useful. To shape other implements. Hmm.

Regret raises her head occasionally, usually at times where I’m most pensive & introspective. Kinda like when I’m doing the deep cleaning of a room at home… opening up ALL the drawers, going through the corners of the closets, making sure the lights are on in order to see just what is in there… & then I discover a Mess. A big Mess that I distinctly remember thinking that I’d eventually get around to cleaning up. A big Mess that was forgotten, due to the forgetfulness caused by falling into routine busyness. A big Mess that begs to be addressed. But it’s such a big Mess. The only way to deal with the Mess is to put on the special gloves & head into it. A little bit at a time.

Even if it hurts.

Home is ultimately not about a place to live but about the people with whom you are most fully alive. Home is about love, relationship, community, and belonging, and we are all searching for home. Erwin Raphael McManus – Soul Cravings – Entry 8

That resonates with me – I think its because when I think about home, I don’t think about a place. Granted, I live in Sparks, Nevada, & have been a resident of Northern Nevada within 35 miles of my current home, all of my life. But instead of Sparks, I think of people. Faces flash through my minds eye. People that are intimately associated with being ‘home.’ Home is people, & being in a place without those people would be unbearable. No matter how ‘cool,’ elegant, spacious, or desirable that place is.

I see that I have changed. I’m changing.. Will continue to change. At one point in the not so distant past, home was being in my Cave. The place where I could be by myself & get lost in a book, a TV show, or a good movie. Alone. Where I didn’t have to be WITH people. Looking back, I can see times where even in the presence of people I’d try to be apart from them, to be by myself, to isolate & withdraw in the name of my (very real,) introversion. I regret that. The lost opportunities to discover “home” with others. With myself. Where I’d been so focused on my own discomfort that often comes being around people that I missed the joy & wonder of being WITH people.

A hard thought: in not being WITH people, I missed out on things that God wanted to do in & around me THROUGH people.

I don’t want to ‘miss’ God & ‘miss’ others in the name of a misguided self-sufficiency. Fear has stolen enough from me: fear of rejection. Inadequacy. Pain. Being unloved & unlovable. Of making a mess. Saying the wrong thing. Saying nothing. (like the lyrics from REM’s “Losing My Religion” “oh no, I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough…” ) How many things, friendships, experiences I missed out on because of fear. Knowing that if I couldn’t do it perfect, I wouldn’t try it at all.

Heavy sigh.

So I’m thankful for the process & act of redemption. That as long as its still called today, its never too late for things lost to be regained, restored, healed, & transformed.