If who you are is what you have and what you have is lost, who are you?
On Thanksgiving Day, 2009, I returned to my seedy hotel nestled in the trenches of Tijuana, Mexico alone (zero communication with family/friends), addicted (drugs, alcohol, and gambling), wanted (arrest warrants in Nevada and California), broke ($11 to my name, enough for one nights hotel and a few tortillas to eat) and worst of all hopeless.
Only 3 years prior, I was a millionaire residing in Las Vegas, esteemed in the eyes of the world. Now, having squandered and blown the “American Dream, “shame, guilt and hopelessness guided me on a solo trip south of the border where I have been for months. I felt so ashamed and unworthy I was incapable of looking at myself in a mirror. I did not want to necessarily wanna die, but surely I was not eager to live…all this as a born again Christian destined for heaven.
Overcome with fear and 100% unsure what to do I fell to my knees and cried out to God (for the first time in a long time) begging and hoping he would consider hearing me. Words can neither describe nor accurately convey the pain I carried knowing I and I alone (through selfish and sinful living) was fully responsible for the pathetic situation which was my life.
With a shaky voice and tears streaming down my cheeks I begged God for help, confessed my sinful lifestyle and desperately petitioning God to rescue me from the black hole of misery in which I wallowed! (He heard ne, a truth impossible to grasp had I not experienced it…God Almighty actually heard me: WOW).
Early the next morning I emailed a mighty man of God whom I had known but not spoken to in months, many, many months. You see, previously Mark Gerhard and his Men’s group strived to help me, but my heart had been hard.
My email described my prayer, shared God’s instruction to reach out to him and I humbly promised to follow whatever instruction he gave, no questions asked!
Two days later four of God’s finest men (Mark Gerhard, Don Spotts, Jeremy Culp and Glen Ritchie) each left their loving families on Thanksgiving weekend to rescue me. As they crossed into Mexico unsure of the mindset and stability of the cargo they were retrieving (me,) they were shocked to find me sober, showered and stoked to return with them to San Clemente, CA where each resided…hopefully we would arrive in time to watch my Philadelphia Eagles play…boy was I wrong.
Much to my chagrin, little aside from some pleasantries was voiced as our SUV crossed the border and cruised North on I-5; that us until our vehicle passed the last exit for San Clemente. Both puzzled and perplexed, I quickly asked, “Where are we going?” After a few minutes of awkward silence, one brother quietly replied, “To the Set Free Men’s Ranch in Cabazon, CA. You’re going to be Set Free!”
Men’s Ranch? Cabazon?HUH??
The truth is that it took about twenty minutes for me to process things; my initial thinking was sheer frustration. However, when I gave though to only two days prior, sitting hopelessly alone in that seedy hotel and recalling both my prayer and more importantly God’s answer, my attitude drastically changed.
Immediately I burst into tears, profusely thanked each brother and assured them I would honor God and their efforts by giving 110% at this Men’s Ranch I would be the best disciple I could be!
Entering the Set Free Men’s Ranch on a blistery cold November day in the middle of nowhere I definitely had no clue what to expect nor what lies ahead.
During Intake, I was told I would hold a daily job during “house blessings.” I responded with a request for the job least liked…Spankies it was! (Set Free slang for cleaning the outdoor “Port o Potties” used by all the disciples.)
Over the next forty days, God through the Set Free Men’s Ranch headed my heart, transformed my mind and allowed me to continue experiencing the miraculous. Somehow, hope was restored. I eventually even cracked a smile and the mountain of circumstance no longer seemed insurmountable. Slowly, confidence built each day that I could do this, that I again could have a life, a future, a purpose…please understand this thinking was too miraculous for me!
While God transformed me, He expected me to do some leg work. Thus, I memorized scriptures, was grateful to eat bland oatmeal in 25 degree weather at 5AM, took notes at Bible Study, prayed for all I knew and smiled with thanksgiving, when a brother would complain. For I knew, that I knew this humble and rustic abode (to say the least) was a miracle straight from God and heaven on earth to me! I never could have scripted nor imagined I would be here, but sure was happy to be!
Ironically, I am blessed to share that I pen these words, roughly 8 ½ years from that day in Tijuana, sitting on a bunk at the Set Free Men’s Ranch in Phelan, CA (The Hilton compared to Cabazon yet equally…majestic…just saying.)
I am blessed and fortunate tot train and become equipped with tools for teaching discipleship in preparation of future missionary work.
As God crafted delicious lemonade from the miserable lemons of my life, I shall humbly carry the message of hope to anyone and everyone the world (or themselves) deems unworthy, unlovable…hopeless.
8 ½ years ago I never have foresaw or believed that one day, I would smile, experience joy, be blessed or thankful, each miracle!
Of course I make mistakes, periodically fall short and at times act a fool. However, one powerful and irrevocable truth remains…that I can testify without hindrance or doubt that God is real , His unfailing love will resurrect your life and he will provide ea plan and purpose exponentially more fulfilling and fun than any worldly treasure, including the “American Dream.” And then you get to go to heaven!
God has graciously enabled me a purpose to selflessly serve in love wherever He sends me. Humbly, I pray this mission is faithfully accomplished as an empowered child of God and soldier in the Lord’s army. To God be the glory. Indeed, I have been SET FREE!
It is vital to point out a few of the fervently praying saints that surely preserved my life prior to me entering, “The Ranch.”
First, my loving family…Mom, Dad-you are rocks of faith; your prayers saved my life, I love you.
My Family at Acts Now Christian Fellowship in San Diego-I love you!
My extended family and friends…know I love you!
Set Free Ministries, Pastor Willy, Mark, Ernie Kilmer, Pastor Ron, Jimmy, Rico and Jeremiah I Love You!
Bob and Jeanie Lindfelt, I am so thankful and eternally grateful for you…you loved me when I couldn’t understand the Word. You were my only visit in prison; you enabled me to move to San Diego and continue to love on me to this day. While I have much, much room to grow, please know, I love you, carry your example with me and pray for a chance to serve under you. May I someday be 1% the man you are Bob…I love you guys!
Brother Al Segovia, you told me one of the most powerful things my ears ever heard; that you prayed for me every single day both before and after the ranch…Wow! I love you.
Lastly, to the brave hearted men who selflessly rescued me from the grips of death 8 ½ years ago… (Mark Gerhard, Don Spotts, Glen Ritchie, and Jeremy Culp). Wherever you are, know you saved me. I am eternally grateful and committed to honoring your efforts. I love you!