'Tierra Nueva' Transforms People on the Margins
SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. - Millions of Americans get caught up in drug addiction and the cycle of crime. Those who get sucked in often get stuck there, and prisons have a poor record of helping these people break free.
But Tierra Nueva, a ministry in Washington state, is seeing some remarkable success.
It's morning in the small Skagit Valley town of Burlington, Wash., and in the basement of a 100-year-old bank building, the Underground Coffee Project begins the day's work.
These men come from a different kind of underground - gangs, prison, drug addiction.
"I was a heroin addict and a meth cook and meth addict and a cocaine addict, and I used all of those on a daily basis, and so for 17 years I was in agreement with evil," Zack Joy, who now helps run Underground Coffee, said.
More Than Coffee
The Underground Coffee Project is about more than roasting coffee beans. There's a profound message for these men about how the beans transform.
"These cold, hard, ugly beans come into the roaster; the heat...changes them, and changes their character, changes their appearance, changes their aroma and their flavor," Joy explained.
That's exactly what happened with him. In time, the fire of the Holy Spirit cracked his shell, transforming this once violent, angry man, into a humble servant of God.
He says his purpose now is to share the Good News to people who are suffering as he did.
"Like Jesus would go into people's suffering with them, and even when they're guilty and full of sin, that didn't separate Him from them," Joy said.
Tierra Nueva's Beginnings
The Underground Coffee Project is part of Tierra Nueva, a ministry with a heart for people on the margins.
It started in Honduras in 1981. Newlyweds Bob and Gracie Ekblad were deeply moved by the poverty there.
"Most of the people there attributed their poverty to God's will," Bob explained. "When we began discipling them in farming practices, and they began to have the same results we did, then suddenly God was sort of off the hook in a sense? And that opened the way for us to talk about God differently."
It became clear the last thing these Honduran peasants wanted was a sermon.
"In Spanish, 'sermon' is the same as a scolding," Bob explained. "Most of the people that we work with assume that church is really a place where you go to be reminded of all things you're not doing."
In his book, Reading the Bible with the Damned, Bob explains how he helped them discover for themselves the truth of God's unconditional love. In time, Tierra Nueva, or "New Earth," was born.
In 1994, Bob and Gracie moved back to Washington. As the county jail's new chaplain, Bob met Julio.
"I tried to get help before, and it's like, I always got turned down because of my criminal background and, 'cause I was an active gang member," Julio told CBN News.
"But Bob never looked at me like that," he continued. "Tierra Nueva always accepted me with open arms and told me Jesus loved me no matter what."
Julio's shell was especially hard to crack due in part to his gang ties and hard core drug addiction.
"Most of the people in our jail system are in there for drug-related crimes, or their lives spinning out of control because of addictions," Bob said. "So we've seen from the beginning that we needed to address that."
Tierra Nueva now has a thriving addiction recovery ministry, including Faith House. As part of their healing, the women residents make and sell gourmet bread.
"Doing the bread takes a lot of work, and it comes out and it's so beautiful, and it tastes so good. And it's just something I'm really proud of," resident Amanda Haverfield said.
That's something Haverfield didn't have before Faith House. Addicted to meth for 10 years, she lost custody of her children.
"I felt horrible about the person I'd become," she explained. "I didn't want anyone to see me. I just wanted to hide, and crawl into the back of a cave."
As women's jail chaplain, Faith House's Amy Muia saw too many women fall back into trouble after their release.
"The law never healed the human heart," Muia said. "And so a big part of our program is emotional healing. You know, just helping women to go to those deep emotional places, and let God come into those traumas, and hurts that started the whole addictive process."
"It's really difficult to take a look at who you were, and the things you've done, and the people you've hurt," Haverfield said. "But it's so rewarding because you do get healing from it. And you don't have to be that person ever again."
Meanwhile, Julio desperately needed that healing. Eighteen years have passed since he first met Bob Ekblad in jail. A bounty had been put on his head and Julio was on the run.
"I was praying and I was asking God, 'If You could get me out of this one, you know, I'll surrender to You," Julio recalled. "The first thing that came into my mind was Pastor Robert, and Tierra Nueva."
Julio immediately got on a bus and headed back to the Skagit Valley.
"We baptized him five days after he came. We just watched him grow into an amazing sort of man of God," said Bob. "And so I guess I really believe in the importance of perseverance."
"I didn't feel I was worthy of God's love, for all the bad things I have done in my past like, 'How could God want to use me,'" Julio said.
"And I just kept remembering that Pastor Robert said, 'Remember Paul?" he continued. "How he was a crucifier of Christians and Jesus used him to help people and to reach out to the people,' and he said, 'If He could use him, He could use you.'"
Tierra Nueva strips away the layers of religion, showing what Jesus' ministry was really like. In humility and unconditional love, they bear witness as modern day Sauls are transformed into the image of Christ.