they call us monsters


I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that most if not all of the adult men and women we meet in the jail, have had adverse and traumatic childhood experiences. More and more research is coming to light of the deep impact of that trauma on the mind and body (and the spirit as well).  Continue reading


father to the fatherless

photo of Julio and Taylor

Just as basic as water, food, and shelter, we need love. Love embodied in another over time through thick and thin. And for those in this world without fathers, there is a gaping hole of need. Today, I’m delighted (and so are Julio and Taylor) to share with you their story of becoming father and son. 

Every morning at Tierra Nueva, Julio (pictured on left) leads a gospel reading in our Family Support Center. Recently after gospels I was pouring a cup of coffee and Julio mentioned his son being there earlier that morning and having coffee with him. In fact he said he does that most mornings. I was curious so I asked more, and he told me this story that I want to share with you.

“I had no idea you had a son, Julio”.

“I’m talking about Taylor (pictured on the right). Back when i was house manager for the the Trust (men’s recovery house) Taylor came. He was racist and stuff. He didn’t like anybody but white people. And I wanted to break that in him. And so I just started giving him love and telling him I’m so proud of him. So he just started liking me, and loving me, you know what I mean. He would say ‘You are always yelling at us like our dad’. And he just started calling me dad, ’cause he didn’t know who his father was. So I right away realized that he needed like a fatherfigure in his life, so that he could straighten out, ya know what I mean? Someone he could come and talk to, that he respects as an older person. So like he would come and talk to me all the time at night. He would come and sit on my bed and say, “What’s up pops? What are you watching”. And ya know he would just like to watch movies with me.

“And I started calling him ‘Baby Boy’ cause he was the youngest of our recipients. He was like 20 at the time. He liked it; he’d get all excited at the time when I called him Baby Boy. And he moved on from the Trust House and he kept coming around and calling me Dad. And I started calling him son. When he’d go to work he’d stop by. He’d leave his house a half-hour early, just so he could come by here and spend time with me, every weekday morning.  And we’d just sit and drink coffee.

“So we’ve just built this relationship where we trust each other. He’ll leave money with me, so that he can save it for his rent. He trusts me like a dad. If he comes and asks me for money, I say, “You know I’m not going to give it to you til you’re rent’s due.”

” And Taylor says, “I tell everybody your my dad. And there all like ‘How’s he your dad if you’re white?” Julio is laughing as he tells me this. “He’ll bring his bosses by the apartment and say what’s up dad. And he’ll hug me. He loves when I hug him. …And you know he was really a violent individual when he got into the Trust house at first. But by me loving on him and stuff like that, and telling him about Jesus, its changed him…sometimes I read Scripture to him and talk to him about God, and I always pray for him before he leaves and goes to work.  

“When he got married I signed as a witness on his wedding certificate. And I talk to him, ya know, and tell him if he’s gonna make it, he’s gotta have God in the midst of his relationship with his wife. And he tries. He sometimes has a couple blowouts with his wife. Yeah, recently he wanted to give up on the marriage, they got really upset at each other and he came straight here. And even my own real kids, they don’t come to me first when they have problems, cause they no I’m gonna correct them. But Taylor is the kind of person, that if he’s done something wrong, he knows I won’t judge him. I’ll say ‘Let’s pray and ask for forgiveness’. And he does; he’s open to prayer. He respects me because I know Jesus and teach him about Jesus.” 

“So ya know its a really tender relationship we have ’cause God’s in the midst of it, ya know. And he’s learning. The seed’s being watered every time I talk to him. One day I want him to entirely surrender himself [to Jesus], but it takes time, ya know what I mean?”

“So he’s my son. Like when my mom came up from Arizona, I said, “Hey mom this is my son.” And she’s like, “Oh you’re son’s big!” Julio’s smiling. “And Taylor’s like ‘Hi grandma’. [Julio’s laughing with delight now.]

”And does Taylor have kids?” I ask.

“He does. With his wife he has two. And then he’s got another little boy.”

“I wonder how your relationship with him is impacting how he’s a father” I offer.

“Well I tell him… I tell him, when he gets in arguments with his wife, and he wants to give up, I tell him, ‘You can’t give up, you have to think of them. Remember you need to be responsible’. … He’s really responsible about going to work. He never misses work, even if he drinks the night before. …And he stopped getting drunk. Now he drinks just one or two, if he’s out with friends, and then he leaves. He listens to what I say, ’cause he knows I’m not going to guide him in the wrong direction. I tell him all the time, ‘Look son, you’re hella young. You could go to school. You could get a job with something you like. And he just sits there and listens.”

”And he was a real knucklehead when he first started here. He didn’t like listen to nobody. He was like really rebellious. He’s softened up a lot. …Yeah, it’s really cool.”

“I wonder why he was like that at the time,” I thought aloud.

“Cause he didn’t have parents around.”

“Maybe he hadn’t yet experienced the love he’s feeling from you. He didn’t know before.”

“Like me when I first met Jesus I didn’t know how to receive love or give love. It felt like awkward to me. But as I started getting Jesus into my heart I hug everybody now. You know how I am… And I can feel it. That’s what [Taylor] is going through too. He’s learning how to be loved by somebody that cares for him and prays for him. And he knows how to give love back. You know he tells me, “I love you Dad” before he leaves in the car. I tell him to have a good day at work and he’s like,” I love.. I love you Dad”.

I asked Julio where he learned to love and he talked about how when Pastor Robert (Bob Ekblad – our TN Founder) was so loving to him when he was using and involved with gangs, and how he kept persisting in loving him. 

Love embodied. We all need it. It nourishes us just like food. Please continue to pray for us at Tierra Nueva as we seek to embody tough and tender love to those hungry for a meal that seems to good to be true.

Thank you for your love and support for me and for all of us at Tierra Nueva. I’m nourished and grateful. May you taste and see the Lord’s goodness today and perservere in love, for Jesus’ sake.

Deep Shalom,


At Tierra Nueva —the immigrant and the incarcerated — have been the heart of our work in the Skagit Valley since 1994. We go into jails and prisons, to migrant camps, into gang networks, and alongside their fragile families, to embrace those feeling most thrown away by the world. We seek to embody the Good News in Jesus: that God adores and wants them. Our relationship-focused model–of pastoral care, inner healing, and hands-on accompaniment through complex legal and societal barriers–seeks to restore those we find in today’s deepest underground places to God, to themselves, to their families, and to their wider communities for generational change. Continue reading

moving towards in a culture of fear

photo of cropped ''Do not Enter''

We live in a culture of fear. With recent events of shootings of black men and police combined with political rhetoric of this election year it feels as if the culture of fear is increasing. And fear finds fertile ground in part because our culture has tilled the soil (via sensationalized media, and advertising) to receive seeds of fear. And in part because once we’ve been traumatized we have a wound that only takes a light touch to get triggered. This is especially true for those we meet on the margins.

Once a month we have jail chaplain meeting for our Tierra Nueva staff who serve in that capacity. Last week our speaker was Gina Waggoner, a mental health counselor, who spoke about trauma. How does trauma impact those we walk alongside in the jail and as they are re-enter communities? And how are we aware of trauma in our own past and how it affects our present?

Our bodies deal with a threat in the same way whether it’s actual or perceived. Because of our past trauma just that light touch on the sore spot triggers the limbic brain’s fight or flight scenario. Those of us who have underwent trauma have built defenses around them that have helped us to get through the trauma. They’ve worked in the past and though they may not be needed anymore, Gina aptly cautioned us that we never want to rip away someone’s defenses from them. (Even as I write this that seems obvious, but I wonder if that can be a reflex at times because we may want quicker healing for someone that that person is ready for).  .. If someone is a state of hyperarousal and their heart rate is elevated, their thoughts are repetitive and racing, they may have cold sweats, what can we do if we are in a caring relationship with them? In that state of mind/body logic does not compute. It’s similar to reasoning with a young child when they are distraught.

Daniel Siegel, one of my heroes and a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, talks in his books about the power of non-verbal connection. Helping others relax through our own calm breath, presence, and groundedness, helps the distraught person to find a place of safety and calm. It’s fascinating how our mirror neurons in us can either get caught up in the distress of the other, or we can stay grounded and give the gift of calm stability to the other person.

So the question arises – how do we offer calm stability if we don’t have that ourselves? Where I find myself coming back to again and again is the importance of knowing with our whole selves that we are abundantly loved by our Heavenly Father. Curt Thompson, in his book, The Anatomy of the Soul guides the reader through imagining oneself in a place of beauty and calm – a meadow, by water, in the mountains. Then imagining Jesus coming to us and saying “You are my daughter, whom I do so love, I am so pleased with you, and that you are on the earth.” Or “You are my son, whom I do so love, I am so pleased with you and that you are on the earth.” We then rest in the gaze of God; rest in his beauty; rest in his grace-abundant love, and our experience of His presence ”that charms all our fears; that bids our sorrows cease.” Curt suggests doing this every day for six weeks, and to watch how it impacts us through out our day – knowing (in a deep way) that we are indeed beloved by God. I’m in week one.

Am I so naive to think that this will change this culture of fear that is so prevalent. No and yes. It’s not a quick, easy answer. That’s for sure. But it is a path, that we can choose to take. It is the path that Jesus took – knowing that he had come from the Father and was returning to him, he got up from the table, took off his outer garment and washed his disciples feet. Knowing that he was loved and will always be loved he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. He was only able to be so courageous in the midst of that culture of fear, because he knew deeply that he was beloved by his Father.

May we know this Perfect Love that conquers fear. And may we live it with our imperfect faith, that God so delights in.

Thanks you for your presence in my life. Thank you for your love, prayers, and financial support that support my work and ministry with Tierra Nueva. I’m deeply grateful.

Deep Shalom,


p.s. please pray for me tonight as I go into the jail to lead four 1/2-hr bible studies with men there. Pray that I may carry the presence of Christ in me to them. And that I may find Christ already there as well.

p.p.s YOU are the light of the world.

facing obstacles together

photo: me, Neaners, Tim VanDyken - facing obstacles together.

Neaners pulled out fourteen small pieces of paper from his desk in the gang ministry center at Tierra Nueva. He and I were meeting together and the topic had come up of his debts (Btw, Neaners has given me permission to share this story). Neaners had neatly written a separate court debt on each one. “What would you think about us typing this up and putting it in a spreadsheet, so we can see all of it on one page?” I offered. He was game. I have been an Excel nerd since college, and Neaners and I have discovered that we get energized so much by each other, so the energy was beginning to build even now.

The debts went all the way back to 1994. Each row listed a separate debt with it’s case number and balance. “‘How much do you think the total is?”
“‘8,000?” he guessed.
”Actually it’s Eighteen-thousand.”
Neaners didn’t skip a beat. We both agreed that at least now he knew the real total number he was facing. He told me he was paying a minimum payment of $30/month. I told him that it would take 51 years to pay that off at that rate, and that’s not including new interest.

He told me he had good rapport with the court clerk where he would go make his payments.  So we printed the spreadsheet and later that day he went to the courthouse to make a payment and show the clerk what we had printed up. She was impressed and printed a similar table for him. Except hers had a couple new columns. She said to Neaners, “Okay, if you can pay the $1,000 principal on this $1,400 debt, we’ll consider it paid in full and forgive the interest.” She had done this with each debt… Neaners was smiling as he told me about this.

Two weeks later, I went with Neaners and Chris to the the local Burlington-Edison Kiwanis Club breakfast. The first person I met was a man named Tim VanDyken who had invited Chris and Neaners to speak. (Tim used to be on the Gang Task Force with the Burlington Police back when Neaners was still involved with gang life and in and out of jail and prison. He knew Neaners then. And Tim had met Chris six years ago and was impressed with his heart for these gang members. Five years ago Tim left the police force and became a financial planner.) So I conveyed the story I’m telling you now to Tim, and he immediately offered to meet with Neaners or anyone else we work with to help them face their debts, and finances. I sensed right away that Tim wasn’t just saying this but was someone who meant what he said.

A few weeks later Neaners, Tim, and I had lunch at the co-op in Mount Vernon. We chatted and then Tim asked Neaners questions about his monthly expenses, and then his debts. Tim jotted down with pencil and paper the figures Neaners was giving him. Tim was so supportive, direct, and encouraging to Neaners. It was beautiful. When we looked at his debts, we came up with a plan to face the debts, and as we talked this seemingly insurmountable monster, began to shrink smaller and smaller. The three of us felt so energized, and so while the iron was hot, Tim said, tell you what, “You pay this $100 debt today, and I’ll pay this one, pointing to a similar size debt”.  So the three of us, right then went down to the courthouse and paid these two debts. (photo above is outside the courthouse). Momentum was and is building.

So while there’s still a lot left to pay, Neaners now has a plan and he knows that Tim and I are in his corner. … And I am energized because I see the potential with Tim in our corner of more people facing their debts squarely and feeling hopeful of a way out.

These debts are also symbols of a myriad of obstacles that keep people stuck in the underground. In the story of Lazarus Jesus resurrects his friend. And the community is called to roll away the stone, and remove the layers of graveclothes.  Jesus resurrects and we get to help out!

I’m discovering in many realms in my life the power of shifting from avoiding to facing. It’s incredible! When we avoid something it festers, grows larger, and at times we feel powerless to face it. But when in faith we stand with brothers and sisters to each face what we have been avoiding, we will find fresh energy and release from the entanglements that have knotted up within us. May the Spirit of the Living God empower you to face small and large things in your life that you have been avoiding, with others surrounding you in love.

Thank you for your prayers, financial gifts, and love that make our ministry at Tierra Nueva possible. I’m so grateful.



Court fines and debts are a huge issue for the poor in America. It keeps them stuck in poverty and actually costs the public more.  Here’s the link to an enlightening report: “Criminal Justice Debt: A Toolkit for Action”

same road, different story

The Road to Emmaus story is a favorite of mine in the scriptures that comes to the surface during this Easter season. I picture the two disciples, with heads downcast, trudging along toward the town of Emmaus – depressed, confused, scared, and most importantly re-writing their story now that their friend, rabbi, and supposed savior was dead. We had hoped he would be the One who would redeem Israel. What would they do now? Back to their old life? And then this ‘stranger’ comes and walks with them, and tells them the Grand Story and how the suffering and death of Jesus was what was foretold. And then when they invited him in, and he broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him as their risen Lord! Can you imagine the electricity in the room at that moment!? Then he disappears. And they got up and their elation propelled a seven-mile run through the dark and dangerous night to Jerusalem. It was the same road back yet such a different story they were now beginning to believe.

I led the men in the jail through this study last Thursday night. They are well acquainted with having lots of time to mull over the story of their lives, to get caught up in the downward pull of shame that gets layered on thick from our society that leads to further isolation. They talk about getting stuck in despair and hopelessness. Will they ever be able to get out of this cycle?

One man, Roberto*, who is tall and strong, with dark black hair, opened up and shared how a sense of God’s love and presence has been overwhelming him lately. It’s slowly taking away the anger in my heart, helping me to have hope for the future, he said. It’s beautiful.

Sometimes it’s that simple. A stranger walking alongside friends, breaking bread with them – Not scolding them for abandoning him, but opening their minds to the bigger story, that is more true than their narrow view.  The presence of Jesus is not stopped by locked jail doors, or visitation hours, but coming in the night, and at unexpected times to Roberto and others. Saying,  “I love you. You are mine.”

Within the next couple of days, you will get a print newsletter in the mail from Tierra Nueva. Our Spring newsletter theme is ‘Resurrection’. We believe in Christ’s resurrection – and that it’s power has a ripple effect outward igniting other lives to be resurrected. For people on the margins of society there so many obstacles to living a full resurrected life. How does the church participate in Christ’s resurrection work?

I encourage you this weekend to take twenty to thirty minutes to sit with the newsletter stories and allow them to sift through your imagination. Allow Christ to stir in you the desire to see resurrection around you. And He will appear.

Oh Lord open our eyes, to see you walking alongside us, retelling our story within the context of your Grand Story.



p.s. (If you do not receive a newsletter (semi-annual), but would like to, please e-mail me your mailing address at )

you are so much more

Women and men who are incarcerated have been told over and over explicitly and implicitly that they are worth next to nothing. That they are disposable. Trash. A waste of space. Many myths are promulgated in our society about what a *criminal* is – looking at what people have done and subtly and blatantly translating that into who they *are*. And when we see people a particular way then we treat them that way. And then they come to see themselves that way and become that way. So much begins with our imagination of others and of ourselves. The stories we believe about ourselves.

Our founder at Tierra Nueva, Bob Ekblad, has been going to the jail leading bible studies and forging relationships with inmates here in Skagit County, for twenty years. He’s built trust and rapport with not just the inmates, but also with the guards and jail staff. Chris Hoke, another colleague of mine has been going for eleven years now and this past year has been very intentional about cultivating a relationship of trust with the Jail Chief, Charlie Wend. This past Tuesday at our monthly jail chaplains meeting at Tierra Nueva we Chris arranged to have Mr. Wend come and speak.

He was wearing his standard green uniform with his name embroidered in yellow and stars on his shoulders, signifying his authority with the sheriffs office. Other than Chris and Bob we had never met him before. And frankly our ministry has tended to prioritize walking alongside the poor and oppressed – those who suffer under the law. Yet more and more we are trying to live out one of our core values of “bridging divergent worlds.”

Charlie began to share and open up about his vision of what a jail ought to be – balancing safety and security with treating people with dignity like anyone deserves to be treated. Currently there are 200 inmates housed in a jail which has a design capacity for 83. Mr. Wend is well aware of how unsustainable and inhospitable the current jail is. Skagit County is moving forward on plans to build a new jail and the more I hear from Mr. Wend – the more I’m glad he’s part of the conversation.

He tells inmates regularly, ”You are more than this thing you’ve done”. And “Think of yourself as a community college student on sabbatical.” He told us that he heard from an inmate that he had interacted with back in the 80s at another facility. This man had written him and told him how the dignity that he showed him changed his life. This man said, “I want to treat others like I’m seeing Mr. Wend do it.”

I don’t think Charlie knew that he was basically quoting Father Greg Boyle – founder of Homeboy Industries in LA who takes it even further ‘You are so much more than the worst thing you’ve done.” Oh my! People need to hear this! Because the Evil One so wants to get inside people’s minds, bodies, spirits, and say ”Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you! You are only and completely what you have done. And you will NEVER amount to anything.”

And so we look to Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith – who looks upon the woman at the well, who gazes in love at the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, who lifts up the paralyzed man, just come through the roof – and he forgives, heals, and he through it all he *imagines* a renewed life for them.  And then Jesus looks at us and says, “Go and do likewise.” Imagine for others what they can’t yet see for themselves.

And we need to hear the words for ourselves as well. Because as we digest them for ourselves we can breathe them upon others. ”I am so much more than the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

Thank you for reading, and for your prayers, and the energy you spend on our behalf – via donations and volunteering – for our ministry in the jail, on the streets, visiting families in their homes, welcoming adults and children into this community of tierra nueva – new soil – for new life!

Shalom to you,


we are not meant to be alone

Over the last few weeks I’ve been ruminating on the story of the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof by his four friends and into the forgiving and healing presence of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). When Jesus saw *their* faith he said to the man your sins are forgiven. I love how the tangible, roof-ripping-off faith of the friends was the catalyst that brought forgiveness and healing to this man’s life. These friends knew that if they could just get their friend to Jesus, his life would be made whole. And so the crowd and the roof were obstacles that were surmountable because they had faith that Jesus could change things.

In our society we are inundated with images, advertisements, and technologies that promote a hyper-individualism and form our imaginative world telling us that ”it’s all about me”. We often don’t even notice, because it’s just what we’ve always known. The counter-intuitive gift that we are given, when we see or are near broken people who can’t hide their brokenness, is that we are reminded that we need community. And that’s true for all of us. It’s just that some of us can pretend for longer that we’ve got it all taken care of by ourselves.

Last Thursday in jail one man said that’s he’s got nobody on the outside – no family. The only one he could stay with is his ex-girlfriend, but she’s using and when he’s with her, he just keeps ending up back here. “But I got too much pride to sleep under the bridge.” The man to his left said he’s seen five friends die from heroin and two family members. He’s tired of losing people. He gets out Saturday. ”I gotta care for my girlfriend. She’s mentally ill.” Another man prayed for ‘all those out there on the streets who got nobody, and are still using’’.

I’m grateful for the privilege to be with these men on Thursday nights. I’m glad when I see care like last night when a tough-exterior man broke down in tears and a guy across the circle said, “Hey man, it’s okay to let it out.” In some pods there is a sense of comradery and support that is beautiful to see.

But what happens when you are alone? On any day in the US there are 80,000 inmates in solitary confinement. Tierra Nueva staff member, Neaners, knows firsthand what that is like. He spent five-and-a-half of his seven years in prison in solitary confinement. ‘’Solitary is cruel. Honestly, it sucks bro. You’re lonely, constantly pacing back and forth thinking ‘I want to be home, raise my family. And I’m tired of hearing people lose their minds.’’

”To be human is to be in community (Wendell Berry).” So when we deprive people of contact with other life we are de-humanizing them. In our nation it’s as if we are doing the reverse of lowering the man through the roof to Jesus.  We are lowering men and women into cells where they are utterly alone. Some say it’s worse than death. We were not meant to be alone. And yet the obstacles of the prison-industrial complex, the legal system, addiction, and mental illness seem insurmountable.

And yet, and YET, we follow a resurrected Jesus who appeared among his friends – Jesus did not see locked doors, walls, or fear as obstacles, that would stop him from coming close and saying ‘Peace be with you’. And saying it twice, because he knows how deeply we need to hear it.

‘’Perfect love casts out all fear.” At Tierra Nueva we love imperfectly, to be sure. And yet Jesus’ perfect love comes through our weakness and shows up in the jails, prisons, migrants camps, on the streets, in healing prayer sessions, in genesis recovery counseling times, in accompanying people to court. And we are in awe and amazed. When Jesus shows up, everything is transformed.

The last thing I’ll say is this: It is also important that we also imagine ourselves as the paralyzed man in the story. Do we believe that our ailments, anxieties, hardships are too minor for God to care about? I pray that we would all know firsthand that God’s abundance never runs out. And that Jesus longs to forgive in heal places in us that we’ve been hiding. Because he wants more for us than we could imagine. And our hiding keeps us isolated from each other. May we all have the courage to be vulnerable, actively disregard our shame, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus – the Healer of our many ills.

Thank you for the ways you are a vital part of Tierra Nueva. Your prayers, volunteering, donations, and your own spiritual journey with your faith community all empower what we are about here. I’m deeply grateful.

Deep Shalom,


*artwork above by Stan Moody Source:

pushing back the tidal force of shame

image: Neaners caring for the next generation

(photo above of Alex and Neaners)

I am so grateful for you.  I’m grateful for your monthly financial support that enables me to do this work. And for the many, many of you who pray diligently for me and our work at Tierra Nueva. I’m grateful that you are living lives of faith where you are at amidst the struggles and joys of life.

Early this morning I sat with my cup of coffee and looked out my front window at the moon surrounded by the dark sky. And I cracked open a new favorite book called “The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves” by Curt Thompson M.D. It’s not only fascinating; it’s also quite helpful to see how shame operates. Thompson writes as a christian through the lens of interpersonal neurobiology. “In the same manner that God intends that our minds grow in maturity and connection, just as we do with each other, it is one of shame’s primary features to disrupt and dis-integrate that very process, functionally leading to either rigid or chaotic states of mind, and behavior lived out intra- and interpersonally.”

To have an integrated healthy mind (and the mind isn’t just intellectual functions, but regulating our emotions, and so much more) we need integrated healthy communities (families, neighborhoods, churches). And when we have healthy communities, we can have healthy integrated minds. When they are both present they can form a positive feedback loop.  When they are both missing, they reinforce a negative feedback loop.

At Tierra Nueva we come alongside people who have heavily experienced the negative feedback loop of shame their whole lives. And shame is a powerful tidal force that becomes internalized in their own minds pulling them under via the stories our society says about “those people” –  ‘felons’, ‘addicts’, ‘immigrants’, ‘gang members’ – and the repeated ways they are demeaned and shamed.

When their lives turn around towards life, because of the vulnerability and resurrection power of Jesus, it’s truly a miracle. And as we see through the gospel accounts, Jesus loves to involve his disciples in this work. (Jesus wants healing in our minds and stories too). We are telling new stories with them about their lives (and our own), integrating them into a community where the love of Christ reigns, and over the long haul – shame gets healed.

Some of you (if you are on our Tierra Nueva mailing list (snail mail)) recently received our annual appeal letter in the mail with a brief retelling of the story of Neaners (pictured above) – former gang leader, who is now one of our Tierra Nueva staff – reaching back into the gangs with the love of Christ. As Tierra Nueva’s Director of Development and a big picture/systems thinker I am giddy with the vision of seeing Tierra Nueva become sustainable for the long-haul, building new soil (tierra nueva) that more and more people, from the margins, like Neaners, can grow up into all God intends for them.

Please consider an end-of-year or monthly gift: either 1) to our General Fund, 2) to our Emerging Leaders fund (that supports Neaners, Salvio, Victoria, Julio), or 3) consider giving specifically to my work at Tierra Nueva.You can give online or through the mail. For details go to: (Note that on our website it currently says: ‘Emerging Workers’ (this is the Emerging Leaders fund)

With Gratitude and Shalom,


** in case you are not on our mailing list or haven’t read it yet, – here’s the Tierra Nueva letter **

Dear friend of Tierra Nueva,                                                               November 13, 2015

José Garcia was born in Oregon and as a young boy travelled back and forth between there and Texas, Mexico, California, and Washington. José didn’t know any English when he started kindergarten here in the Skagit Valley. He was often made fun of. When he was 8-years old he got heavily involved with the Sureño gang. They named him Neaners (meaning ‘baby’) since he was so young. He was arrested at school in the 5th grade. Neaners spent the majority of the next two decades locked up. During this time, Chris Hoke of Tierra Nueva wrote Neaners letters and visited him over a 7-year period. Slowly, Jesus penetrated the hard shell Neaners had constructed. Neaners puts it like this: “Have you ever seen a rose before it blooms? It’s hard, and then it opens and blooms. That’s what happened with me. I was a rose that grew through a crack of concrete.”

Neaners said to me today, “Hey, my story ain’t unique. So many others have gone through the same stuff.” How true. The need is great here in the Skagit Valley, as so many have heavy loads that keep them from new life. What made the difference for Neaners was the love of Jesus embodied in the persistent presence of Chris, and others who believed that God’s love crosses over all borders and barriers.

At Tierra Nueva we believe that Jesus calls people back to life while they are in places of death. We believe in resurrection. And we know that God calls Tierra Nueva and the wider church to walk alongside and advocate for people down the long road leading to new life.

So we are active in all the places highlighted in Neaners’ story – the migrant community, in jails and prisons, with gangs, and in our newly revitalized children’s ministry, so that we can make a difference early in kids’ lives. And we are active in raising up leaders from the margins like Neaners – who now serves in our gang ministry taking others under his wing.

We’ve been building bridges in the community with jail staff, schools, law enforcement, local business owners, and churches, because we know that we can’t do this work alone.

You can invest in the long-term sustainability of Tierra Nueva by becoming a General Fund donor. Please consider an end-of-year gift or making a monthly or annual commitment. You can sign up on our website or mail a check made payable to Tierra Nueva. God’s Peace to you in this season.


David Westerlund
Director of Development 

offering what we have

On a recent Thursday evening in our jail bible study I opened with the question, “What does it feel like to not have enough?” These men are well acquainted with feeling that many things have been taken from them – material things, relationships, and not least of all their dignity. We opened to Mark 6 and read the passage about the feeding of the five thousand. Their friend, John the Baptist, had just been beheaded. Jesus sensed the need for the disciples to get away and rest. So they all got in the boat to go to a quiet place. But the crowds of people had already arrived at their destination before they came ashore. “And he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” When it got late in the day the disciples told Jesus to send the crowds away so they could buy something to eat. Jesus replies “You give them something to eat.” The disciples can’t believe their ears. What Jesus is saying does not compute with their way of thinking. They are focusing on what they lack. Jesus then says,”What do you have?” (emphasis added). “Five loaves, two fish.”

Our culture continually feeds us with the message: You don’t have enough; see what you lack?I told the men that Jesus calls us to shift our attention away from what we lack and towards what we do have.  And when we trust in his abundance, we can freely give, and watch Jesus multiply. So many of these men have been told that they are nothing; they have nothing to give. At the same time many of these men get it. They have learned to be grateful for what they have and I can see it in their eyes.
At Tierra Nueva we can get tempted to focus on how great the need is with the people we minister to. Yet when we focus on what we do have and offer it to Jesus, we find that He loves to multiply.

May we all sense the call to make this shift away from a focus on lack and toward what we do have. Sometimes we don’t even realize the many forms of what we do have because we are so close to it. Jesus calls us to offer it to him, and just like His body, it can be blessed, broken, and offered for the life of the world.

and here’s a bonus bread story.  ; )

ask and you shall receive…abundantly

I’m beginning to think that God actually hears our prayers. ; ) Here is one of my favorite stories to tell.  On Sunday nights we serve soup after our 4:30 worship service. A few years ago Gracie Ekblad (co-founder) and Bethany (now TN staff alum) thought it would be great to have some bread with soup on Sunday….So they prayed….  Three days later our friend Steve called and told us that his niece who owns Breadfarm bakery in nearby Edison was looking to donate bread on a weekly basis and wondering if we would be interested in receiving bread. !! So now on Sundays I or another staff person swing through Edison and pick up a huge bag of amazing artisan bread. I just sense Jesus’ smile and wink like ‘What did you expect Wonder Bread?’ ; )…. If you are in Skagit or Whatcom I encourage you to buy breadfarm bread. They work hard, and take good care of their staff…oh and it’s great bread….



creating a community of kinship

photo: Father G and Richard Cabral embrace

“The margins are getting erased because we choose to stand there.”
– Father Greg Boyle, founder and director of Homeboy Industries.

Earlier this week eleven of us from Tierra Nueva – staff and homies – attended the Second Annual Gathering of the Homeboy Network in Los Angeles. This intent of this event, organized by Homeboy is convene with others who are working around the US, and around the globe, creating communities of kinship that welcome those on the margins. Rather than standing in judgement over them “we are in awe with what they have had to carry” said Father Greg.

It was a powerful gathering to see and hear from Homeboy staff and trainees and from folks around the globe doing similar work as Tierra Nueva and Homeboy.

Father Greg told a story of a man who was a trainee in their program heading home on the train one day. There was a half-drunk guy on the train who started talking to him, asking him where he was coming from. The man from Homeboy told the half-drunk guy that he was working at Homeboy and getting his life together, leaving the gang life. He gave the man a card and told him to come by sometime if he wanted to. The train stopped. The half-drunk man got off. And the doors closed.  Then came the moment that was powerful for the Homeboy trainee. At that point he noticed that everyone in that train car was looking at him…smiling.  He had never before felt this sense of being admired. “And the soul felt its worth”.

“Kindness can ventilate the rage and self-absorption” said Father Greg.  At Tierra Nueva we are creating a community of kinship where all are welcomed no matter where you have come from or how you have been living your life. When churches and communities can move towards kindness and away from fear we begin to create communities of kinship.  When we embody Christ as a community, we enable people to be the selves they truly are that’s been covered up under so much armor. And it’s not always easy – that’s for sure. But whoever said life was supposed to be easy? (oh yeah the billion dollar barrage of advertisements sneak that message into our consciousness)

How do we create these communities of kinship? Here’s three thoughts.

I think it starts with being vulnerable ourselves which creates a safe space for others to do the same. It’s freeing to come to the realization that we don’t have to have it all together, let alone have it together every day.

I also believe that in order to create these communities of kinship we need to …..slow……down. Our society encourages a frantic pace with no end in sight. When we live frantically it feels like we have no choice. We ‘have to’ get it all done. This is a lie.  When we slow down we are able to reflect and ask ‘What’s essential?’…and truly ‘What is the church called to be?’ And when we slow down we have time to connect to others…and without time to connect and truly listen, community cannot form.

Thirdly, to create a community of kinship with those on the margins we need to be in places where we will have an opportunity to meet them. The story above happened because the Homeboy trainee was on the train and was open to the interaction. What places do you have where you might interact with someone different than you?

Thank you for your prayers, love, and financial gifts that support this work of Tierra Nueva. We are very grateful.



p.s. please pray for Bob and I as we lead 4 half-hour bible studies tonight (7-9pmPacific Time) in the Skagit County Jail. Pray that the Spirit of God would dwell richly there. Also, if you are not familiar with Homeboy Industries I encourage you to read Father Greg Boyle’s book “Tattoos on the Heart”. If your local library doesn’t own a copy, ask them to purchase it.

photo above: Richard Cabral – emmy-nominated actor and former Homeboy trainee embracing Father Greg at the Gathering of the Homeboy Network earlier this week. Photo by Homeboy staff.