The story of Jacob is one of the favorites of the Rev. Isaac J. Canales, Week Four’s chaplain-in-residence. In the text for the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service, Genesis 28:10-16, Jacob was a fugitive from his brother Esau. He arrived at Bethel and laid his head on a rock and had a dream of angels going up and down a ladder from heaven to earth and back again.
Canales’ sermon title was “Nothing But A Dream.”
“This passage reminds me of difficult times, like when I was in the hospital, barely conscious, on dialysis for two and a half years,” Canales said. “My only comfort was seeing my wife praying or sleeping at my side,” he said.
There was a ladder for him: Jesus Christ, his lord and savior, who took his needs up to God.
When he was young, Canales had been jailed seven times on drug charges. One night, high on LSD and heroin, with a gun in his hand, he contemplated suicide. But a ladder came down to his heart and “my hope in Jesus Christ made me one with the ineffable. Today I am a man, alive, with a new kidney and a new life, and I thank God for it.”
In 1997, Canales was preaching at a men’s revival in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. There were 78,000 men there, and after he had given the altar call, about 10,000 came forward to make a commitment to faith in Jesus Christ or renew their faith.
About a year later, one of the men who had given his life to Christ that day came to see Canales. The man’s name was Richard, and at the time of the revival he was going through a divorce and lost everything. He arrived at Canales’ door and asked if he could bring his dog in.
“I have never even let my own dogs in my office,” Canales said, but Richard convinced him the dog was almost human.
Richard asked him, “What is your dream?” Canales told him it was for the congregation to own its own building and property. They had moved seven times and had a lease on the building they were in. Richard asked if they would like to own that building, and Canales said they did not have the $6.5 million.
“I own this building,” Richard said, and he wanted to help them make their dream come true. He gave them a down payment of $1.5 million to purchase it from him.
“I saw the ladder come down from heaven,” Canales said.
The church also inherited a 33,000-square-foot warehouse that was in bad condition. All the young staff at the church were athletes, and they wanted to make it into a gym.
A local man, Charles Hefner, was a professional boxing coach and he was training a promising fighter, Ephraim, in his garage. Hefner’s wife attended Canales’ church and asked if they could use the warehouse to train. They brought a heavy weight bag to the almost empty warehouse and used it to take Ephraim to the national Golden Gloves tournament in 2005.
“This was the first step on the ladder for them,” Canales said. “Ephraim won the 119-lb. bantamweight gold medal, another step on the ladder.”
At the competition was Prentice, who had played for the Detroit Tigers. He stopped by to see the warehouse one day.
“Is this your gym?” he asked.
Canales told him it was God’s gym, not Gold’s Gym, and then he shared the dream the congregation had for it, that kids on the street could grow mentally, physically, academically and spiritually.
When Prentice left, he asked Canales if he would meet with Prentice’s friend Michael. Sure, Canales said.
Michael arrived and Canales once again shared the dream of a safe place for kids, to give them the dream of education, decency, respectability and civility that their brothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers did not have.
At the back of the warehouse, Barry, who played for the Los Angeles Angels, was using the batting cage for practice. Prentice made a bet with Michael that if he hit the first pitch, Michael would give a generous donation. Prentice did not hit a thing.
Then they bet Barry that if he could hit every pitch, Michael would still give a generous donation. For three minutes Barry hit every ball, and Michael wrote a check for $1,000. Michael then asked Canales how much it would take to turn it into a real boxing center.
“I told him $1.2 million; I had no real idea, it was an unscientific estimate,” Canales said. “But I knew God could help us take the next step.
Michael was Michael King, co-owner of King World Productions, which syndicated “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Jeopardy” and bought “Wheel of Fortune” from Merv Griffin. For eight years, he helped Mission Ebenezer Family Church realize its dream.
“God comes to you in times of need; you are not alone,” Canales said. “As long as it is his will and call, God will get involved in your life. Who says angels need wings? Sometimes Bowery Boys or Barrio Boyzz get a chance for a better life. Michael King became a ladder between Earth and God.”
Many high-profile companies and people got involved to get the gym going. Everlast Corporation provided equipment. Trainers from the Seattle Seahawks came and installed the cardio equipment, and Canales’ son later became a coach for them. Sugar Ray Leonard served as a referee for the kids’ boxing matches.
King had murals of famous boxers painted on the inside of the gym with sayings from each of them. Muhammad Ali’s saying is “If you even dreamed you could beat me, you better apologize.” But Canales likes best the one that reads “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“When we come to God, faced with difficult circumstances, and have nothing but a dream, God will send angels down Jacob’s ladder to let you know you are never alone,” Canales concluded.
The Rev. John Morgan presided. Andrew Lechner, from Biloxi, Mississippi, read the Scripture. He is a political science major at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi. He is a second generation Chautauqua Scholar, following in his mother’s footsteps. Growing up and hearing stories of IOKDS and Chautauqua Institution inspired him to undertake this journey. Andrew is the recipient of the Ocean Springs Circle Scholarship. The Motet Choir sang “Come, You People, Rise and Sing,” by Kenneth Dake. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund provide support for this week’s services.