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.

A Letter from a Shadow

I write to warn you. There is a god who rules and is more powerful than ever before. It has ruled in my own life since I realized it’s power over me. Since then, my life has been centered around it. It rules in the lives of all those around me. I see people frantically pursuing this god. They awake and it is the first thought in their mind. They will forsake their own families, their own children’s pleas for attention because they are so desperately chained to this tyrant deity. I have never seen it. I have never felt it speak to me, or ever concern itself with me. Some say it is simply an idea from the thoughts of man. Yet I obey it’s every law and command. Everyone does. We live as shadows–always moving, but we never get to truly see ourselves or each other. Just shadows. It is this god who makes sure of it. This god is called Time.

Time rules my life from the moment my eyes open in the morning. I awake to the alarm, so wishing to stay in bed awhile longer, but Time does not permit. I have to make breakfast, shower, and get my things ready before Time gets away from me. I do everything… plan my goals, my dreams, my future, in reference to Time. Sometimes I brood, thinking how cruel it is to live life in such a way, but I obey, because Time is what makes life go on… Time is what draws people together… Every day I feel the burden of this unforgiving god press upon my weary shoulders, but I stay humble and submissive, for the power of Time is great. I have heard that Time can even heal the deepest of wounds.

Perhaps the most cruel thing that Time has done… the one thing I cannot reconcile with, is that it has kept me from knowing my True God. Without fail, the moments I had daily devoted to the True God who I heard loves me, concerns himself with me, waits to meet with me every day, dwindles down to barely nothing. A quick prayer of thanksgiving and praise, and then I hurry off because Time demands my attention. I am convicted, because I have spent my days serving this “god” Time who cares nothing for me, does not stop for me, and probably does not know my name–meanwhile, my True God… He knows me. He even died for me, while I was enslaved to other gods much like Time. I served many gods before. The gods of Anger, Self, Worldliness… But the True God freed me by sacrificing his own Son. He then declared his complete power, even over the most terrible god of Death, by bringing his Son back to life. The truth is, I am free, totally free, to serve this wonderful True God.

What fool would choose to serve any other god but this one? What fool would choose the false god of Time to be their master? Time does not seem to be as powerful as before. In fact, time seems to be more of a lie than ever before. I have a much greater True God to serve. Perhaps in his own time, He can transform a shadow into a light…

Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them.

And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you.”

Psalm 39:6-7

The Distraction of Skyscrapers and the Secret of the Trees

“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.” ― Vincent Van Gogh


We sing, “Our God is an awesome God…” along with other songs and hymns that declare God’s majesty and power, but while we cloud the air with noise, our hearts are drained. They are empty and void of awe. Instead of pausing to meditate upon this awesome God, we are mesmerized by colored lights on the stage and join in the fervor of the crowd― but our hearts are drained. They are emptied of awe.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs…” Psalm 65:5-8 ESV

I grew up in a crowded Brooklyn neighborhood as a child and spent most of my life living in different areas of NYC, the city that never sleeps. At any hour, day or night, there is always a peddler peddling, a jogger jogging, a bum bumming, cars honking, a boisterous round of youthful laughter, chatter from some patio high above, and down below the dimly lit bars filling the crisp night air with off-tune karaoke. I love the liveliness of the city, but with so much going on, there are not many corners of town left where one can retreat and enjoy the purity of nature… Unless Central Park and the gray-tinged Hudson River are enough to satisfy your craving for the great outdoors. To be honest, until I moved out of the city, to a strange faraway land, I only had an obscure understanding of what it meant to get away and just be with you and your Maker.

I’ve visited a good share of great cities in the U.S. and abroad, and they are usually in some away or another an epicenter of culture, as well as the prime location for prestigious universities. Knowledge, power, and money―most people come to the city to find one or more of these. Tourists flock to see the skyscrapers and the beautiful buildings, just as the disciples did at Jerusalem (Mark 13:1), pointing and gawking at the great works done by the hands of man. There is something about mankind, that after we’ve been settled for awhile and done a few big things we start getting ahead of ourselves. We call our findings Science, and Science answers all our questions. We know how to explain where we came from. We know lots of things. Like how to add 2+2, like how babies are made, how to cook a carb free alfredo dinner, how to build lots and lots of important, shiny things. With all this knowing, our hearts begin to drain. Because even with all the books amassed on earth, there is no cure for death, no cure for poverty, no cure for corruption… The world is still full of fear. There is no man-made answer that can make us immortal. In the meanwhile, we have stuffed our heads with knowledge and fear, and emptied our hearts of awe.

Awe is “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime”(Merriam-Webster Dictionary). I can personally admit that this feeling is not one that is a part of my day-to-day life… even as a Christian. I, too, am guilty. I usually spend my time managing my schedule, watching a good TV show, dazzling at things to buy, thinking of fun activities to do with my husband, working, or studying. The funny thing is that most of these things are good things, some are even essential. But in the end they are all distractions. All of these things are colored lights on the stage, while we are straying from the divine line that draws us back to the basics. We are emptied of awe.

The strange and faraway land I mentioned before is probably not so strange after all, but it was quite a culture shock to this city-girl. I live with my husband in Springfield, Missouri. It is a much smaller city (about 160,000 in population). Take a thirty minute drive in any direction and you will find yourself immersed in green country side with lakes and caverns at every exit, and miles and miles of thick, wooded hills. Here, people will slow down, and let you turn into the lane with a smile and nod. My husband is amazed every time!

You cannot deny it. There is something about being in nature that makes you vastly more aware of God. Psalms 19:1-6 so perfectly describes the relationship between God and nature:

 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The Bible says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The NASB version says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” If you find yourself distracted, and distanced from God, the Bible has given us a pretty straight-forward answer. Take after Jesus himself. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” Jesus, our compassionate, people-loving Jesus, knew that in order to keep himself connected with the Father, He still needed to withdraw from time to time from the neediness of his disciples, the hunger of the poor, and the weeping of the lost. These things, while they call, they never quiet. They are important, but if they are constant, they can distract. Is your heart drained of that awe you once had of your great Heavenly Father? Take after Jesus and get away. Find your place of solace.

Perhaps as you take in the view of the painted sunrise castings its colorful beams over those hills, a gentle breeze finds you and brings word that all of this beauty exists without having anything to do with it. The multitudes of trees grow, but it is not your hand that guides them heavenward. The sun will set and rise again to run its course with no concern of your approval or disapproval. It sits close enough to darken our skin in the heated summer, but knows the boundary set for it so that it does not destroy us, but instead sustains our life. Is this not a wonder? Is this not amazing? When you find that moment for yourself, you will find yourself closer to God, in awe.