Two Lost Brothers (a preacher and a criminal)

Today is July 6, 2018.  Earlier today, my brother and I were waiting for our order of twelve tortas (lunch for the family) to get done at a bodega in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn on the corner of Jamaica Ave and Hemlock Street.  We have an AirBnB  with our beautiful wives and wonderful (usually) children. As we waited, we talked for the first time about the incident that led to our friendship being broken for several years. Jesus worked in both of our hearts and restored the relationship between two brothers. I had never heard the story from his perspective. The story is the preface to his book Increase Your Favor. The book has been finished for years but he had not found the right time to ask me if he could share our story so he waited to release it. As we wept over the chess board, I said, “Sure man. You can share that. It’s a beautiful story of redemption.” God is faithful. Jesus is the only hero to this story of two lost sons– one outside in a pig pen and the other inside the father’s house.  -John Alarid

Preface to the upcoming book by Brian Alarid, Increase Your Favor

What I need you to understand about me is that I am not the hero of this story—far from it, as you will clearly see.

“Pastor Brian…uh…I don’t know how to say this, but…uh…”

I could tell my youth pastor and lifelong friend Jason was struggling to get the words out, so I decided to let him off the hook. “What bro? Just say it.”

“Um…did you get arrested tonight?”

“What are you talking about, Jason? No, I didn’t get arrested. I’m at a church party. What’s the punch line?”

“Well…I was having dinner with my parents and we heard the news on the television in the living room say, ‘Brian Alarid was arrested this evening breaking into a commercial building near downtown Albuquerque.’ And my parents were like, ‘Hey, isn’t that your pastor?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, it is. What the heck?’ So I ran into the living room and it had your name on the screen, but the man they arrested didn’t look like you.”

“Shut up! Are you sure they said, ‘Brian Alarid’?”

“Uh…yeah, pretty sure.”

It was Father’s Day 2007 and I was celebrating with some friends from church. We were fourteen months into our church plant. Passion Church had grown from seven adults to over 200 people in a few short months and over 400 people had made decisions for Christ. My three-year-old daughter Chloe was playing next to me. My son Colin, who was born the day we started our church, was sitting on my lap making a mess all over my designer jeans with his bowl of carrot puree. Overcome with emotion, that I ran into my friend’s office.

I tried in vain to calm myself down. I called 911 and told the operator that I thought I was the victim of identity theft. I explained that someone using my name was arrested within the last hour. She patched me through to the arresting officer.

“Hello, officer. My name is Brian Alarid. I am the Pastor of Passion Church here in Albuquerque. I just heard on the news that someone was arrested using my name. But I want to assure you that I am the real Brian Alarid. What do I have to do to clear my name?”

“Hi, Mr. Alarid. I thought something was odd when we arrested this guy and he quickly offered up your name and social security number but didn’t have any identification on him. So, we ran his finger prints. Do you know a John Alarid? Is he related to you?”

Atomic bombs of anger went off inside my head. “Yes, I know John. He’s my brother.”

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your brother has used your name and social security number in 27 arrests dating back to 1993. Fortunately, we have either his photo or fingerprints from all those arrests. I can prove that you are innocent, but it is going to take me a few days to process the paperwork for you to sign.”

I was so furious I could have cussed. I didn’t, but I sure came close. I wasn’t sure if I could ever forgive John. I mean, how could my own flesh and blood betray me like that? I had always supported him through his years of addiction to alcohol and drugs. How could my brother jeopardize me and my family like that? Didn’t he care about me at all?

The officer continued, “You will need to go down to the FBI center and get fingerprinted to prove you are Brian Alarid. But don’t drive yourself. Do you have someone who can drive you there?”

“Yes, of course, my wife Mercy can drive me. But I don’t understand. Why can’t I drive?”

“Because if you get pulled over, the police will think you have escaped from jail and arrest you, and then you will have to stand trial to prove you are the real Brian Alarid.”

“But you said you have proof that my brother stole my identity. Can’t you change the name in the system from John to Brian?”

“Unfortunately, I can’t just change your name in the computer. I have to file the police report to prove you are a victim of identity theft. Then I can change your name. I’ll send an officer to your house in a few days for you to sign the paperwork. So until then, try to stay low and not get arrested.”

“Gee, thanks! I’ll try not to.”

Just like that my whole life had changed. The laid-back take-life-as-a-it-comes, jovial guy who was living life to the fullest turned into a raging volcano of anger. Hulk smash!

I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was short with my wife and kids. I didn’t even feel like talking, which was a first for me. To be honest, it was even hard to pray and read my Bible. This was beyond ridiculous. How could my brother do this to me? And how could God let this happen? What are people in my church going to think about their new pastor? Not cool, Lord…not cool.

A few days later, there was a strong, forceful knock on my front door. I thought to myself, I bet that’s the police. Sure enough, I opened the door and two Albuquerque police officers were standing there. But something didn’t feel right. They had their guns drawn. I started freaking out.        Why would they have their guns drawn if they are coming just to have me sign some paperwork? That doesn’t make any sense. Oh my God…they are going to arrest me in front of my kids! Mercy isn’t home right now, so will they take our kids into protective custody?

“Are you Brian Alarid?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Can we come in?

“Yes, of course,” as I gingerly opened the screen door. Once they were inside my living room, they put away their guns.

“We have some paperwork for you to sign to finalize your case of identity theft.”

“Are you going to arrest me?” I whimpered.

“No, no, so sorry about that. Your brother John has a list of known associates who are some pretty rough characters, so we just had to make sure your home was secure before we entered it.”

“Oh, good Lord! You scared me half to death. I thought you were going to arrest me in front of my kids. Well, that’s a relief!”

I signed the paperwork and they said that was all they needed to finish my case. “Now, I don’t want to press charges against my brother. I told the arresting officer that. You do understand that, right?”

“Yes, we understand that. You’re not pressing charges. This police report just enables us to clear your identity. The arresting officer is going to testify that your brother gave him your name and social security number and that he signed your name when we booked him. Your brother is going away for a long time. You won’t have to worry about him causing you any more problems.”

      Oh, man! I was furious at my brother and was struggling to forgive him, but I didn’t want him to go to prison. I mean, I still loved him. After all, he’s the only sibling I have. Later that week, my Mom asked me if I wanted to go with her to visit my brother at the county jail.

“No Mom, I’m not ready to see him.”

“But honey, he’s your brother. You need to go see him.”

“I will Mom, but not yet. When I see him I want to be able to tell him that I love him and that I forgive him. I want to mean it from the heart. And I’m just not there yet. So please just give me some space.”

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it took me six weeks of prayer, fasting, and counseling and a whole lot of Dr. Pepper to process through my feelings of betrayal. By the grace of God, I finally was able to forgive my brother and go visit him in jail. I had preached scores of sermons on the power of forgiveness and how forgiveness starts with a decision—and yet here I was struggling to forgive. It was hard to silence the deafening voice of condemnation inside my head. You really suck at this whole forgiveness thing, Brian. Who are you to get up and tell other people they need to forgive those who’ve hurt them? You should give up pastoring and go do something else.

I was an absolute mess, both emotionally and spiritually. If Jesus died for my sins and forgave me, why couldn’t I just forgive my brother? Why was it so hard? Every Sunday when I gave an altar call at the end of my sermon and asked people to repent of their sins and confess Jesus as their Savior, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit exposing my deep need for forgiveness. I felt like such a hypocrite. If it’s true that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die, then I died ten thousand deaths during this dark chapter of my life.

Things are about to get better,I told myself. I’m going to visit my brother in jail, look him in the eye, and tell him that I forgive him. Surely John will be overcome by emotion, begin weeping and ask me to forgive him on the spot. We will make up and go back to being best friends like when we were younger. There is light at the end of tunnel.

Until there isn’t.

My Mom, my daughter Chloe, and I walked into the Bernalillo County jail. I picked up the telephone attached to the video monitor and there was my brother in his orange jumpsuit. Chloe was sitting on my lap trying to get high enough to see her uncle.

“Hi John, how are you doing man?”

“Well, not that good. Obviously.”

My heart felt like it was about to burst, so I just let it out. “Hey bro, I just want you to know that I love you and I forgive you. I am going to stand with you through this trial and be there for you every step of the way…”

John rudely interrupted my well-prepared speech. “Dude, did you press charges against me? Did you tell on me?”

“Uh…no. I didn’t press charges against you.”

“Well, my attorney says you pressed charges against me for identity theft and that is going to make things worse for me.”

“Dude, I filed a police report to clear my name because you used my identity when you got arrested. And the officer told me you have done that 27 times dating back to 1993. How could you do that to me?”

And then the bomb dropped.

You’re not my brother. You’re dead to me. Don’t ever come see me again. You’re a traitor!” And just like that, John hung up the phone phone used for inmates and visitors to talk through a monitor and walked away.

Are you stinkin’ kidding me? I’m a traitor? You’re the traitor! You’re the one who used my identity 27 times like your own personal get-out-of-jail free card.

      I was furious. I could have condemned my brother to all of Dante’s nine circles of hell. It took me six long weeks to finally forgive my brother and only two seconds for all that anger, unforgiveness, and hurt to invade my heart all over again.

Like a good brother, I went to all of John’s court appearances over the next few months. He refused to even so much as look at me. On the day he was sentenced to eight years in prison (with two of those years being suspended), my heart broke for him. I thought to myself, Don’t worry, once he gets to prison, he’ll realize how wrong he’s been and he’ll beg you to forgive him.

      Sadly, I momentarily relished the idea of him groveling back to me, pleading for my forgiveness. I know you have never had a revenge fantasy, but please don’t judge me. I was bitter and you probably would have been too.

In my despair, I ran to the story of Joseph in the Bible since he was betrayed by his brothers. His life is a story of a man who felt forsaken and abandoned by God. It’s a story of family strife, jealousy, betrayal, deceit, false accusations, shattered dreams, and wrongful imprisonment—all the stuff that makes for a good soap opera and a great telenovela.

I connected with Joseph’s story on a very deep personal level because of my own journey through betrayal and unforgiveness. When my situation looked hopeless, Joseph’s testimony prodded me to believe that God could somehow redeem my unholy mess and make something beautiful out of it. It turns out Solomon was right, God really does make everything beautiful in His time.

As I read through the record of Joseph’s life time and time again, I commiserated with him. I would wonder out loud what Joseph was feeling at each juncture of his journey. When I felt like giving up, I could almost hear Joseph cheering me on, encouraging me not to quit. I began journaling my thoughts and it was quite therapeutic. It was almost as if we became pen pals, separated by some mere thirty-seven-hundred years. Kind of like the movie, The Lake House, except that Joseph didn’t write me back. And my wife Mercy says that I’m way hotter than Keanu Reeves. She always was well discerning.

I was drawn to Joseph because of shared pain, but what I discovered was far more than just betrayal and redemption. The life of Joseph is a story of unusual favor and it reveals five timeless principles of favor. From his life, we learn how to createfavor, releasefavor, increasefavor, stewardfavor, and sustainfavor.

Forgiveness protects your heart from being poisoned by bitterness so you can enjoy God’s favor on your life. When Joseph had the opportunity to exact revenge on his brothers who had so unmercifully betrayed him and sold him into slavery, by the grace of God, he chose to forgive them. By showing them mercy, Joseph persevered a lifetime of favor and protected his heart from bitterness, revenge, and hatred.

I began studying Joseph to comfort my wounded heart, but through it God surprised me with a life message on favor. The overarching theme of this book is favor, but before you can reap the rewards of favor, you first have to pay the price for favor. In between the promise and the payoff is the dreadful process, which always involves more pain and sacrifice than we could ever imagine. The favor of God on Joseph’s life cost him everything.

You need to catch this—God’s favor is free, but it isn’t cheap. Favor will cost you everything and then some, but it will also reward you with far more than you ever sacrifice, as long as you don’t quit. You have to play the long game.

The long game for me was painfully dark and lonely. Several months after John was sentenced to prison in the fall of 2007, my mother asked me if we could celebrate Thanksgiving together as a family on Wednesday evening. She wanted to get up early the next morning to go visit my brother in prison four hours away in Hobbs, New Mexico.

“Of course. We’ll eat our Thanksgiving meal Wednesday evening and I’ll drive with you to Hobbs the next morning. That’s a long drive and I don’t want you to go alone. I’ll get us a hotel room and we’ll drive back together on Friday. It will be a great mother-son date.”

“I’m sorry, Son, but you’re not on John’s guest list so you can’t go with me.”

“So call him and tell him to add me to the guest list.”

“Honey, you don’t understand. John told me he doesn’t want to see you. He still hasn’t forgiven you for what you did to him.”

“What! He hasn’t forgiven me? Are you kidding me? I didn’t do anything to him. He’s the one who betrayed me. Forget him!”

My mother lived with us at the time, so that made for an awkward Thanksgiving. My wife Mercy made an immaculate meal, my Mom bought gifts for my kids to open, and we watched family holiday movies. But there was this anger eating away at me like toxic waste. It was hard to enjoy anything, even the beautiful smiles of my kids and the sweet embrace of my smoking hot wife.

I read a book on forgiveness thinking it would help me. Nope, it made it worse. I still had all my preaching and leadership duties to keep up with as the Pastor of Passion Church and our leadership school. I tried to stuff my calendar with meetings to avoid my pain. That didn’t work so well either.

We had a fantastic Christmas church service in the Cottonwood Mall theater. Over twenty people responded to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. I live to see people get saved—it’s my biggest thrill and joy in life. Sadly, even something as magnificent as twenty names being written in the Lamb’s book of life couldn’t snap me out of my funk.

A few months later, my Mom walks into my office with a letter in her hand. “Brian, your brother wrote to you. Please read it.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. I can’t do it. I love John, but right now, I really don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

She left my office in tears. Five days in a row, I read my Bible and prayed and worked on my laptop with that letter laying on my desk, almost like it was staring at me, taunting me. I finally worked up the courage to open it.

“Dear Brian, I just wanted to write you to tell you that I have rededicated my life to Christ in prison. And I just want you to know that I forgive you for betraying me and filing that police report against me…”

What are you smoking, man? You forgive me? I didn’t betray you. You should be asking me to forgive you.

All the unforgiveness and bitterness that I had worked so hard to release to God came rushing back into my heart in an instant, but with interest. I was angrier than I had ever been. Mercy tried to comfort me, but I was inconsolable.

Sleepless nights, tear-soaked prayers, and distracted date nights became my new normal. My heart was numb. I had been reading my Bible regularly since I was twelve, but now it seemed like it was written in a foreign language. Nightly family devotions, which had been the highlight of my day, were now brutal. I felt like God was a million miles away.How can I lead my kids to Jesus when I felt abandoned by Him? How do I teach them about the love of God when I no longer feel His love?

Three weeks after receiving my brother’s first letter, my Mom walked into my office with an envelope in her hand and a big grin on her face.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Mom? Please don’t tell me that letter is from John.”

“Honey, your brother has really changed. You should read this letter. I think it will be different from the last one he wrote you.”

“Uh, no thank you! I’m done with allowing him to hurt me. I’m serious this time, Mom. I’m not going to read it.”

“Brian, don’t be like that. Jesus told us that if we don’t forgive others, He won’t forgive us. You need to forgive your brother or God won’t forgive you.”

“That’s really not helpful, Mom. I know what the Bible says. Have you forgotten that I’m a Bible teacher by profession? I’ve forgiven John. I just don’t want to read his letter or have anything to do with him.” And I took his letter and threw it in the garbage.

I made my Mom cry again. Although to be fair, sometimes my mother cries when she sees butterflies. So, I’m not a complete jerk.

The next day, I was in my office trying to write a sermon for Sunday but no matter which portion of Scripture I read, it was completely dry. I tried to pray but felt distant and disconnected from God. I had an uncomfortable feeling that God was going to try to convict me to read my brother’s letter. I thought I would beat God to the punch and take it outside to the garbage. But as soon as I picked it up, I came undone.

      Why does this hurt so much, Lord? Why did you let my brother do this to me? I don’t want to live with this pain any more. Please make the hurting stop. I can’t take it anymore.

I opened his letter as slow as a snail, but not quite that fast, bracing for more judgment. What I read blew me away. “Dear Brian, I’ve been praying, and I’ve realized that I was the one who betrayed you. Please forgive me for using your identity and hurting you. Will you come visit me? I really want to see you…Love, John.”

      Knock me over with a feather. Wow, Jesus! I can’t believe it. He’s really changed. You are so faithful, Lord. I take back everything I said about him.

I went to see John a few days later. Two grown men embraced and wept over each other that day. We both asked each other to forgive the other and pledged our undying love and support for life. The devil nearly succeeded in dividing us, but Jesus won. Water always beats rock. Love always overcome hate.

What I came to realize is that John’s feeling of betrayal was just as real as mine. He really felt like I had betrayed him by filing that police report. In John’s world, a traitor was worse than a drug dealer.             When we were newlyweds Mercy said something to me that was so profound that I’ve never forgotten it—she said, “It may not be real to you, but it’s real to me.” Just because I didn’t think John had a reason to be angry at me, didn’t mean that his feeling of betrayal wasn’t real to him. The love of God enables us to see life from the other person’s perspective and empathize with them.

Today we are best friends and there is no man that I love or respect more than John. He got out of prison in June 2010 on fire for God and has never looked back. He is married to an amazing woman, Hannah, and they have a beautiful daughter, Brooklyn. (We love you sweet Brookie!) He graduated from seminary with a Master’s degree with honors and is now completing his Doctorate degree. John is the Senior Pastor of CityReach Springfield in Missouri. Last year, he lead over a thousand people to Christ at his weekend services, the county jail, and the state prison.

John is a powerful preacher, passionate soul-winner, devoted husband, loving father, brilliant Bible scholar, and I am so proud to call him my big brother. You can read his riveting story of redemption and innocence restored in his book, My Prison Became My Palace. I love you with all my heart, John. Keep plundering hell and populating heaven. Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.

This is the story of two brothers—divided for many years by hurt, betrayal, and unforgiveness—but restored by the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ. The only hero in this story is Jesus. It was Jesus that forgive my brother’s sins, delivered him of drug addiction, healed him of Hepatitis C, restored him, equipped him, anointed him, and launched him into ministry.

It was that same Jesus who healed my broken heart and delivered me from unforgiveness and anger. I came to understand that my internal sins were just as offensive to God as my brother’s external sins. My pride and self-righteousness were actually worse in the eyes of a holy God than my brother’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. Jesus helped me see that I was not the only one who was hurt. It was Jesus who picked up both my brother and I in His nail-scarred hands, forgave us, and restored us to each other.

And it is Jesus who can help you right now. If you will just come to Jesus, He can heal your broken heart and release you from the prison of unforgiveness and enable you to do what you can’t do in your own strength. His grace will empower you to forgive those who have betrayed you. I’m betting that just like me, you have your own story of hurt and betrayal that is just as brutal and raw as mine. And I’m betting that you need the grace of God just as desperately as I did. And I’m excited to tell you that Jesus can become the hero of your story too.

I know that right now you might think that the hurt will never go away, that you will never be able to forgive, that the hole in your heart will never be filled. And you are right. In your own human strength, it will never get better. There are some wounds time can’t heal. But here’s the thing—with Jesus, all things are possible. Jesus declared in Matthew 19:26,“With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”Drop the mic.

The very thing that you are cursing right now is the very thing that will become your greatest force of favor. The darkest trials unlock the greatest favor. Dream a new dream, a bigger dream, a better dream. Give yourself permission to live again. Laugh again. A new day is dawning. Jesus is bringing you into a new season—and oh baby—it’s going to be glorious!

 

Brian D. Alarid

Mark Hessel Testimony

This is the testimony of my old friend Mark Hessel (aka Hess) shared Easter Sunday at Hoffmantown Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He was a University of New Mexico Lobos football player back in the 90’s. I used to be his cocaine dealer and he served as my muscle and collector at times throughout the 90’s. Most of all he is a solid friend.

God is still in the redemption business!

John Alarid’s Story

The following is an excerpt from Allan Thompson’s latest book, “What Grace Is”:

“I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ for real this time. With new spiritual eyes, I saw a whole other world that I couldn’t see before. I finally knew that God not only loved me, He liked me! . . . I didn’t want drugs anymore. I had a hunger and thirst for God’s Word instead, and I would spend all my spare time reading the Bible. I was a new creation.” – john alarid

 

John Alarid is now forty-one. He says, “There were many times when I was sure I would not even see thirty. My life was repeatedly spared when others around me died. I do not understand this. Why me, God?”

Is John a veteran of action in some foreign war? No. He is a veteran of a much bigger war—the war Satan brings against humans through drug and alcohol abuse.

John’s earliest memories are of living in a small house in Costa Rica where his father was a missionary teacher at a Bible College. As a child there, John would occasionally wander off on his tricycle, causing his parents much anxiety. He recalls, “I have always been a loner and a bit of a rebel. My normal instinct is to do things my own way. That has been a source of much pain for me, and for many others.”

When John was four his parents came back to the United States to raise money for their missionary work. While raising funds in Southern California the family spent a day at Disneyland. John found a shooting gallery set up like an old west saloon. There were coin-activated electronic rifles to fire at various targets placed on objects such as bottles and chair backs. After John used up several quarters, his parents were ready to leave. They entreated him to go, but he stubbornly refused. Finally, they left him sitting on a stool while they went to Tom Sawyer Island.

John had no money and soon lost interest in aiming at targets with a gun that couldn’t work, so he wandered over to a little grassy area under a tree across from the gallery. As he stood there, he felt the presence of a Being. At four, he did not know it was God, but he prayed and asked Jesus to come into his heart just like he had heard people do many times at his father’s mission services. “I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was personal, not something I just heard others do,” John says.

“At four years of age, not understanding what I was doing, I asked the God of the universe into my life and He came. In most of the years since, I have lived a life of rebellion against God, but I rejoice that He is faithful even when I am not.”

The next year John’s parents took him to a revival service. The evangelist animatedly paced the platform as he preached. John says, “The atmosphere was electric with what I would later understand to be the presence of God. The evangelist looked straight at me several times then a thought started to flood my mind—it was, ‘One day you are going to do this.’ ”

John’s parents divorced in 1983 and he and his brother, Brian, stayed with their father in Albuquerque. By then, John had become a rebellious teenager. Later, when his mother and father decided to remarry, the whole family moved to Warren, Michigan. John’s rebellion escalated. He was thrown out of one school for arguing with a teacher. At a private school, he skipped thirty straight days of classes choosing instead to hang out with some friends and smoke marijuana. John was arrested for shoplifting and was drinking heavily most of the time. He had a part time job at a fast food restaurant where he and some of his fellow workers conspired to create a scam which netted them forty to sixty dollars a night. Somehow, despite all his issues, he managed to complete his tenth grade class work.

Fed up with John’s behavior, his parents sent him to the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) in Roswell. The military regimen was good for John. He learned discipline, and he made straight As in his classes. Still, with a fake ID, he would rent hotel rooms on the weekends and get drunk.

One of his bunk mates at NMMI was a devout Muslim. John, who had drifted completely away from his Christian heritage, admired the fact that his fellow cadet was so devoted to his faith and willing to stand for something despite ridicule. Through their close friendship, John begin to question whether Jesus Christ was the only true way to heaven. He started to believe in relative truth. He thought what his friend believed was good for him and what his parents believed was good for them. “I started to think that if we were sincere in our beliefs then our version of reality was actually real,” John says. “I justified my actions based on this new view of the world. I could now do anything I wanted with impunity. For me, that was great!”

Then trouble came. The campus police searched John’s car after he and his roommate had an altercation with some local high school boys. The police found their hidden handgun and shotgun and John was suspended from school. When he called his dad and told him the news his dad cried on the phone and said, “Why do you keep doing this to me?” John says, “I had no answer.”

His dad enrolled him in Menaul School in Albuquerque, a faith-based private academy. John then “fell in love” with a girl he met there. He and his new girlfriend moved in together in an apartment paid for by her dad. John enrolled at the University of New Mexico (UNM) with a full scholarship based on his excellent grades at the military institute and Menaul.

Drugs were rampant on and around the UNM campus. Breaking up with his girlfriend, John moved into a house with an older former student. John threw wild parties and got heavily into the drug scene. With his entrepreneurial skills, partially honed at the fast food restaurant, he became a dealer, primarily to the dorm students who had the desire and the money. John started going by his middle name, Caleb. Because John is half hispanic on his father’s side and half Norwegian on his mother’s he picked up the nickname, Coyote. A coyote is also a mixed breed: half wolf and half dog.

His own drug use became so obsessive that the drugs began to change his thought processes. But, something within him clung to his upbringing in the church, and one night, totally inebriated, he gave God an ultimatum. John said, “God, You have made yourself real to my parents. If You will show up and talk to me I will believe. If not, I am going my own way.” God did not show up. John says, “I had never felt more alone in my life, but I reasoned that since God had not shown up I was free to live life my own way and, I continued to do so.”

John had all the trappings of a wealthy drug dealer. He was given preference at the bars, drove a brand new sports car, carried a handgun, and had shoulder length hair and a long goatee. He walked around, always followed by an entourage, and was invited to all the parties on and off campus. “Guys would detail my car for drugs. Girls would clean my apartment for drugs. I was the man and everything revolved around me,” John says.

Feeling invincible, he began to use crack cocaine. He became paranoid and thought people were constantly spying on him. He says, “Here I was nineteen years old and turning into a monster. I started to hang with a rougher, older crowd. I was a major player in the Albuquerque drug scene.” John was also involved with Chicano gangs and received drugs directly from cartels in Mexico. Being fluent in Spanish was a great asset.

John’s paranoia became even more extreme. He stopped going to classes because he decided they were a waste of time, and because he was afraid to be out in public. He would often stay at different hotels for fear of his house being raided. Finally, he began to have drug-induced seizures. John had no peace. He was continuously nervous and high. “I felt like I was going crazy. I was a shell of a man I was so skinny. I was trapped.”

Finally, John was set up by an acquaintance and busted. He was thrown into the Bernalillo County Detention Center where he spent the weekend sleeping on a concrete floor next to a toilet in an overcrowded cell.

On Monday, the judge released John to his dad. Instead of this being a turning point in John’s life, he chose to remain in his cocaine addiction and withdrew from his classes at UNM. John was delusional from the cocaine, alcohol, and Valium he was taking. He couldn’t even talk straight. Instead he mumbled so much he could not be understood. He wanted to stop the madness, but something kept driving him to the total self-destruction that was surely coming.

John’s dad got him back into NMMI, but John continued to use and sell drugs and failed most of his classes. His house caught fire because another person there was smoking in bed, and John lost ten-thousand dollars in cash and all of his personal belongings.

Then John started shooting heroin, something he vowed he would never do. He was placed on probation for his cocaine trafficking charge, but still continued his drug and alcohol abuse. Then he was sent to the Meadows, a drug rehabilitation facility in Wickenburg, Arizona. As soon as he was released, he got drunk. He was given a DWI and sent to jail for a few days, and then was sent to Teen Challenge, a Christian-based drug and alcohol rehab center founded by Reverend David Wilkerson. This particular facility was a working pig farm near Spokane, Washington. John hated being there and slopping pigs, but says, “I did begin to have a few moments of clarity there.” Despite his moments of clarity, John was kicked out of the program for not following the rules. His parole officer was notified, and John was met at the airport by the police and spent several months in the Spokane County Jail.

When John got back to New Mexico the Holy Spirit was really after him. John says, “Everywhere I went all I could hear was people talking about Jesus and God.” At one point, John felt like God was literally in the car asking him to stay with Him. The cars in front of him and to his side both had Christian bumper stickers. There was a huge billboard on the corner featuring Jesus holding his arms open. It seemed to John that Jesus was saying, “John Caleb, come to Me and I will give you rest for your soul.”

John, still headstrong, had different plans. He says, “This was too much for me. I was so distraught I could hardly drive. I pulled over and said, ‘God, if this is You, please leave me alone. I don’t want You right now.’ ” God’s presence quickly faded.

After six months, John’s probation period expired and he was back to heavy drugs. He paired with another heroin addict and got into identity theft. One day, completely high on heroin, John was driving on the interstate from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. He began to fall asleep and swerved off the road a couple of times when suddenly he heard a voice from the back seat exclaim, “John!” He looked back and thought he saw an angel sitting there. He then pulled off the interstate onto a two-lane road and slowed to forty miles an hour but still rear-ended a pickup truck. Fortunately no one was badly injured.

In 1998, John was convicted of commercial burglary and was given a deal by the judge to enter a rehab program for at least a year. His dad drove him to Denver to go to a facility called Cynicore. On the drive, John began to suffer severe heroin withdrawal with cold sweats, shakes, and horrible body pains. He was hospitalized, but upon his recovery he checked into a hotel room and injected heroin again. Then his dad convinced him to go to Victory Outreach, a Christian rehab in Denver, where he stayed briefly but soon left and returned to the Albuquerque drug scene.

In Albuquerque, he stabbed another addict who attacked him. Panicky, he asked a girlfriend to drive him to Phoenix where he entered another Victory Outreach Center to hide out. “As my senses cleared during the first few months there, God could, and did, begin to show Himself more fully to me,” John says. “I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ for real this time. With new spiritual eyes, I saw a whole other world that I couldn’t see before. I finally knew that God not only loved me, He liked me!”

John continues, “My world view was changed overnight. I now would not use drugs or steal because it would offend my Creator. In fact, I didn’t want drugs anymore. I had a hunger and thirst for God’s Word instead, and I would spend all my spare time reading the Bible. I was a new creation.”

In 1999, the men from Victory Outreach went to Glorietta, New Mexico, for a “Men of Conviction” conference. During the conference, an evangelist asked all the men who felt they were being called to full time ministry to come forward. “I sat in my seat and said to God, ‘I am not going forward unless You speak to me,’ ” John recalls. “I suddenly felt the presence of God all over me. I  began to weep like a little baby, something I never had done, even as a child. I said, ‘Ok, Lord’ and got out of my seat and walked forward. As I walked I saw a mist over the altar. When I stepped into that mist I began to babble in a language I had never learned or spoken before. The words just flowed out of me. I was consumed with love for all those around me.” Later at Victory Outreach, John heard God tell him three times, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; feed my sheep.” He considers this his mandate for ministry.

John went to the Victory Outreach-affiliated Urban Training Center School of Ministry. While there, he evangelized at the Santa Monica Pier.  One night, as he stood outside a shooting gallery there, he heard God say, “Do you remember that day we first met?”

John later went with a group to the Philippines where they spent two years opening a school and a church. “This was my most victorious time,” John remembers.  “We would perform drama at public schools and go from hovel to hovel in a dump where people lived in wretched conditions. Because of the gangs the dump was also a very dangerous place.”

After that, John flew back to the United States and was immediately arrested at the Los Angeles airport and extradited in chains back to Albuquerque where he stood trial for some of his past offenses. In 2005, he was sentenced for receiving stolen property and for committing identity theft. He went “on the lam,” grew discouraged, and backslid into drugs. “It was the most horrible time of my life,” John agonizes. “I was constantly tormented by little demons all around me, grabbing and pestering.” Finally, in 2007, he was picked up and sent to prison for eight years.

While in prison John was rightfully accused of smuggling heroin in and was thrown into solitary. John was there five months and spent almost every waking hour praying. He begged God to take him back, and then God reviewed John’s past for him and showed John his unworthiness. John sobbed out to God, “You are right. I am not worthy. I have been unfaithful. You are after the wrong guy!” The Lord said, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want to do?” God then restored John and he came out of solitary a completely different man. He wound up serving less than four years because of good behavior and was released in June 2010.

John began to attend an Assemblies of God church in New Mexico and an elderly, retired pastor, after hearing John speak at a camp meeting, suggested he go to Central Bible College (CBC, now part of Evangel University) in Springfield, Missouri.John graduated from CBC with a B.A. in Theology and Church Leadership.

In December 2013, John married “the love of my life,” Hannah-Rose Milan Tayo, who he met while at CBC. John will complete his M.A. in Intercultural Studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield in 2016. He served as faculty at the Assemblies’ Global University for two years and is now planting a church. John and Hannah will be launchning a CityReach Springfield in north Springfield on March 13, 2016 and have just opened a Hope Home for men.  John laughs, “While on drugs and alcohol I couldn’t even speak or think straight, and now I’m attending seminary and preaching.”

John’s dad has relocated to Branson, Missouri, near Springfield, and he and John have a close relationship. John’s brother, Brian, is a pastor in a non-denominational church in Albuquerque. His mother, Carla Heinecke, lives there and attends Brian’s church and John is deeply grateful for their love and support as well.

“No one is more aware of the love and grace of God than I,” John says. “He has spared me to glorify Him through proclaiming his Gospel message. I will do that to the best of my ability for the rest of my life.”

John’s “Why me, God?” is no longer a mystery.