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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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.”