From luxury cruise to Mexican jail to salvation experience
What started off as a long-anticipated family vacation ended with an Oklahoma pastor being jailed in Mexico.
Wade Burleson, pastor of Enid, Emmanuel, his wife, Rachelle, and four children, Kade, Boe, Charis and Logan, along with extended family members, boarded a ship Sunday morning, March 13 for a week-long Caribbean cruise to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Rachelle’s parents. A reception for the anniversary couple was celebrated Monday night aboard the ship.
On Tuesday morning, March 15, the ship docked at Cozumel, Mexico, and Burleson, his wife and children rented a jeep to cruise the island. While Rachelle and the children enjoyed time on the beach, Burleson left in the jeep to pick up a map of Grand Cayman, where the ship would dock the next day. On his way back to the beach, he encountered a family of four in a broken down jeep and stopped to lend aid.
As he got back on the Coastal Highway, he hit a motorcycle coming from an unmarked road head on. He said he had not seen the motorcycle until the impact. Both the driver and passenger were thrown from the vehicle and suffered compound fractures of their right legs. As soon as the ambulance left and Burleson was assured both men would be OK, he returned to the beach to pick up his family, then back to the scene of the accident to wait for police.
The tourist police, he said, were friendly, and told him to send his family back to the ship and head to the Cozumel tourist police station to verify insurance and complete some paperwork. They assured him he would be on his way in plenty of time to make the ship’s departure.
Kade and Boe went with him. After some chaotic moments, Burleson was told to send his sons back to the ship, but he would miss the departure. Kade returned to the ship, but Boe insisted on staying with his father.
The practice in Mexico, Burleson was told, is, although insurance covers all medical costs and vehicle damage, the person responsible for the accident would provide a cash payment for “lost wages.”
Burleson asked that the American Consulate be called, and Ann, the Consulate representative, was at the police station 30 minutes later. Burleson said he would be willing to pay the victims $1,000 each, which Ann said was generous. However, the families called for an attorney and countered that they wanted $6,500 in cash.
“I had been told the one country in which you did not want to have an injury accident while driving a vehicle was Mexico,” said Burleson. “And I was about to find out why.”
The victims’ family would not budge in their negotiations, and because the set time for the tourist police to settle the incident had ended, the case went to the “regular” police.
Burleson was ordered to give his wedding band, hat, watch, billfold and any other valuables to his son, and he was handcuffed to a “very big young man” and taken to a Mexican jail, where he was to be held for three days until his preliminary hearing before a Mexican judge.
Burleson said no amount of words would be adequate to describe the jail cell—one concrete bed for two men, one concrete toilet in the center, ants and spiders crawling on the walls, feces and urine staining the floor and bed, no lights and only a small window that let an outside street lamp shine through. He would not eat or drink for the next 24 hours.
“I moved from cruise luxury to prison hell in six hours,” he said. “But I breathed a silent prayer and asked God to turn the situation into a Paul and Silas moment. I then turned my attention to my cell mate.”
His name is Alan, and it was his 26th birthday. He spoke English fairly well, and was honest and transparent about his alleged crime, Burleson said.
“I felt the opportunity had arisen for me to explain to Alan the Gospel, and for the next couple of hours, I shared with him the good news of Jesus Christ,” Burleson said. “Before Alan’s 26th birthday ended, he had been born again. The unbelievable sensation of kneeling in that filthy, insect-infested jail cell in Cozumel beside this huge man I had been handcuffed to only hours before, as he prayed to receive Christ into his life is beyond description.
“I am not much of a singer, but after tears of joy were streaming down this young man’s face as he realized for the first time that God loved sinners like him enough to give him His Son to pay for the penalty of his sins, and that the blessings of God are all his through Christ, I felt led to sing ‘Amazing Grace.’ Either the reverberation of the walls or the empowerment of the Spirit caused the song to be sung with a beauty that was outside of me. It was a moment neither of us shall ever forget. Alan was saved from hell in a jail cell in Cozumel.”
After 30 long, sleepless hours, Burleson was finally released when cash arrived from the United States, via the efforts of Emmanuel’s finance office.
Alan was transferred to another jail, but before he left, Burleson told him that he and his wife were out thousands of dollars for a family cruise that was messed up by a tragic accident, and also were out thousands of more dollars through fines and payment to the families of injured victims.
“But I told him there was no amount of money that comes even close to reaching the price of his soul,” Burleson said. “I believe God had a divine appointment for me in that jail cell at Cozumel.’
Burleson and his son were not able to catch up with the family cruise, but flew to Houston to await the family’s return from the long-anticipated vacation.
This account is condensed from Burleson’s blog, www.kerussocharis.blogspot.com. Used by permission.