Unpacking the Suitcase

When Mike and Lexi Bon stepped foot onto Eastside’s campus for the first time seven years ago, their mindset wasn’t one of seeking God, but rather one defined by desperation.  They met Arty Van Geloof, longtime pastor at Eastside and director of Eastside’s Global Compassion, who welcomed them with an unexpected smile and a nonjudgmental demeanor.

Two addicts that had found each other years ago and stuck together ever since, living the never-ending cycle of hopelessness, caught in the trapped life that drugs and prison offered. They came to Eastside humbly after meeting a local soup kitchen volunteer who had suggested visiting the church–advice that Lexi initially laughed at, saying that every other place they had tried to receive help from always left them with the same response: “You have too much baggage”.  But their despair caused them to give it a try, and at Eastside, for the first time, the Bons received a different response to their dire situation.

Mike explained that it was rare for addicts to be honest when in critical need, but honest they were as they spoke with Arty that day.  Leaving no stone unturned, they expounded on their situation, saying they were not married, not members of the church and currently on the verge of eviction from their motel.  In that moment of acute vulnerability, Arty responded to a couple that was “too much baggage” with a new reply: “ok then, let’s unpack the suitcase!”

Mike and Lexi felt such a difference in receiving this uncommon answer, they began to make the two-hour-each-way bus commute every Sunday to get back to Eastside. Although they still struggled and experienced such shame, they didn’t feel judged in the least and described that factor as the key ingredient that kept them coming back.

The couple continued their journey, until one night in July 2011, while they slept on a mattress on a friend’s patio, Mike broke down in sobs and cried out to God for the first time, asking for help and a way out of this chronic lifestyle. An answer in disguise came the next day when Mike was once again arrested, but given the opportunity to enter into a 18-month rehabilitation program. Mike agreed to partake in this relentless guide produced by the county and Lexi ventured alongside him–the couple journeying to get clean together, for good.

Eastside became a subsequent family for the Bon’s as the church hosted their marriage, baptism, and even renewal of their vows. Serving became the most natural response to the revival in their lives, beginning with one particular Easter Sunday.  The stage for the day’s numerous services needed assembling, and Mike, having a background in construction, jumped at the opportunity to use his hands in the building process.  This fulfilling experience set both Mike and Lexi’s heart aglow as they took on more responsibility, even stepping into a regular volunteer role as Ushers at the Anaheim campus.

Mike put his construction expertise to work helping a local family’s house get up to Social Service’s standards in order to have the chance to keep custody of their child, a scenario that hit close to home for both Lexi and Mike.  Lexi described serving as receiving a sense of pride in paying it forward and “helping someone else when they’re in need, just like someone helped us when we were in need.”

This Serve Day, Mike is heading up a baseball clinic in partnership with Higher Ground, an Orange County non-profit providing mentor programs for kids in at-risk communities.  Both Lexi and Mike were astounded at the opportunity to serve in this capacity, considering that they once stood exactly where these kids stand, now getting the chance to support them in choosing a positive life.

It is true that a once destructive cycle that held despair, pain and abuse, can be made anew into a pattern that takes the old and uses it for goodness, understanding and perspective. This Serve Day, we can be apart of breaking these cycles of hurt and rebuilding them into cycles of compassion, hope and acceptance.

To be a part of our efforts in loving people until they love themselves or to join with Mike and Lexi for Serve Day on March 4th, 2017, visit eastside.com/servelocally.