Program Assistant Reflects On His Journey To The Mission
Mike Ruiz, the program assistant at the mission for nearly a year, still seems in awe of where he’s ended up. “I never would’ve imagined this. If you would’ve told me in 2004 that I would be a minister of the Gospel, providing hope to guys in broken situations just like mine, I would’ve said you were crazy.”
Mike grew up in the Los Angeles area, raised by his mother and his grandmother. When he was 18, he joined the military, and at the end of 2000, shipped off for boot camp and was stationed in Virginia. “A few months later, 9/11 happened, so I just prepared myself for deployment,” said Mike, who did a tour in Afghanistan in 2003.
Even after spending nine months in a combat zone, it was what happened while on leave at home that would affect Mike’s life forever. “In June 2004, I got behind the wheel of my truck under the influence,” Mike said. “By the end of that day, I was being arrested for DUI manslaughter. I was 21 years old, fresh off deployment. I came home and ended up going to prison.”
While pulling out of a gas station, Mike had scratched a side-view mirror on another car. He gave the car’s owner his information. “She wasn’t satisfied—there was a language barrier—and she wanted to call the cops,” Mike said. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m under the influence, I’m going to get arrested, it’s going to get back to base.’ I panicked basically, and I took off.”
The gas station cameras showed that the woman had lunged at Mike’s truck as he drove away. She was thrown under and run over by his back tire. She died. “It was such a stupid decision on my part,” he said. “I had no idea it was going to end up that way.”
Two years later, Mike paroled from state prison in Susanville. “I was very bitter. This was not how I expected my life to look,” said Mike, who planned on becoming a firefighter. “I found myself at home, a convicted felon, working construction with my father. I was almost shaking my fist at God. That was my condition for a long time, just really mad at the world, at God, and at myself mostly. There was a lot of guilt and shame over what I did, thinking about that lady and her family and having those thoughts reinforce my belief of who I was: I was just worthless.”
In 2007, Mike and a girlfriend had a son. But after the relationship ended, Mike sunk deeper. “It was compounded now. Now I’ve failed to keep my family together.” Then Mike got laid off. “I spent the latter part of 2009 collecting unemployment and I started drinking a lot again. I was thinking, ‘Man, is this what my life boils down to? Is it always going to be a struggle? Will I be carrying this heaviness forever?’”
Mike remembers sitting on his front porch smoking a cigarette. “I was so mad at God, and I’m letting it all out, crying. It was like the more I tried to resist him, the more I yelled at him and blamed him, the more he just poured his grace out on me. He softened my heart. On my front porch that evening, that’s when I felt my faith become real.”
Mike moved up to Santa Maria and met his wife. They had their first daughter in 2011, and have since had two more kids. “I really felt the Lord drawing me more and more to him and to his word,” Mike said. “I just became totally consumed with the bible and theology and really wanted to know who this God was that extended his mercy and forgiveness to me.”
Mike was involved in two church plants, where he met Jon Bronkowski, who would later become the director of the mission. When the program assistant position opened up, Jon thought of Mike and he was hired in July 2018. “It’s been a blessing. I’ve loved every moment of it. I feel extremely privileged to come in every day and work with these guys
to share Christ and his Gospel and say that this is what I do for work.”
That being said, Mike said the work can be hard. “We have guys who we’ve poured into and prayed over and then you come into work one day, and they’ve packed up their stuff and left,” he said. “If I want to be authentic, I have to be willing to open up and care for these guys and love these guys and be willing to accept that I might get hurt. They might go back to whatever they were running from in the first place, and that’s OK. Hopefully I’ve planted seeds and by God’s grace, someone will come along and water them.
“God has been so kind with my marriage, my children, this opportunity to serve here at the mission. This is all a work of God’s grace in my life using a weak and broken man like myself to bring him glory. I’m not trying to sound cliché, but it doesn’t get much better than this.”