Monday, September 21, 2009


Hola, Friends of Colombia

The men in the City of Refuge here in Canaan Colombia begin their Monday mornings by getting together in the chapel to express their gratitude, and deal with any issues they may have before they start the week.

On one particular morning I sat in to observe. This is what I witnessed:

One man stood to his feet shaking. He was choking back great emotion; he proceeded to express how he was feeling for the way he had reacted the day before towards another brother in the dorm. He said in anger he had threatened to get a knife and kill him. Earlier this morning he had decided he would leave the program for the shame he felt for not being able to control his rage. Others around him encouraged him to ask the brother for forgiveness, but the struggle in him was too intense.

You see, just two months prior he had chosen to leave the streets of Barrinquilla, and the crack slums where he was dying in his addiction. He wanted to come back to the only place that might possibly take him in. Stinking, filthy, and weak from malnutrition he somehow found the courage and strength to walk the 10 miles to the Camp Canaan gate here in Baranoa where he stayed. He slept on the ground for 2 and a half days refusing to leave.

Each day the men in the program brought him food, but they continued to inform him that because of the past circumstances in which he had left this place it was going to be difficult for him to get an interview to re-enter the program. For those in the streets it is also a financial dilemma. They have usually spent their life resources. Finances in the program can be very tight. Also, there are not that many people who are willing to send their hard earned money to help a drug addict or alcoholic who has chosen this life style. The reality is: if you are not willing to work your program, shame will drive you away, and remorse will bring you back, only to repeat the cycle. Who can help a man like this? I think only Papa can.

He had not left the gate. The men in the City of Refuge, in the same compassion and mercy that they had received, let him back in. He passed his interview; would he pass the next test? He did. He did ask for forgiveness. The brother whom he had offended and threatened stood up and held his arms out. They hugged each other. He cried to have received such compassion like this. Why would anyone forgive him? The older brother knew. He knew that for whom much is forgiven much is required. Outcast, in the gutter or secure in the family, if we want to be forgiven we must forgive...

A new week... A weak man fallen, but forgiven, gets back up to choose life one more day. I think my eyes may have leaked a little too.

Ray Nelson

Saturday, August 8, 2009



Beside the two lane road I wave my arm in a downward motion to let the oncoming colorful bus with the name Sabanalarga written in large bold print above the front windshield know I need to hop aboard. I say hop, but it is more like a run and grab the assist bar beside the portal to enter as the bus slows to 10 mph, and I’m off to do a class in Barranquilla. With the horn of the bus blasting to let the eighteen wheeler, hauling fuel, know we are moving back into the line of traffic I swing a-board. The music is blasting to a colorful Salsa, and the curtains on the windows are flapping to the wind, which carries the music across the field as we fly down the highway. I should say careening because words like flying or swaying would be an understatement to this experience.

My life is in Gods hands as the pilot to this experience is captivated by the quest of being the first one to town, not the proprietor of our safety. I see a seat in the back and set next to four crates of mangos and a man who smells a bit like the burro that hauled him and his fruit to the bus stop. I immediately realize I am way to big for this seat, but it is late to look for another window view as two more pile in behind me. It is probably just as well, I say to myself, as my newfound ride launches into the on coming traffic lane to pass another, just as colorful, bus with more flamboyant Colombian music blasting from its windows. I make the mistake of moving my tasseled curtain to lean out the window so I can see where we are going. I find to my horror that our two-lane highway is becoming a four lane, crest of a hill, sagging, double yellow, Uneven surface of a godforsaken piece of asphalt! We are heading straight for a motorcycle, and a cattle truck! To the front of the bus that we are passing is a local farmer, a boy and a cart being drawn by a donkey hauling wood (I imagine) to their home for their cooking. The thought occurs to me none of us are going to be eating dinner tonight, and mother Mama Pauline, Jesus, Peter, and Brother Moses; I’m coming home.

Well to my amazement the on coming moto with a man, a woman and two children between them moves to the edge of the pavement. The truck passes him managing to miss the cycle by a good foot. I quickly retract my head from the window as I observe the butt end of a white cow behind the slats of the truck bed six inches from my face, as I look to the right and see we have managed to pull in front of the bus we are passing, missing its bumper by all of an inch. I look out the back, and I see the donkey the man and the boy all taking the day in stride as if I were the only one who had never seen how to turn a two lane road, into a living breathing 4 lane highway. My papa Chuck has always said, “An inch is as good as a mile”. If we had only known this in the US we could have saved millions by not painting white, and double yellow lines on our roads. As I settled into my ride to town realizing I am in Colombia, I’m still alive, and I may as well relax. As my friend, and brother-in law, Kenny would say, “That’s the way we do it down here boy”. I laugh to myself and lean back into my seat as the music fades, and I find myself reflecting again on the Fathers Day service I had attended Sunday at the, church that meets at Canaan Colombia”.

Not only is this particular gathering a bit unusual in that it is partially made up of men working through their “City of Refuge”, drug and alcohol rehab. Program along with their visiting families. It is also home to many locals who enjoy the all denominational, and non judgmental acceptance to all walks of life.

Many who feel they don’t fit into the mainstream are always welcome in a City of Refuge church worldwide. Among these is a group of the local youth. The pastor Alvaro, and his wife, Sarai are mentors, and second home to many of these kids. I stopped by their home the Saturday before Fathers Day to find Sarai and Monica, another woman in this community helping a bunch of these kids make key-chains with beaded man figures for all the fathers who would be in church Sunday. I found out the next day none of these kids had fathers in church.

Their fathers had abandoned them at a young age, or had left their mothers for their addiction or another woman. Most had not seen their fathers for years, others never. For some Alvaro is the only father they have. These precious kids who have suffered abuses I will not mention wanted to do something special to encouraging the men who were turning their lives around at Canaan. Their own fathers were not there to encourage them. I choked back a sob as my eyes were leaking and I looked out the window. I can’t help hanging out with these kids. I can’t help but love them. I can’t help but love their parents. I can’t help loving these men and women who are trying hard “in this crazy Colombia”, to turn their lives for the better. They seem to have a hope and a belief in Papa that I used to see in my country; in a time when my grandma Baker took me to church, when my parent’s walk was to give us hope. Some times I need a new perspective. Maybe that is what being a missionary is, an apostle is, a disciple is – a stepping outside the box. Whether it is across the street or across the world.

Will I go home and love my family more, my life more? I hope so. I kind of just want to leave now, and come home. I miss my sweet wife, my children, and my grand- children. Can they understand what I am doing here? I know Lori does. I have to remind myself we are doing this together when I question my purpose here.

How does one repay this gift of life? How can we pay for a gift? We can’t, can we? It is free. But for all of us freedom cost someone. I read an interesting article sent to me yesterday. Lt Col. Grant L. Rosensteel Jr. USAF was responding to a complaint from an American citizen that a squad of jets from his base was flying to low and the noise was disturbing to the community. The fly by was for a fallen comrade. In part of his response he said. Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you- Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. --- Maybe I will refocus and stay.


I can give back in a small way what I have been given. Lori has always told me that she would not want to end her days taking more than she gave.

Hell or high water! Lets do it—we will finish the much needed repairs on Pastor Alvaro’s family home. We will continue the work on the Northrop International training Center. These neighbors’s sobriety, family restoration, freedom, and safety are as important as ours. This really is one world, and their desire is as ours. And these young people: we are going to do something special for them. They could use a little healthy excitement in this town. I know this awesome guy: David Lugo he does rock concerts all over SA, US, and even Europe. He offered, I am going to call—

Well this crazy bus ride is over—I’m almost to the class --- well really a group of awesome people that asked me if I could help start a support/ how to hear God group with them and their employees. Sounds like fun. Now, -- how do I find the bus to their St. in this sprawling city of Barranquilla? Got to go now. Thanks for your help Lori. You are my inspiration! Te Amo Mucho!