"We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."
Underground Ministries opens new relationships of embrace and trust between gang-affected prisoners and our communities to which they return, for our mutual transformation and resurrection.
In 2005, gang member José "Neaners" Garcia met a young volunteer chaplain inside Skagit County Jail, Chris Hoke. Both inside those walls, and out in the night of Northwest Washington State's Skagit Valley, Neaners invited Chris into his underground world of gang-involved migrant youth. He dubbed Chris "pastor" to the many homies whom, he said, had never had a pastor.
The Gang Ministry continued on the streets as Neaners went to prison for over seven years--often in maximum-security gang units and solitary confinement cells. During those years, Neaners and Chris exchanged letters almost weekly. They became each other's life teachers. Beyond their letters' contents--Bible and gang culture, parenting and prayer--they learned about friendship and trust across society's barriers. They experienced an unexpected sense of family, kinship, and shared calling. They dreamed of working together, upon Neaners' release and before, to reach many more men thrown away in today's human landfills of prison. They wanted to bring them a new message: that they are wanted.
Soon, Chris had the opportunity to return the favor and open doors for Neaners into his world. In summer 2014, Neaners was released directly from solitary confinement to Chris and his wife Rachel's home. It changed all their lives.
Within the next year, Neaners was off parole, married, a father, baptized, and working together with Chris at Tierra Nueva to reach both gangs and churches with a new way forward.
In 2017, Neaners and Chris co-founded Underground Ministries. A new organization fully dedicated to this distinctly relational approach to gangs, prisoner reentry, and wider community self-discovery.
We serve those at the bottom of the American system: prisoners, gang members, those most feared, locked away in solitary confinement, and deemed dead to society. We build relationships, incarnating the kind of love we see in Jesus, friend of sinners and outcasts, who wept over Lazarus in the tomb before he raised him from the dead.
We are inspired by how Jesus not only spoke life into the underground, but then called a community to roll away the massive stone so the beloved could join the land of the living. And so we build relationships with churches, lawyers, families, correctional facilities and neighbors. Why? So we can, together, creatively move through prison walls, roll away prisoner debt, and open new opportunities for these returning, formerly-feared men to become the fathers, husbands, employees and voices God has called them to be.
These new relationships turn us ("on the outs") into the kinds of people, and communities, God has called us to be. As we both risk shedding our defenses--mainstream and underground alike--we discover our purpose together, the life of the world to come.
"If we do not welcome our own wounds, we will be tempted to despise the wounded."
-Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries