Go Where It Hurts

Go Where It Hurts

​​“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

         – Henri Nouwen, priest, professor, writer, theologian


Bolivia is a land of heart-stopping beauty and breathtaking variety, but that is not the Bolivia Lincoln Terceros and Lily Fluharty showed me.

I spent yesterday wandering through the Academia de Futbol Tahuichi Aguilera, a huge park turned colossal soccer academy. I must have passed 50 soccer fields, each one full of bouncing yellow, green and orange soccer jerseys almost radioactive in color. So much life was teeming in this park, jammed with boys and girls radiant with energy. Their joy and vibrancy were infectious.

But later, I entered a darker, different world as I wound my way through Santa Cruz’s streets, after sunset, with Lincoln Terceros, a staffer at NOVO Communities residential rehabilitation center for men. Lincoln is something of a local saint to the city’s addicted and homeless. He visits them regularly in the night, offering food and – for those ready for a change – a way off the streets, out of addiction and on a road that can lead to personal and spiritual salvation.

Lincoln Terceros speaks at a local church

He helped explain the complex street dynamics as he stopped our van at a small shop to pick up bread, before we headed out to give the food to homeless men and women. We were headed to Ramada, a bustling intersection that grows more dangerous as the night progresses.

As we dodged swarming pedestrians and other vans, pulsating with neon lights, Lincoln pointed a finger and said, “This is where you find all the prostitutes.” It can be extremely dangerous at night, he says. “Even if there is a cop standing next to you, you will get everything robbed from your pockets.”

Lincoln is a veteran of these streets. Perhaps that’s why he seems so cool, calm and collected as he describes the dangers around us. He tells me that God moved on his heart, urging him to reach out to the people on these streets. He is unafraid to walk right into the worst slums of Santa Cruz, and one reason is that he’s likely to be known wherever he goes.

Lincoln’s ministry is called Conpasion (compassion), and it is usually just him and one other person from the ministry roaming the streets. One night, nine years ago, Lincoln was out in streets on an especially rainy and cold day. He people out living on the streets, wet and cold, and was overcome with a conviction to help these people. So he started a coat drive to help give these people a fighting chance to brave the weather. From there Lincoln has become the go-to for street outreach in Santa Cruz, even training other missionaries in the underground knowledge of neighborhoods.

As we move through neighborhoods, it seems every person we see gives Lincoln a fist bump. He’s earned his respect here. At one intersection he tells me how he was surrounded here one night by street children planning to rob him. But once he lowered the hood on his sweater, they recognized “brother Lincoln” and left him alone.

Another night, using his cell phone light to dress the wound of a homeless boy, some other boys snatched Lincoln’s wallet and phone from his hands. But when the wounded boy scolded the group they returned his belongings on the spot. This is clearly a neighborhood where it pays to be known on the street.

Lincoln’s street team gets ready for outreach

In the streets where the homeless live, they huddle under tattered blankets, sniffing glue fumes. A block away, a line of prostitutes beckoned to “johns” to find a room in one of the many nearby hostels. Lincoln pointed out a transaction happening in front of us. “You see, they are negotiating right now to go to a room,” he said.

A man on the street jumped up, exploding with joy when he saw Lincoln approaching. Later we found the man and his girlfriend huddled under a blanket, openly sniffing glue fumes out of a bottle. Lincoln called his buddy out, saying, “You have a blanket. You don’t need that [glue] to keep you warm.” Lincoln interviews his street friend, who shares his story of going out on the streets at 10 years old. He’s now 29 and has never left. The man points to another group of intoxicated men across the street. He explains that he’s now “solo” on the streets with his girlfriend, no longer hanging with his crew because it’s easier for him to stay sober on his own. Lincoln offers each group he meets an introduction to NOVO if they ever want a place to go turn their lives around. One man in the intoxicated group across the street turns out to be an ex-NOVO resident. Lincoln pleads with the man to come back to NOVO, but he’s clearly intoxicated and is ambivalent to return.

Next to the couple, a man emerged from under a maroon blanket. He was bruised and swollen, with scabs all over his face. His name is Ramon, and he’s sick because he has stopped drinking and the withdrawal from alcohol has thrown him into a violent fit of vomiting. Lincoln bought Ramon a Powerade, telling him to drink fluids with glucose to counteract the withdrawal symptoms. Down the street, another homeless group told us that Ramon “stuck his nose into something he shouldn’t have” and got beaten up.

Lincoln pointed out nearby hostels that have been converted into vagrant shelters, brothel accommodations, and all-hour wifi hubs, where young people spend all night playing video games or watching pornography. Then they return to their street “homes” and sleep during the day. As bleak as these scenes have been, Lincoln informed me that next week, we will be going to the most dangerous part of the city to do outreach – the favella – a patch of jungle, deep within the inner city, that has been converted into a homeless community.

There are various tiers of street life in Santa Cruz. Some children stay in the all-night hostels and internet cafes, making money on the streets and able to shower daily. However, there are many that can’t afford the street hostels and spend their days and nights in the city’s many empty lots and canal systems. Some of the children have run away from home, finding they can make some kind of living on their own by washing windows or selling candies on the side of the road.

Children sleep in Santa Cruz drainage canals

But many others were born on the streets.  Josue, currently a resident at the NOVO Communities rehabilitation center in Santa Cruz, tells me his mother lived on the streets, and he and all his siblings were born homeless. All he has ever known is the life and culture of Santa Cruz streets. Another man on the streets tells me that he ran away from home when he was 10 years old. He’s now 29 and has been living on the streets ever since. For many children, working the streets is essential for survival; their families can’t afford to support them. They might be just 10 years old, but they need work. And if they stay at home while working the streets, abusive parents may take the money they earn. Thus, they choose instead to run away and live on the streets, on their own.

Lincoln visits an ex-resident of NOVO

The day after my journey with Lincoln, I joined Lily Fluharty, one Lincoln’s trainees out to the city’s drainage canals where children shelter. Lily leads me to the edge of a drainage canal and bends down beneath a concrete slab. Inside two small tunnels are children and teenagers, huddled together, hiding from the wind under blankets.

One of them comes stumbling out, holding a plastic bottle of glue. Known as “hermana,” sister in Spanish, she’s street royalty. She’s been immersed in street culture and its slang for so long that she sounds like a gangster when she speaks. Lily gently rousts the kids out of their blankets and rubs each one on the head. She knows them all by name, what they’re up to, who they hang with, what corners they sit on, what they’re struggling with.

Lily, now 28, first came to Bolivia 10 years ago. She tells the story about how she always wanted to open an orphanage, even as early as 3 years old. She had made big plans during her gap year after high school to travel to the African continent, but her plans fell through. After a couple from her church told her about Bolivia, she prayed and googled the country. What started as a 3 month trip extended to 4 months, “and now 10 years,” she says. She explains that after a short time of watching drug-addicted children living on the streets, she felt God had called her to Santa Cruz to work with them. She knew this was where she was going to stay, and she and several partners, Ellie Veldhuizen and Anelise Schrammen, established a ministry, Anchor of Hope, to run daily street outreach in the Santa Cruz slums. Anchor of Hope just moved to a tidy, two-story home, which functions as a community center where the children can come for classes, do artwork, play games, hear devotionals by local pastors, be connected to other services and ministries, have healthcare visits and seek counseling or mentorship.

Both day and night, it’s not uncommon to find Lily, Ellie, Anelise, or Romina Mendez, their social worker, roaming city parks, talking with  homeless, intoxicated teens and children, dressing their wounds, playing cards, taking them to hospital, and praying. On my journey with Lily, we met a 12-year-old boy who’s the leader of some 20-30 street children. He distributes drugs to them, but also enforces rules, keeps order and beats up anyone who dares to mess with a member of his group.

The boys in this group have no reason to trust anyone. They are trained in street crime, and most are hooked on drugs – glue, marijuana, cocaine, and a new crude form of crack that has infiltrated the street groups in the last two years. Lily roams the edges of their “favela,” hoping to pick off some of the kids before they enter the urban jungle and its violence and heavy drug abuse (though there is violence here, too – Lily reports that a child who stole drugs from one group was recently murdered, shot in front of other children to deliver a message).

Once they leave the tunnel and enter the woods, Lily says, these children may be lost for a long time. But the love is tangible when she is around. She buys each boy a lemonade and an empanada. She pulls out a stack of Dos cards (the Latin American version of UNO), and with her gentle manner she brings out shy smiles, laughs, and warm hugs from these street-toughened kids.

Seeing these children leaves me and Jony (my translator and a longtime counselor at Yeldall Manor rehab in the U.K.) feeling a deep unease. They are so young, and so highly intoxicated. One young teenage girl whom Lily pulled out of a drainage tunnel reminded me of a childhood friend. It was hard to look at her, even harder to look away. 

Lily pleaded with the girl to join her for a medical checkup the next day, but the girl was apprehensive. She and her boyfriend were afraid they were being tricked into a pregnancy test. Most of these children consider their street groups their family. Who else takes care of them when they are sick, hungry, tired, or hurt besides their street family? They are taught a deep mistrust for the police, organizations, and missions in the streets to help them. Lily, though invigorated in her work, clearly empowered to undertake this mission, shares her frustrations at how slow and fruitless it can sometimes feel. But redemption comes, she says, when she sees a smiling face, or when a child rooted in deep mistrust and pain begins to share personal feelings.

A few days later, Lily shares that she returned to the park where we had found a group of street children roaming the streets, pickpocketing and highly intoxicated. She had encouraged a few of them to stay sober, and many were coming to her sharing their struggles and confessing their crimes and concerns. Though she had referred a few clients to NOVO and seen major success with kids coming to her center and getting off the streets, this night she left to find a few of her “kids” still living on the streets had relapsed. She shares that it was a night of tears, confusion, and a broken heart. She shares with me later that one of her children had died, a devastating blow to the Anchor of Hope family. She boasts 300 children of hers living on these streets, and her heart is anchored to each of them. Many of them have her personal phone number or social media contact, which she gladly makes available for these kids to call or text her at 2 or 3 am.

Lily shares that, “It’s hard to see them hurting. They have become like my own sons and I’ve become like their mom. I wish there was more I could do… Sounds crazy but as I love and pursue these kids I see God’s love and it’s easy to forget that God is loving and pursuing me in that same way. He meets me in my weakness and loves me when my heart aches.” She has come to the conclusion that no matter how crazy or tragic these kids behavior is, no matter how much it pains her to see them making destructive choices, she is going to meet them right where they are and love them. This is how she feels God has met her in her life.

Click the Image Below to Watch Video with Lincoln

Lincoln takes us out doing street outreach – click the image to watch the video

We discuss what the anchor of hope from Hebrews 6:19 truly signifies. One of the children explains that an anchor keeps a boat from being lost in a storm. An anchor goes to the depths and holds us secure. People like Lincoln, Lily, Claudia and their teams are the anchor, going to the darkest places bringing hope and love. The arms, hands, and feet of Jesus. Both knew when God told them to pursue these ministries and they return day in and day out to find even one that is willing to change. Lily explains that it is the small success that have become her joy. She recently referred three clients to NOVO. She explains that it took four years of building a relationship with one young man until he was willing to even consider leaving the streets. He’s visibly guarded, shifting his gaze at us in the NOVO center, arms wrapped around himself, hard look. I mention Lily’s name once and he immediately lightens up and smiles, a bounce enters his step. A heart has learned to trust, even if just one person on the earth, it is still a victory.

After a month in Bolivia, I have met those who are bringing hope to those who have been left on the margins of society, crushed by addiction, trauma, abuse, poverty, and affliction. God asks us to go where in hurts, to join those in their suffering, not afraid to risk ourselves in the darkest places on earth. Sometimes those darkest places lurk within our own hearts. Therapy, psychology, and spirituality seek in many ways to heal and create cohesion out of a fractured identity, but it is very hard to come by without guides who are willing to walk the path with us. These guides are tasked with sharing a love that transcends what this world has to offer, holding us as our Father holds us. As we represent a God who is a loving Father, we are tasked with being a father to the fatherless, a friend to the friendless, close to the broken-hearted, and fully immersed in the broken condition of humanity. Many times, our own inadequacy leads the way. In this way, the places of greatest darkness and pain in our own hearts become shining tools for the benefit of others, written into a greater story of redemption that go far beyond ourselves.

Lily explains, “God is truly the Father to the fatherless and brings beauty from ashes.”

There is something very clear about this type of ministry. As when the Master of the banquet calls his servants to “go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.” There’s little theology here, just Spirit, dirt, hands, feet and hearts. In this space, you don’t have time to pick and choose who gets to come to the table. Just go to the darkest place, find the most broken person, love them, welcome them, give them affection, and help them heal. Jesus walked through crowded streets to broken individuals, grasped them with his loving hands, and headed straight for their heart. There’s no show here, just Spirit, hands, feet, dirt, and hearts.

The Current Status of Mental Healthcare in Bolivia

There are very limited mental health resources in developing countries. There is a major imbalance in the amount of available mental health resources in proportion to the ever-increasing number of clients requiring treatment. A key reason for this underestimation, according to WHO, is the rising gap in health service capacity in different countries. WHO estimates that more than three-quarters of people with severe mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries never receive any treatment for their illness. (World Bank Group, 2018).

These conditions are reflected in the mental health care situation in Bolivia. The International Journal of Mental Health Systems published an overview of psychiatric care in Bolivia, its history, demographics, and background. Unlike other countries in the region, Bolivia only recently adopted a universal healthcare system, one reason why it has lagged so much in providing mental health care (Jaen-Varas, 2014).

Alcohol abuse and mental health account for a large majority of hospitalizations in the country, according to Jaen-Varas, and the country has very few licensed mental healthcare professionals.  Jaen-Varas reports that before adopting universal healthcare, Bolivia had a dire lack of “well-structured mental health networks” for care (Jaen-Varas, 2014, 2). In 2008, Jaen-Varas reported, Bolivia documented 39 outpatient facilities, seven of which were for children; nine psychiatric hospitals; and no mental health services at all for the incarcerated (Jaen-Varas, 2014).

In 2008, the most frequently reported cause of admission to psychiatric hospitals in Bolivia was substance abuse, with “alcohol consumption… responsible for 90% of these admissions, in addition to being a major cause of deaths in traffic” (Jaen-Varas, 2014, p. 3). Jaen-Varas also reports suicide as “disproportionately high in Bolivia” (Jaen-Varas, 2014, p. 3). Suicide was the cause of 40% of youth mortality in one Bolivian city, Alto.

Jaen-Varas, D., Ribeiro, W. S., Whitfield, J., & de Jesus Mari, J. (2014). Mental health and psychiatric care in Bolivia: What do we know? International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 8. https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-4458-8-18

Kohrt, B. A., Mutamba, B. B., Luitel, N. P., Gwaikolo, W., Onyango Mangen, P., Nakku, J., Rose, K., Cooper, J., Jordans, M. J. D., & Baingana, F. (2018). How competent are non-specialists trained to integrate mental health services in primary care? Global health perspectives from Uganda, Liberia, and Nepal. International Review of Psychiatry, 30(6), 182–198.

Pan American Health Organization. (2018). The Burden of Mental Disorders in the Americas: Country Profile [Plurinational State of] Bolivia. PAHO.org. https://www.paho.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/MentalHealth-profile-2020%20Bolivia_Country_Report_Final.pdf.

World Bank Group. Moving the needle : mental health stories from around the world – summary report of symposium (English). (2018) WBG Global Mental Health Initiative Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/617351529998944991/Moving-the-needle-mental-health-stories-from-around-the-world-summary-report-of-symposium

Dispatch: Bolivia

Walking through the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is a journey through a cacophony of car horns, blaring inside an endless cloud of dust. The sizzle of barbecue and saltinas (something like a chicken soup empanada) beckons from sidewalks, and roaming dogs of all shapes and sizes offer a surprisingly warm welcome to this incredibly diverse country.

In some ways Santa Cruz resembles the urban sprawls of Nairobi or Accra or Tijuana. Roundabouts teem with crisscrossing vans, 4×4 vehicles, and brilliantly colorful 80’s Honda motorcycles. It’s chaotic to watch (or to try crossing the street), but somehow there is a method to the madness.

La Paz, Bolivia

The Bolivian countryside offers a landscape kaleidoscope, sometimes resembling terrain familiar to Americans from western states (Zion National Park in Utah, or Hanalei Bay, Hawaii), sometimes taking your breath away with majestic, Montana-like mountain traverses, sometimes taking you back to a scene that could have come from the Greek countryside or the sculpted red rocks of northern Arizona’s Navajo country.

Now imagine all of that – and more – compacted into a country one and a half times the size of Texas. Mile after mile of sand and gravel roads connect these incredibly diverse scenes, taking you past small mining towns that resemble the 1800s Wild West in America, or into the heart of a landscape that seems far closer to Iceland or the Scottish Highlands.

Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats

An hours-long drive through red, Mars-like desert brings you to Uyuni, a small city at the edge of Bolivia’s iconic salt flats, an endless white sea of salt where sky meets earth – somewhere very far off in the distance. Space and time bend here; you feel suspended in a place between heaven and earth. Uyuni itself feels more like Star Wars’ Mos Eisley than an actual city. Half-built brick structures, Soviet-style industrial statues, hordes of boisterous dogs disrupting traffic, colorful markets, and parades of off-road trucks can make you feel you’ve landed in a Mad Max film. Life here is an adventure, sometimes a wild one. Bolivia is a wilderness that neither Che Guevarra nor Butch Cassidy could conquer.

Below the surface of these landscapes and urban scenes, there are deep cords of struggle. The vistas are beautiful, but the people are longing for deliverance from poverty and turmoil. On yardsticks measuring health, malnutrition, poverty, education, and other social conditions, Bolivia ranks near the bottom among Latin American countries.

Politics have hit Bolivia hard in the last few years, beginning with the 2019 ousting of President Evo Morales, and the COVID pandemic has damaged health and economic well-being, as it has everywhere. There are rising political tensions still; every city wall, it seems, is stamped, painted, or stenciled with the blue and while crest of the socialist party.

Now on to why I am in Bolivia. I do business development and outreach for Roadworks Collective and Latitude Recovery Center in Carlsbad, CA. We are establishing a partnership with NOVO Communities rehabilitation center and ministry here in Santa Cruz, exploring ways to make behavioral healthcare, addiction services, and treatment modalities available around the world. Bolivia is our first stop toward this ambitious goal. For the last two weeks I have been settled at NOVO Communities rehabilitation center, a whitewashed compound known as the “Quinta,” living with the guys at the program. Community meals, late night soccer tournaments (where I successfully ripped my new pants and twisted my ankle during a flying slide tackle on the colorful concrete), listening to the guys create poetry and worship songs to Jesus, playing with one of the many dogs living on the premises, making empanadas, and many late night Spanish-dubbed Alpha course videos and cheesy US actions movies are the norm here at the Quinta.

NOVO residents enjoy weekly soccer

Last week I facilitated a group session with the men, sharing my own personal testimony of addiction, sobriety, and salvation. I answer any questions they may have for me during their daily therapy groups. I have also been participating in the clients’ relapse prevention plan groups.

​​As a developing country, Bolivia has few services like NOVO. A 2014 study of psychiatric care in Bolivia, published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems, noted that alcohol abuse and mental health accounted for a large majority of hospitalizations, while the number of treatment facilities and licensed mental healthcare professionals was tiny. That report cited earlier research showing that substance abuse was the most frequently reported cause of admission to psychiatric hospitals in Bolivia, with “alcohol consumption…responsible for 90% of these admissions, in addition to being a major cause of deaths in traffic.”

Oscar Hurtado is NOVO’s psychologist

I have had plenty of time to talk about all of this – with Oscar Hurtado, NOVO’s staff psychologist and a local professor, and with Bruno Ramirez, NOVO’s group facilitator and addiction counselor. They tell me that, as in many developing countries, there is still a cultural stigma around mental health care in Bolivia. More tolerant attitudes among younger people reduce stigma, but there are still very serious barriers to receiving care. Openly acknowledging you have mental health issues, and seeking care for them, is considered a sign of weakness to many Bolivians. And Bolivia does not provide good public health services, so those who can afford Oscar’s private therapy practice are usually wealthier and have structured established lives – unlike many poor and homeless people in need of dire care. Many Bolivians still visit shamans to address issues like alcoholism – including the alcoholic who recently phoned Bruno for help, ater a shaman failed to reduce his symptoms. 

Bruno Ramirez is NOVO’s drug addiction counselor

The center’s staff plan to visit churches and develop training courses for local pastors and congregations to identify and address addiction. The men working with NOVO’s clients say that many churches and pastors tend to over-spiritualize mental health issues. The NOVO team agrees that addiction treatment needs to be holistic – absolutely spiritual, but also psychological, social and emotional. Addicts don’t fall neatly into a single category, as the factors that lead to each individual’s addiction are unique. The odds of finding this type of individualized approach to addiction and mental health care elsewhere in Bolivia are slim to none.

David Salazar, NOVO’s onsite manager and milieu director, is known as “pastor” by the residents. He has a desk piled high with documents he is preparing to present to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – the agency that recently visited NOVO. The center was also recently visited by Robin Shackell BEM, Deputy Head of Mission for the British Embassy in La Paz to discuss needs, accomplishments, and struggles.

Robin Shackell and Andy Partington listen to the NOVO team discuss program needs

David worked for many years running Christian summer camps for children in Bolivia. This weekend I went with him and the NOVO residents to Dios con Nosotros, a large local church here in Santa Cruz where David’s wife works as a counselor.

I have been out witnessing street outreach ministry with Lily Fluharty and her team at Anchor of Hope. Lily had big plans from a young age to open an orphanage, and after doors closed for her to travel to the African continent, she decided to come to Bolivia. An initial three month trip turned into 4 months, and she has now been in Bolivia for 10 years. They make daily rounds in the streets, pulling drug addicted children out of storm drains and off of curbs, inviting them to their community center and helping them find new life. At their center, the team provide devotionals from local pastors, community meals, mentorship and family counseling, connections to rehabs and other services, art classes, games, and competitions. Most importantly, they provide a safe, clean, family atmosphere for the street children to get away from the street life. Her team, Ellie Veldhuizen, Anelise Schrammen, and Romina Mendez have dedicated themselves to walking alongside these children in their struggles.

Lily engages a group of street children

The Anchor of Hope staff were largely mentored by Lincoln Teceros, another NOVO staffer and leader of Conpasion, a veteran street outreach ministry in Santa Cruz. I’ve also gone out with Lincoln on a late night adventure through the Santa Cruz slums, reaching out and ministering to the city’s homeless and addicted population. Lincoln, Lily, and the others are the local rebel saints of Santa Cruz. Rarely do we meet such people that carry a fearlessness, willingness to take risk, and enter the darkest places. Their love is tangible as they roam the canals, internet cafes turned drug dens, the violent tent encampments in Santa Cruz or hostels turned into brothels and shelters littered with street children, high on glue and cocaine. The dark places they explore are the trauma, hurt, and neglect these people endure day in and day out. People like Lily, her team, and Lincoln are there on the front lines, literally sticking their hands into storm drains and pulling out children, providing them a tether, a relationship, a hope amidst the chaos.

Lincoln (center) and his team prepare for street outreach

I’ve also visited Alalay Foundation, a 30-year old organization and ministry, founded by Claudia Gonzales, that has housed and changed the lives of thousands of street children in Bolivia. Kids from ages 6 to 18 bounce around in fresh soccer jerseys donated by the Real Madrid Foundation, which has trained Alalay to educate the children through soccer camps. Each player wears a jersey naming a different value they are expected to uphold on the team – responsibility, unity, communication, emotional health. Classes are taught before each practice. Soccer camps are also used as outreach to the many addicted children living on the streets. At the homes run by Alalay, social workers and counselors coordinate with children’s families and teachers to ensure comprehensive long term care addressing trauma, addiction, sexual health, hygiene, emotional regulation, artistic expression, and vocational skills. Alalay has recently partnered with Many Hopes, a multi-national organization addressing vulnerable children across the globe.

Alalay girls tote their Real Madrid Foundation jerseys

I had the pleasure of attending the Trinity International Church, a small congregation with a mix of Bolivian families and ex-pats where Andy Partington, NOVO director, once was pastor. The current pastor delivered a powerful and apropos message on one’s identity in Christ as a chosen child of God, a message I will be sharing with the Quinta residents. Andy, like his father before him, is the former director of Yeldall Manor, a well known Christian rehab center in the UK. He’s adapted many of the therapeutic, addiction treatment and discipleship curriculums of Yeldall, to NOVO Communities here in Bolivia. Years of experience working in the Christian recovery world have given him a unique perspective on the Church’s role in alleviating this issue. We are both very excited to see how resources can be brought to more ministries and rehab centers abroad.

Andy Partington trains teams on addressing addiciton

Overall, I have been thrilled and challenged connecting, partnering, sharing, documenting, photographing, and most importantly, participating in the diverse and multi-faceted network of ministries here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

The Trip of a Lifetime

We are preparing to leave Monday, July 12 for Bolivia to visit NOVO Communities rehabilitation center. Watch this video to learn more about our South American partner and the work they are doing. We are so excited to spend a month with NOVO leadership and clients, staying at La Quinta, the NOVO center. We will be documenting and exploring the lives of NOVO leaders, clients, and families, learning about the struggle of individuals, families, and communities facing addiction, abuse, alcoholism, and poverty. We look forward to sharing compelling stories and content from our month on the ground connecting Roadworks Collective to NOVO Communities digitally and in-person.

The Salvation of Community: Talking Trauma, Addiction and Healing with Warren McCaig

Written by James Galt, Nations Media

May 15, 2021

I almost flew off the back of Warren’s juggernaut of a BMW motorcycle when he cranked the throttle and sent the front tire careening into the air. 

Afterwards, while my heart rate lowered, I considered how that was the most suitable way to describe Warren. He goes full throttle with everything he puts his mind to.

After relocating to Bolivia, Warren helped establish Novō Communities, a center for men struggling with addiction. Not long after, he committed himself to the creation of Refugio, an idyllic nature preserve which employs residents of Novo. To tie it all together, Warren was a founding father of Novo Adventures, a cross-country motorcycle tourism company that financially supports Novo Communities.

Most notably, Warren’s high-speed pursuit of a trauma-informed practice has placed him underneath the wing of world renowned physician, Gabor Maté. Responsible for pioneering research in the fields of mental health, Maté is helping to develop Warren’s understanding about how trauma and addiction are interconnected.

How has the pandemic impacted people who struggle with addiction or who are at risk of addiction?

Globally, people self-identifying as having a struggle or addiction to substance abuse has gone up over COVID. I think that’s an indicator of addiction as a response to isolation and trauma. Circumstances arise that have people separated from each other. In lots of cases [the pandemic] can undermine people’s economic stability. Those added stresses increase the possibility that someone is going to go out and find some way to medicate those feelings. 

Photo by James Galt

What is the correlation between trauma and addiction?

I’m very close to adopting Gabor’s philosophy, which is that every addict is somebody trying to cope with trauma. Certainly, I have not yet run into somebody who doesn’t fit that definition. 

[Imagine] something difficult occurs in your life: it could be extreme—they call that capitol T trauma, like rape or physical assault or significant abandonment—but actually it could also be small t trauma. Say you needed emotional support in some key moment and it wasn’t there and you were really wounded by that. The idea is that the addiction is an adaptive response to the pain caused by that trauma. Say I feel profoundly lonely because I don’t know how to connect with others in the way that I want to, so I choose to use X or Y substance or X or Y behavior as a way to temporarily escape that sense of loneliness.

Your model of ministry and addiction rehabilitation is very unique. How does Refugio tie in to the core work of NOVO?

Refugio has been a really fun and exciting opportunity for me. I initially bought into it with a few friends, primarily as an interesting side project. I just really loved the property. I wanted a place for my own kids to spend time outside the city, to spend time off the internet. 

The more time I spent out there, the more I realized that getting people together in nature, in small groups, is really important. It’s proven to be important for me: it’s changed what I look for in friendships, the kind of depth that I find in relationships, the kind of depth that I find in relationships with people whom I can spend time with in that more intimate environment. 

And it’s become kind of another job creation location for guys from NOVO. A lot of guys who are in the program at various points will go out and work on the grounds at Refugio, and the funds that come in from that help subsidize the cost for their rehab.

Do you think that this pattern of ministry—with revenue-generating programs—will start to become more common?

I hope it does. I think it has lots to offer. I think it keeps the people who are investing in the ministry engaged. It feels like a different sort of invitation to be part of a revenue-generating thing. I think it invites people with different skills along. Some of the people who have been involved in planning and investing in NOVO Adventures are business guys in Canada who felt a real sense of excitement, of privilege, being able to bring their business knowledge in to benefit a ministry. 

Certainly, situations like COVID will and have already led to many ministries being closed. Because if those ministries are primarily reliant on donations from churches and churches see their money going down, then those ministries don’t have anywhere to draw funding. I think people who want longevity in their ministries will be looking for some way to have at least a business component at the core of what they’re doing. 

Photo by James Galt

The people who visit Refugio on retreats or book a tour with NOVO Adventures come from wildly different backgrounds than the men who participate in the NOVO community. How do you facilitate relationships between those two groups?

The majority of guys who come on NOVO Adventure trips are middle to upper middle class. It’s unlikely that a Candadian at the bottom of the income bracket would have the resources to fly internationally to go on a motorcycle trip. You’re already getting a selection of people who have more disposable income than most people do. Thankfully our experience as a whole has been that those people are extremely generous and are looking for a way to have an impact with their funding. 

One of the key reasons to get them on the ground is so they can have a chance to see first hand the work that’s being done, who’s doing the work, and to build the credibility—because many of them at some point or another have been involved in a ministry where they felt misled. We recognize that the responsibility is really on our end to communicate with integrity what work is being done. 

We’ve had beautiful encounters between people in visiting groups and guys in the program. We make sure the guys on the program have the right to privacy, which means they’re not obligated to receive and engage with visitors from the outside just because they’re in rehab. By and large, most of the guys are quite open and enjoy the opportunity to meet the people from somewhere else and to thank them for investing in a project like NOVO.

I don’t know that the average [visitor] can ever fully put themselves in the shoes of most of the guys that come through our program. I certainly can’t. I’ve been in Bolivia for over a decade but I’ve never lived under a bridge in a gutter, ever. There have been times when we weren’t sure how we were going to cover groceries, but we were trying to figure that out from inside our comfortable home, not on the street struggling to survive. You have to engage with a lot of gratitude for the path that your life started on that you realize you didn’t pick, it’s just the one you were given. And a lot of grace for the guys who have grown up in circumstances that are incredibly difficult. 

Do these in-person encounters feel like a more effective way to connect supporters with some of the needs Novo addresses in Bolivia?

You know, going to Canada and putting on a powerpoint presentation with pictures of people just doesn’t have the same impact as coming down, sitting face-to-face with someone, eating a meal with them, taking the time to really hear their stories, looking them in the eyes when you hear it, and realizing: this is a person who is as infinitely valuable as I am but by circumstance of birth, their path has been so much different than mine. 

I think it’s a privilege in the ministry to be able to be that liaison between two worlds. I think it’s one of the reasons why the church still needs international workers. They really can bridge the gap between two cultures, two worlds, in a way that someone who has never lived internationally just cannot.

What are your future plans for Refugio and NOVO?

My hope with Refugio is really to see it become a retreat center. A place where people go for healing. [Even] before that intention was clear to me, people really experienced it that way. I would have people go out with their families for a few days and reach out to me afterwards and say, “Wow I really feel like we had a bunch of conversations that we never would have had in the city. This being offline and in this place together, eating together and walking together, has just had a real impact on us.” 

As I began to see the impact of it on my own with my family, my kids and friends, it became something that I really wanted to develop intentionally. So I hope to see retreats out there with the specific intention of helping people work through their emotional and spiritual issues. I see an interesting team coming together around that. I think NOVO will continue to be involved, with residents working out there and potential resident employment.

Photo by James Galt

You’ve talked a lot about the importance of intimate, vulnerable relationships. How important is community when it comes to addiction rehabilitation? 

I don’t know that I could overstate it. I think it is maybe impossible to recover without community. Certainly borderline impossible. I think that emotional trauma has as a main feature: isolation. You end up closed off from others and closed off from yourself and kind of locked away. The path out of that has to be in a loving and graceful community with other people. 

At this point I can’t conceive of the Gospel in any other terms. I just don’t see a compelling reading of the Bible that makes space for a gospel that’s primarily about my individual salvation. I just don’t see it. I think it has to be something that’s understood as a function of God’s grace in community. [At NOVO, we believe] that we encounter this personal transformation in communities. It’s not devoid of the work of God in your life, but rather it recognizes that one of the key ways that God works in your life is in your relationship with others. Vulnerable, open community is a place where your broken hearts can find healing and where your healed parts will be tested. In coming through that testing, you can actually find some new life and new hope for a different future. 

Is there a lack of community among those who don’t struggle with addiction?

I see many many people whose lives from the outsides look objectively okay by the metrics that society asks for. They’re well dressed, they show up to work on time. They pay their bills. But their inner world is a dessert. There’s trauma and isolation that prevents real relationships and healing and I think it’s epidemic. I think the number of people who really have vibrant, rich community that they can depend on, where they can feel authentic and open, is very few. 

I think the church in particular has a lot of work to do if it wants to be that kind of community in people’s lives. Because my experience of it, and I have a fair bit, is that a lot of times, it’s a group so intent on communicating that God has already done this work in me, that I can’t really be open about what I struggle with because I’m supposed to already be better. That need to look like, “Everything is okay with me,” is a real blockage of authenticity for people to come forward with the parts of their lives that don’t make sense to them, because they don’t see anybody else doing that, and so it doesn’t feel welcome.

Photo by James Galt

What are some action steps we could take to foster a healthier community?

The choice to open up to the people closest to you about those parts of you that are struggling and don’t fit has to be where it begins. I also think it’s really practical stuff like a shared table. I think the idea that we are divided off into private households where we privately eat and privately watch TV and privately go to bed and privately struggle is not the best way for us to live. I think [it means] opening our homes to one another in a way that doesn’t require a lot of formality, but says “Hey, we care about each other. You’re welcome in my home and I’m welcome in your home.”

I also see churches, some of them, really taking the initiative in the time of COVID to set up plans to care for each other. To have communal kitchens and such to look after people who are struggling. I think it would be beautiful for those types of programs to reach everybody and not just the people who are in a precarious position. The idea that we should come together as a community and rally help people once they’re in grave risk seems to me to be waiting to do surgery until the infection is so bad you almost have to amputate—rather than recognizing that coming together and caring for each other is something we would all benefit from if we started it even when we’re thriving, especially when we’re thriving.

James Galt

James Galt

James is a California native who is spiritually gifted in the game of corn hole. When not on the road, you can usually find him in the Pacific Ocean. He carries a subtle appreciation for how everything he owns is covered in sand. View his work at galtvisual.com.

Journey To Bolivia: An Interview with Warren McCaig

How did you get connected to Nations Media and Roadworks Collective?

I have a good friend in Orange County who owns a couple crossfit gyms, and he came down with a group of volunteers to drill a water well, back when I was doing water wells. Him and a couple of other guys connected really well. His name is also Joel. So the two Joels got together talking about innovative models of ministry, and Joel Thompson said to Joel Parker, ‘hey you should meet up with Warren somewhere along the way and talk to him about what’s going on Bolivia.’

How long have you been in Bolivia?

It’s coming on thirteen years. As I just got back to Canada and was visiting with some Canadian friends, I had this feeling that I have been gone long enough that I’m no longer Canadian either. I definitely belong to some third culture space where I’ll never be fully Bolivian for sure but I’m definitely not Albertan in the sense that most Albertans are. So it’s twelve almost thirteen years now.

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Tell me a little more about your first trip to Bolivia and what inspired you to stay.

The transition to working oversees full time was kind of a multi part experience. I went to Bible school to take a degree in theology and counseling. The standard path for guys that take kind of program in Canada would be to spend five or ten years as a youth pastor then take over as a pastor of a church. That was never the natural fit for me. And so, during the course of the program, Jackie, who’s my wife, and I were both looking to do the practicum part of our undergrad programs. The Free Church Mission of Canada opened the door for us to do an internship in Bolivia. I had done a couple of short two week high school mission trip experiences, one to Mexico, another one to Venezuela. So already there was a Latin American emphasis. So we ended up coming to Bolivia for six months, just about 15 years ago now. We spoke basically no Spanish at the time, in Alberta, I don’t know if I even heard Spanish. There’s very few Spanish speakers in the province. It was a fascinating window into the world I had grown up with. I had grown up rural Wester Canada, then spent a couple years in a big city. Still it was quite monocultural, quite affluent, very politically stable, very economically stable.

Did you first go to Santa Cruz?

Initially I spent my first six months there working part time at a church and part time at a radio project. One of the more impactful relationships was with a guy who is still involved in that radio project, who is a Quechua guy. About half of Bolivia’s population is Quechua. Many people don’t think of Bolivia at all, but if you were to tell someone to think of Bolivia, the images there would come to mind would probably be centered around that culture. The highlands of Bolivia, La Paz, the mountains, llamas, the multi-colored fabrics. So he’s part of that cultural group. Over the last couple of years, a huge group of that people have moved down to the lowlands, because it’s more fertile farmland, easier to make a living. So he had a real outreach to those people, those settlers in the lowlands. I spent a lot of time working alongside him while barely able to communicate, solving technical issues for the radio network. But he had such a compassion for those people that even without a lot of language, it was impossible not to pick up on his enthusiasm and heart for outreach to that people group. That had a huge impact on me. When we left we were in no way certain that we were going to go back and we weren’t sure what the next steps were. But I remember feeling a sense of what a privilege it would be to be able to work alongside of that guy and actually be able to get to know him without a translator in the middle doing outreach.

Did you try to learn Spanish after that?

We came back to Canada, we had about a year left to finish our degree programs and had a couple conversations about what’s next. The same organization reached out to us during that time and said, if you guys want to go out as career people, we would happily take you. They opened the door to a number of countries, and once the option was put in front of us, we thought, well we will go back to Bolivia for at least two years. It would be interesting to go back and do a two year term. Part of that initial contract was to spend a year in language school. So we left Canada, we moved just down by Brownsville in Texas, and spent eight, nine months in language school, then a month in Mexico, and another month in Cuba. We had a chance to start out with kindergarten grammar and coloring books and work our way up from there to something resembling Spanish.

What inspired you to get into the recovery sphere?

I’ll focus on the external needs first then my personal experience. There’s massive substance abuse problems all across the developing world. Bolivia has very high rates of alcoholism, very high rates of domestic violence. There’s very little of the social safety net of government support say someone from Canada thinks is the norm. A pivotal moment for me in that journey. Jackie has been on the board of a home for abused and abandoned kids in Santa Cruz since we’ve been there. That project, they don’t call it an orphanage, Bolivia doesn’t have a foster care system like the US so these homes serve a dual function. They are an orphanage for kids who have no family to look after them, but they also are temporary housing for kids who end up in Social Services until the police can investigate and abuse situation, tell a family member to apply for custody. They get a flow of kids in and out who are dealing with a variety of traumatic home situations. Part of Jackie’s role in that project was to throw birthday parties four times a year for all the kids who had birthdays in that quarter. One of those parties we hosted at our place, it was maybe thirty kids between the ages of five and eighteen, it’s a handful. So often times at these birthday parties, the community, the church, would be invited to come celebrate these kids birthdays, bring gifts, spend time with them. So I was in the pool with one little guy, and there’s a group of them and we’re throwing balls around and we’re throwing them up in the air and splash. This one little kid was just close to me all day and we were having a good time playing. So as the day went on, we were having hot dogs and chips or whatever, and I was sitting next to him. Without any forethought I said to him, tell me a little bit about yourself. And he looked over at me and without breaking a stride, he said, ‘I saw my dad kill my mom, so they took me away and put me in this home.’ I didn’t know what to do. I had never had a kid that age. I just didn’t know how to emotionally respond, or appropriately respond to a kid with that kind of a trauma. The recognition at that point already that this was just a little kid who just wanted to play and have fun, but there’s this horrible thing that’s part of this story. So I spent the rest of the day with him, ended up going back to the home with him and ended up asking the guys in leadership who administer the center, ‘what’s this kids story, how did he get here?’ And sure enough, as you suspected with a story like that, there’s a history of substance abuse in the family. So at some point the dad came home drunk, got into an argument or something with the mom and murdered her. I remember from that moment on feeling initially a hopelessness. Thinking what does the future hold for a kid with something like that in his story. Of course we need to do work to help kids in those situations, but what’s being done to intervene before these situations get to this level. That lead to a bunch of conversations and key relationships. There was a guy Andy Partington, who had worked in Bolivia pastoring churches there. He had gone back to the UK after a short stint in Bolivia to take over the administration of a drug and alcohol rehab center just outside of London. A well recognized program, a well developed program. When I went around checking out what was being done about addiction in Bolivia, because of course there are projects. By and large most of the projects fall in to one of two camps. So you had centers almost what would look almost like to the outside, like a jail, guys are taken there, sometimes against their will. Hard physical labor. Very much from this orientation of like addiction is a failure of the will, we need to whip some discipline into these guys, and the way to do this is by hard treatment. By that point I hadn’t done much research myself into addiction treatment, but it didn’t feel right and it didn’t seem to get the right results either. And of course now, I am fully convinced that the root of addiction is most people’s lives is trauma. And trying to traumatize the trauma out of somebody is not an effective tool. And on the other end you would often see projects generally sponsored by churches, often times an addict in leadership, they’ve got a real compassion for people in addiction but the projects end up running like ‘let’s do church eight hours a day, seven days a week until these guys aren’t addicts anymore.’ So you bring these guys off the street and they’re in a bible study, then they’re in a prayer meeting, then they’re in devotional time, and you’re just doing that all day every day. It’s not to downplay the spiritual component of work that needs to be done in the heart of someone who has addiction, but it is to understand that there is more to a self than just that thing. If you don’t help those people understand the root of their addictions, heal that, develop better emotional tools, to develop sometimes better vocational tools, you’re not really providing them for an opportunity for real recovery and freedom. So those centers, when they were effective, it seemed like for these guys it was the first time they ever felt loved and supported in their lives, and so that environment where they feel, ‘hey somebody cares for me,’ is quite important. But because they lack the kind of deeper understanding and a more well thought out treatment model, most of the time there was no path for reintegration for guys who were in a program like that. They could stay, but some guys just became permanent fixtures in the program. It became like a colony, and ‘I just live here.’ But for guys that say, have family on the outside, who have some trajectory towards getting back into society, it would almost, without fail, be less that two months on the outside, relapse, and that’s it. And the center didn’t have an answer for, what to do with relapse except just come back and stay here, which seemed inadequate.

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What’s been your internal journey of understanding trauma and grace? What broadened your perspective from this traditional approach?

The reality is probably the unavoidable encounter with my own shortcomings and my inability to be that which I ought to be simply by my force of my will. If the model I was brought up with is correct, that should be possible. It should be that I recognize that ‘I’m a sinner, I confess this thing, xyx, and now I’m better.” It’s more self discipline, it’s more repentance, it’s more church involvement, or whatever the thing is, somehow there’s going to be a mechanism through this kind of Newtonian input output morality that’s going to get me to a place where I don’t have these edges that I can’t make sense of anymore. That just fell apart for me, and it fell apart in the lives of some of those around me that I care about. If those people can’t get there by force of will, they’re never going to get there. There must be something else going on here. I think it’s interesting you brought up the disease model, of course there is a neurological component to addiction, and yet I find it fascinating the most impactful and well recognized voices in the addiction sphere even in the secular sphere recognize some sort of spiritual component to the problem of addiction. There are questions about what it means to be a self and what we are and what we’re here for that are so intimately connected with what people in addiction are struggling with, that if you try and erase those questions you ignore the biggest parts of the dynamic that are in play right in front of you. So, for me, the necessity to receive grace myself and to dig under the surface and ask why am I this way, why does anxiety drive me, or fear drive me this way, why can’t I just will my way out of it, gave me a significantly higher degree of compassion for people in addiction. I like Russel Brand and his take on this, that someone who’s addicted to heroin in some ways it’s a gift because they have to come to terms with their addiction quite quickly or they die. There’s a force, there’s a seriousness behind their particular substance that they use that requires them to say, what is it that I’m running from that using this substance to cope that I need to heal or everything comes to an end. Whereas if your addiction is affirmation or productivity, gosh you can ride that thing until you’re eighty. And frankly lots of people in your life will celebrate that part of you even as it damages your most important relationships, even if it keeps you disconnected from real intimacy and human connection, people will applaud you because it looks like you’re winning. It required a real shift for me in compassion towards myself then in the lives of everybody around me.

At the NOVO center there’s a point in the guys recovery journey where one of the assignments is to write their own autobiography and to share with the group. It helps guys nail their own story down because we’re all really good at bending our own story depending on who the audience is. But it is rare to sit in on one of those and to feel anything other than a sense of compassion and a sense of recognition of, wow I can’t imagine you not being where you are today. Both Russel and Gabor Mate do a great job of saying addiction to a substance is often an adaptive behavior that is the lesser of two evils in the sense of this person probably would have killed themselves if they hadn’t found relief in it. Now that they are in a different place, let’s help them no longer need to use this substance. It’s not that someone was having a great day, in the middle of a great life and then took heroin once and says, I’m out of here. It’s an adaptive response to pain and trauma, recognized or not.

What do you think is the biggest marker for someone who has caught hold of recovery?

 I don’t know if it’s the same for everybody, but I know you can feel it when somebody’s hit it. Certainly a component of it is being released from shame. The degree to which the shame cycle is a dominant driver of people’s need to use is always there, you can just see it. Interestingly, when you watch guys in recovery, there are key moments when things flood to the surface, a recognition of what this addiction has cost me relationally. Strained relationships with kids, partners, and you see all that stuff wash to the surface. And in those moments, the people who have found grace. And I won’t say that they have necessarily found a Christian understanding of grace, but they have found grace in some profound way and can have compassion on themselves in that moment. So they don’t have to downplay what the damage was, but they have compassion on themselves and a hope for in some cases restitution and restoration, and in some cases a new future. You can see when that grace is absent, the weight of that regret is too crushing. I have seen people in the process who have got a couple of months sober and they’re trying to muscle through the program and you can see the weight of that thing on their back, and sooner or later your knees are going to buckle because you just can’t carry that much load. There has to be some sort of internal transformation predicated on grace.

What are some examples of this in the program?

It’s really fascinating. No matter how many times you see it. Especially guys who have been on a street environment are extremely good at being hard because it’s a survival mechanism. So you’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be able to contain your emotions, but there is a compassionate sensitive heart, often times the sensitive heart of a little boy frankly, in the center of these men. Over the course of years there are stories upon stories. One that comes to mind is the story of a guy in the program who had an estranged relationship with his daughters because of his addiction and had been absent from their lives for years. At a certain point in the program, people are allowed to reach out to family members potentially for a meetup at the center or a meetup elsewhere. And this guy was so excited for an opportunity to try and reconnect with his daughters. He let them know, this Sunday I’m going to be at this church and you can meet me there and we will have an opportunity to have coffee after the service and the guy’s just soaring at the possibility of mending this relationship. He’s looking over his shoulder waiting for them to come in the door and they just never came. In the car on the way back, he was just heartbroken. And he sat down with the director of the program, and it’s one of the moments I really respected the director of the program for taking an approach I don’t think I would have had the boldness to take. While supporting this guy and feeling his sorrow, he said, ‘it’s really only now that you understand what it is that your daughters went through, the many times they waited for you, all the places you were going to be but never showed up. That was a pivotal day in that man’s recovery because if he had had to bear the weight of that without any grace, I’m sure he would have just walked out the door. And instead, he dug in, he did the work, he found the forgiveness, recognized that healing on his end did not necessitate behavior change in other people. He could only do his work. Thankfully in his case, sometime later, he was able to reunite with his family, they were there present for him at his graduation. You’ve never seen a guy more proud to graduate from anything ever. This guy finishing his program and the sense of a new shot at life.

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What are some other big awakenings you’ve experienced?

We have so many. We had a father and son in the program at the same time together. Hearing the son share about the damage and pain he endured at the hands of his father while the father’s in the room, and seeing the father able to hear that with a spirit of repentance, with a spirit of reconciliation, that stuff is the richest stuff in the world. And is frankly what we all need but is so hard to access. We had a guy who had ran away from home at the age of twelve or thirteen. And had come out from the northern part of the country and come to Santa Cruz, and had been living on the streets. He had been out of touch with his family for over a decade. They thought he was dead for sure. I don’t know if they had a funeral for him, but the understanding was he went city and died. Part way through is program, he asked the counselor he was working with if it would be ok for him to reconnect with his family, or look for his family. It’s always a risk because it could also be a huge trigger for relapse. People try and reconnect and they’re still not wanted or find they’re treated badly. But after a set of conversations on the staff team, we decided, let’s send someone with him, and try and find this guys family. So here he is uncertain of where his family home is. He knows what town it’s in, but he doesn’t know what street he’s from because a lot of time is past. So they take a full day bus ride out there and they’re wandering around the streets of this town asking around for a family by a certain name. In the end, we have a video of it actually, with the guys permission, he rounds a corner, and there’s his mom and dad sitting out on the front patio of the house and they see him walking down the street. It was, I suspect, as close to a resurrection as I will ever see. Because certainly for at least two of the three people, somebody who had been dead, was not dead anymore. I think probably for the son too, to a certain degree, the sense of feeling reconnection to a family that was long lost was something of the same sort. I tell you, that lady grabbed on to that guy, I didn’t think she could ever let him go. It was just such a profound relief to her to see her son alive. He found out that day that what he thought was his name was actually his brothers name. He had been using his brothers name for a decade, and somehow in the whole experience of life, he had literally lost himself. So he rediscovered his family and his own name at the same time.

If you could tell your clients one thing to encourage them and give them hope, what would it be?

It would sound like I’m hammering on the same theme over and over again, but that there is sufficient love and grace for them. And the amount they need isn’t any more than the rest of us need. I think all cultures, or at least, all that I’m familiar with, have a real tendency to stigmatize people in addiction, make them feel less than and somehow uniquely bad or broken, especially to the degree to which we punish people for being hurt. To genuinely communicate that their desire to be loved is the same as everyone else’s and there is love enough for them. If all of us, addicts or not, could relay that message in, I think the world would look quite different.

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Meet our Resource Team: Jackson Hale and 360 WELLNESS

Jackson Hale is all about connections. He started making them during his physical therapy studies at Azusa Pacific University. To connect his lessons with real life experience, he went on Instagram to offer nutrition counseling or physical therapy sessions to dormmates and friends. Soon, he offered the same to clients at North County San Diego gyms.

As he gained experience, Jackson began to connect the injuries and issues he saw to what was causing them. At least 80 percent of the problems he treated, he believed, could have been prevented with proper coaching. He began to integrate his training and experience, melding mind, body and spirit into treatment approaches designed not just to heal, but to set clients on a path to long-term health.

A post-college backpacking trip in Southeast Asia sent Jackson deeper into thinking about spiritual health. And when he returned to Carlsbad a visit to a revival sermon at a San Marcos church opened the door to a new connection: a personal, experiential connection with God.

The next step was connecting this spiritual awakening with the profession he’d chosen in physical therapy. Jackson spent 500 hours working toward his license in massage, sports medicine and training. As he practiced, he increasingly saw that work as just one element of healing. Clients “were in pain, they weren’t eating well, they weren’t mindful, they were stressed, they were anxious, they were depressed,” he says. “I stepped out in faith and passion reaching out to these people in need,” adding prayer and words of encouragement to connect his physical therapy with spiritual healing.

Faith, says Jackson, is “that missing piece that I knew wasn’t in healthcare, that I believe is the solution.” Without it, healing is “not complete.” It lacks “that power, that love of God integrated into it.”

Jackson searched for an organization where he could integrate his faith with his physical therapy. When he couldn’t find one, he created his own: 360 Wellness. Faith “wasn’t something I was advertising or marketing, but it started to open the door with my clients,” he says.

As his own practice grew, Jackson made 360 Wellness a nonprofit center that hosts other fitness and wellness professionals in the Christian community. He’s sold his gym equipment, moving away from physical therapy to more personal, spiritual counseling. Clients now come to him for help resolving family conflicts, or dealing with issues such as mental health or addiction. Through donations to the nonprofit, he can cover costs for those who have few resources but need counsel and ministry.

What began as a massage therapy studio has transformed into a center for connection – connection to classes and counseling, prayer and mission study, with Jackson or other Christian wellness and fitness professionals.

In all of these connections, says Jackson, health and wellness professionals shouldn’t lose sight of their need to stay inwardly connected as well. It’s easy to let ambition push us so hard we burn out; the road to healing others starts with self-care, with keeping ourselves healthy – physically and spiritually.

Jackson has now set his sights beyond 360Wellness to extend his reach to support other ministries, organizations, start outreach programs, and support missions abroad. His missionary journey has brought him to South Africa, Botswana, and Uruguay for outreach, ministry care, and support. He is excited to be a part of the Roadworks Collective community to make a greater impact on those in need.


Going Upstream

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” – Desmond Tutu

Warren McCaig grew up in Bentley, a town with fewer than 1,000 residents in Alberta, Canada. The youngest of three children, he was reared in traditional evangelical Christianity, in a rural environment he describes as “monocultural, affluent, very politically stable, very economically stable.” His father, a mechanic and his mother, a nurse, instilled a strong work ethic in their children – something McCaig says he now appreciates though he “didn’t always enjoy the process.” As a teenager, he worked at summer camp where he learned about building a sense of community. Free time was spent exploring his small corner of the world by motorcycle. All of these experiences – appreciation of work, joy in creating a community with a sense of purpose and exploring the world from the seat of a motorcycle, would serve McCaig well when he found his life’s mission years later in Bolivia.

For the past 13 years, McCaig, has pursued that mission in a liminal space somewhere between two cultures. A resident of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, he is clearly no longer just Canadian, but to look at him, he’s just as clearly not Bolivian. And in a sense, his mission also lives in a liminal space, connecting a Western-oriented adventure tourism business with the urban rehabilitation residence where McCaig and his partners help to rebuild local lives.

The Birth of NOVO

NOVO Adventures is a tourism company that McCaig and his partners created to draw foreign visitors to Bolivia. It caters to serious bikers, who careen on NOVO’s motorcycles, with guided tours across salt flats and around mountainous trails. The adventure also includes some quiet time to recharge at Refugio, an eco-lodge also owned by the NOVO leaders.

McCaig also runs a rehab mission under the same name. Novo in Latin means to renew, revive, or refresh, an appropriate moto for the organization. It’s a holistic, faith-based recovery community created to care for Bolivian men lost in addiction. Profits from NOVO Adventures help finance NOVO Communities; NOVO Communities residents help maintain the eco-lodge and use it as an occasional respite from the city. The tourists at NOVO Adventures learn about the mission of NOVO Communities, meet its residents, and sometimes become financial supporters of NOVO’s rehab project after they return home.

None of this happened overnight, of course. The journey to Bolivia began years before, back in Canada, back in that comfortable environment where a young Warren McCaig entered a bible college to study counseling and theology. 

Bible college shapes students to become pastors. Counseling majors like McCaig might spend five to ten years moving up the ranks from being a youth pastor before taking charge of their own church. McCaig didn’t feel like that was the right fit for him, though. His experiences at Bible college showed him possibilities beyond the church traditions he’d been raised with. 

Some of McCaig’s college mentors showed him a theology and an experience of grace and empathy that helped him see the culture he’d grown up in in a new light. He described his upbringing as a “fundamentalist and legalistic understanding of faith.” It had been a comfortable culture, but not one that paid heed to the messiness and vulnerability in so much of the world; grace for the broken seemed like a foreign concept.

These ideas were on McCaig’s mind as he worked through his counseling practicum. They remained when he and his wife, Jackie, signed up for a real-life opportunity that would put them face-to-face with a very different culture: a six-month stint in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where McCaig would join the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission.

In Bolivia, McCaig’s work took him to a radio station where he was tasked with helping solve technical, computer, and networking issues. The work put him in touch with migrant workers – including a Quechua migrant from the mountains of Bolivia, who introduced McCaig to a very different world from any he’d seen before: a world of struggle, pain, and inequality. 

McCaig spoke little Spanish at the time (“I don’t think I had ever heard Spanish in Alberta,” he says), but even without the language, he could feel the Quechua migrant’s powerful connection in the communities where they worked together.

“It was impossible not to pick up on his enthusiasm and heart for outreach,” says McCaig. “That had a huge impact on me. I remember thinking what a privilege it would be to be able to work alongside that guy and get to know him without a translator.”

The Road Back to Bolivia

When their mission assignment ended, Jackie and Warren returned to Canada. But soon,  the EFCCM invited them to come back. This time they went better prepared: For nine months they took Spanish language immersion classes in Texas, Mexico, and Cuba. When they returned to Santa Cruz, a home for abused and neglected children invited Jackie to join its board of directors – a position that opened them to new life-changing experiences.

Bolivia has no foster care system, so such homes often become permanent shelters for children removed from abusive situations.“Part of Jackie’s role in that project was to throw birthday parties for all the kids,” says McCaig. At one party, he befriended a young boy, spending a carefree afternoon swimming and playing ball with him. Eventually McCaig asked the boy about himself. 

            “He looked over at me, and without breaking a stride said, ‘I saw my dad kill my mom, so they took me away and put me in this home,’” says McCaig. 

Later, he learned the family had a history of substance abuse. “At some point the dad came home drunk, got into an argument about something with the mom, and murdered her,” he says. The story left McCaig feeling hopeless. 

            “I just didn’t know how to emotionally, or even appropriately respond, to a kid with that kind of trauma,” he says.  “We need to help kids in this situation, but what needs to be done before they get into these types of situations?” 

As he tells this story, McCaig recalls the words of South African cleric Desmond Tutu: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Tutu’s words gave McCaig an answer to his question “what needs to be done?” He looked “upstream,” at rehab programs that could help  adults and potentially spare children the kind of trauma experienced by the young boy he’d met.

As he researched rehab in Bolivia though, what McCaig found was not promising. Existing projects fell into one of two camps:  One model, a longtime classic in addiction treatment, pushes men into lockdown facilities, forcing on them a stringent regimen of work and moral reform. Instead of healing, these programs often create more layers of trauma.

Other projects were led by pastors who were usually in recovery themselves, using their churches to pull men into a litany of church services, prayer groups, and religious commitments. McCaig describes the approach like this: “Let’s do church eight hours a day, every day, until these guys aren’t addicts anymore.”

Recovery is Multi-faceted

McCaig believes a spiritual component should be only one element for recovery. “If you don’t help those people understand the root of their addiction and develop better emotional and vocational tools, you’re not providing them with real opportunity for recovery and freedom,” he says.

McCaig’s research eventually led him to Andy Partington, a British cleric who had served as pastor at a church in Bolivia. Partington worked with Yeldall Manor, a drug and alcohol rehab center outside of London that blends a faith-based approach with quality clinical care. It’s a combination that made sense to McCaig. “What I see as the real cause of addiction now is trauma, and trying to traumatize the traumatized just doesn’t work.”

In August 2015, McCaig, Partington, and a third partner, Anglican priest Myron Penner, opened the first NOVO community at Quinta Totaices, a spacious residence with gardens that offered a serene respite inside the city of Santa Cruz. NOVO takes a holistic approach to caring for the broken and lost, marrying faith-based recovery with well-informed clinical treatment that addresses the trauma behind addiction. 

The funding approach is also holistic, using NOVO Adventures, the tourism business, to help support the rehab program.More financial ventures are planned to generate additional revenues –  “a coffee plantation is in the works,” says McCaig ,and as their recovery progresses, residents can be employed at a company started by NOVO that does residential and commercial paint jobs.

The integration of business and mission isn’t just about money. Once a month McCaig and his team bring the men enrolled in NOVO rehab to Refugio where they work in the gardens, build the trails, and unplug from the cacophony of the city. McCaig believes this is a crucial part of what he calls “immersion therapy. “There is a profound spiritual connection in nature that cannot be emulated in a concrete building,” he says.

The NOVO rehab center has space in its first stage program for 16 men (legal restrictions in Bolivia require that all must be over age 18). During this stage residents participate in group therapy, vocational training, and one-on-one therapy with a psychologist. Free time, as well as responsibility for cleaning, food preparation, and other chores, are built into the schedule. According to McCaig, the center has had over 100 residents since its founding five years ago; 20 percent have finished this first stage. 

Those who stay for the second stage do vocational training and get support from NOVO as they reintegrate into their former communities. For those who cannot return due to unhealthy or unsafe environments, local churches play a key role in providing a new communities. Graduates who move out of NOVO still maintain contact with staff; all ex-residents are welcome to return for meals, as long as they are sober. This policy helps connect newcomers with men who have rebuilt new lives in recovery.

Redemption and Reconciliation

NOVO has many stories of breakthroughs made by the men who have come to the community to recover and rebuild. Redeemed lives and family reconciliation are common themes, and McCaig recalls one story in particular:

            “We had a guy who had run away from home at the age of 12 or 13. He had come out from the northern part of the country and had come to Santa Cruz living on the streets,” he says. For at least a decade, the man had been out of touch with his family in the north. They believed he had gone to the city and died there.”

            “Part way through the [NOVO] program, he asked the psychologist who was working with him if it would be okay for him to look for his family,” says McCaig. Family reunions can be risky for those in recovery, because they may trigger a relapse. Eventually the NOVO staff agreed to send someone with the man to find his family. With the client’s consent, NOVO filmed the encounter.

            When they arrived at his town though, the man couldn’t remember what street his family lived on. “They were wandering around the streets of this town, asking for a family by a certain name,” says McCaig. “In the end, he rounds a corner and there’s his mom and dad sitting on the front patio of the house and they see him walking down the street. It was, I suspect, as close to a resurrection as I would ever see,” says McCaig, who describes the moving reunion caught on video. “I tell you, that lady grabbed on to that guy and I didn’t think she would ever let him go.”

Stories of family reconnections and other moments of profound redemption are the fuel that keeps McCaig going in his mission. After years of work in the field, he understands that he is “no better than” his clients. Anyone who endured the trauma and lived in the same environments as NOVO’s clients, likely would have ended up in the same place. 

“I feel a deep calling to build communities that are transformational, because I want one,” says McCaig. “And because I’ve been privileged to cross paths with enough people who have suffered from the lack of one… I can’t conceive of doing anything else.”

A Journey of Healing

That understanding has forced him to accept his own shortcomings and has taught him to lead from a place of weakness, knowing his greatest failures can be his greatest gifts in teaching others to open up, trust, and be vulnerable. “My own personal journey during those years demonstrated to me my own brokenness and how it was affecting my life and relationships. I began to see how unaddressed pain and trauma of many life experiences was causing me to act in ways I was not proud of,” he says. Facing those ideas helped him develop more passion and curiosity about others. “In the long run, putting energy into anything other than helping people find healing, wholeness, and hope in a context of community just doesn’t grab me.”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus asks his chief critics, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” When asked, “What is the speck in the eye of our community?” McCaig has an immediate answer, one with a deep message for those who live in comfort and keep a distance from the suffering and trauma of others.

            “We are all participants in the system that puts people in this position,” he says.  “We lack the sense of social connection, meaning, and belonging we all long for. And yet we put so much effort, and I would say, even more so inside of our faith community than outside, to putting forward a face that says, ‘I’m doing great.’”

            “Wearing that “I’m doing great” mask makes one unable to deal with others who “don’t play that game,” he says. “We need to rush them out of here and dehumanize them as soon as we can, because if we keep them around, it could expose all of us.”

Instead of hiding our shortcomings or only promoting our strengths, McCaig believes we should embrace the idea that “all of us need the same sense of love, support, community, connection, and belonging that people in recovery need. We would be way better off if we spent a big chunk of our time figuring out how to build that, [rather] than trying to deny that we need it.”

“My passion,” explains McCaig, “is to create communities where people can really heal and belong.”

He Was Lost, Now He’s Found

“This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

Luke 15:32 MSG


Pulling himself over the bridge railing, Ulises gasps hard for air. For days or weeks – he’s not sure just how long – Ulises has been living under this bridge in shabby tents pitched along the canals of the inner city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The other men in his tent community are similarly desperate, existing in a world of heavy alcohol use, violence, inhalants, and crude cocaine.

Ulises takes a step forward, then another. His head in a fog, he can barely see his way forward as he stumbles off the sidewalk and into the bustling street. Tires screech as a car tries to brake – but not in time. It crashes into Ulises, and for once, his intoxication brings some luck: he goes limp, almost as if embracing the impact that slams him to the ground.

Ulises drags himself to the nearest hospital and drops down by the door. His shoulder is clearly out of place and there seems to be more damage as well. Pleading with the workers inside, he’s unable to afford the costly surgery torepair the damage done in the crash. He knows he has hit more than the concrete roadway; he has hit rock bottom of a miserable existence. Lost to his own poor life choices, lost to the streets, and lost to drugs and alcohol, he’s become an anonymous wanderer dismissed by passersby as a useless vagrant. Perhaps this is the grace he needed, for this near-death experience has left him finally ready to seek help. 

At the doors of the hospital, help comes to him in the form of Lincoln, an outreach coordinator from NOVO, a transformational community known more prosaically as a center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Lincoln is from a small town on the border between Bolivia and Argentina. Since adolescence, he has had an incredibly clear sense of call to help people on the street. He was introduced to NOVO by a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) worker who knew of his dedication to reaching out and building relationships with people living in the drainage canals.

Lincoln recalls his first encounter with Ulises: “At the beginning of 2016 we went out to distribute food together with the church and found Ulises at the door of the San Juan de Dios Hospital, waiting to be treated.” His shoulder was broken, but Ulises could not afford treatment at the hospital, so Lincoln and others helped reset the shoulder. He was then taken to a [different] rehab center, where he joined a sobriety program for two months and attended church.”

Second Chances

Two months later, after a brief stint in another local rehab in Santa Cruz, Lincoln found Ulises drinking in a parked car. No longer sober, and no longer in a treatment program, Ulises was headed back towards disaster. Lincoln looked him in the eyes and asked bluntly, “Do you want, or not want, to change? Because if you want to change, you have to throw away your alcohol.” Reluctantly, Ulises handed over his bottle. He felt defeated, like he couldn’t do anything more and knew that complete surrender was necessary. He fumbled around in his pocket and handed a second bottle over to Lincoln. His journey had begun. 

Lincoln brought Ulises to NOVO, but Ulises was convinced he was at the wrong place. Astonished to find a clean bed and hot water in the shower, he told Lincoln, “I don’t deserve so much, brother. This place is like a paradise.” He stayed on and thus began the process of rebuilding his life by dealing with his addiction, his past, and his dislocated, disjointed psyche. 

Ulises was NOVO’s first resident and its first graduate. The NOVO team used to joke that Ulises had a personal pastor, cook, driver, and manager, since he was the only resident. He even had the pool all to himself.

The 16 or so men who reside at NOVO at any given time live communally. Each day they follow a full schedule that includes clinical meetings with counselors, therapists, and psychologists, as well as group sessions and church services. Once a month they travel outside Santa Cruz to Refugio, an eco-retreat geared to foreign tourists. All of the profits from Refugio and NOVO Adventures, an adventure tourism company, support the NOVO transformational community. At Refugio the men can fully unplug. Removed from distractions, they work with their hands in the gardens while drinking in the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Finding Healing Through the Past

Back at their city home, group sessions are key. This is where Ulises began to chart out his life story- and there was a lot to probe. Originally from La Paz, he was raised for some years by an aunt, but then issues of abandonment and neglect helped fuel his early addiction. He started drinking and living on the streets when he was only 12 years old. At first he survived by as an attendant in a pay parking lot. Eventually, like many Bolivian men, he migrated to Santa Cruz to look for work, but was soon lost in the cacophony of the inner city and its underbelly of crime, homelessness, drugs, and alcoholism.

Years of defending himself on the streets had built a hardened façade, with Ulises buried deep beneath it, always nervously on alert, anticipating attack around every turn. Showing weakness on the streets, he learned, was an invitation for someone to scam him, attack him, or worse.

NOVO’s program helps guide men like Ulises out of trauma and addiction using both therapy and faith. It’s a holistic approach embraced by pastors experienced in counseling, such as Michael Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. In a sermon titled Miserable Comforters, Keller warns against being too spiritualized – or too reductionist – in approaching those who are suffering. 

“Religious people tend to reduce everything to spiritual and moral,” says Keller. “But guess what? We’re not just spiritual beings! We’re physical beings and maybe we need a nap and a walk by the ocean.” Secular people, on the other hand, “tend to only see depression as all biochemical, so they just give you a pill,” says Keller. “But God NEVER reduces things like that. The Bible says there’s a complexity about human nature. You can’t just wade in and deal with discouragement and depression as if it all comes down to one thing.”

Nestled in the community at NOVO, it can take a while, but eventually the men who go there start to take off their armor. Therapists, the community, and the church encourage them to show their festering wounds underneath. In this environment, it is safe to cry out in pain.

Finding Grace

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quickly rebukes his critics after healing a man, sharply imploring,“Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

It took Ulises some time, but as he opened up, he experienced something new: a grace that didn’t exist in his former life. NOVO was a place where he could share his pain without rejection and uncover his life without fear of condemnation all while being surrounded by the others who understood what he was saying.

 As he spoke about himself, Ulises found something he’d lost: the boy – himself – whom he had left behind years before. It is said that a person stops maturing at the age they enter addiction. Returning to that younger self after years of being condemned by society and condemned by their own minds can allow a person to relearn to feel, how to trust, and then to find the road to recovery.

 “We often lock people up in ready-made judgments: ‘He is a thief; she is disabled; he is schizophrenic,’” wrote Jean Vanier, a reformist theologian who founded L’Arch, a network of communities providing care for those suffering with disabilities. “Perhaps this one did steal something, perhaps that one is disabled, but they are more than this. They are people who, if loved, helped, and trusted, can in some small way recognize their faults and their brokenness and can grow in humanity, inner freedom, to do little acts of love” (Vanier, Pg. 154).

After completing the NOVO program, Ulises stayed on for another year, getting a welding job to support himself. After a year of studying industrial welding, he saved enough to buy his own welding machine with a friend, Ernesto. Ulises eventually made it to become a senior member of the NOVO community, where he lends a supportive hand to newer members of NOVO as they begin to shake off the tremors of their own broken lives. In helping them, Ulises uses his own life experience as a means to gain their trust, inviting them to share their pain instead of hiding it. In this process, his own trauma is redeemed.