Costa Rica: Hard living former thief from U.S. runs rehab center


By Mark Ellis —

Keith Britton

He was a wayward rebel, wallowing in gambling debt, when he decided the best way to score some quick cash was robbing restaurants and bars in Sacramento, California.

Looking back, Keith Britton recognizes the root of his rebellion. “I didn’t believe in God. I lived in the world of drugs, sex, and rock and roll.”

Raised in a Mormon family, by the time he turned 16 his mother had been married and divorced three times – all to alcoholics. “It ruined my childhood,” he recounts.

“Her husbands were verbally and physically abusive to me and my brother. We rebelled in any way we could. I was a troublemaker.”

“I told my mom I was through with all religion at 16,” he says.

In high school he was a very good football player. “Nobody could catch me. When I caught the ball it was a touchdown. But my dad held me back from practice and made our lives miserable.”

When Keith turned 17 he joined the Marines. He made a bad decision, however, and stole a radio from another Marine. “They gave me a chance to stay in, but I said, ‘Get me out of here.’”

If he stayed in, he would have gone to Vietnam. “Who knows what would have happened,” he reflects.

After his discharge, Keith got married and he and his wife had three children. He developed a gambling habit and his debts began to pile up. He thought robbing bars and restaurants might be an easy way to relieve his financial headaches. During the robbery spree, he never put a bullet in his gun. “I didn’t think money was worth killing somebody over,” he says.

Finally apprehended by the authorities, Keith served his time. “When I got out of jail I abandoned my family just like my dad abandoned me and my brother.” He divorced his wife and deserted his three children. (His biological father had left him at three-years-old.)

Keith was released from prison in 1970 during the hippie movement, but their lifestyle didn’t attract him. “I didn’t really like drugs that much. I did it for the party. I never got addicted to anything. It was my personality. I don’t like anyone or anything being in charge of me.”

He became a bartender, moving between Sacramento, Colorado and Florida.

But in Florida he got into trouble once more. “I was mad at these people and I needed some money so I robbed their house.” He spent 7 months in jail waiting for trial, but was found not guilty because the prosecution lacked sufficient evidence.

In 1989, he rode a motorcycle to Southern California and got a job in construction. “I was tired of gambling. I had been doing too much cocaine and other drugs.”

“I met these people who kept telling me about Jesus. I said, ‘He sounds like a nice guy.’ I never believed in him as anything other than a nice guy. I thought God was somebody you turned to when the cops were getting close.”

He had arrived at a point where he found life dissatisfying. “I had too much partying, a lot of women, but no real relationships.”

Remarkable encounter

One day he went for a walk in the coastal mountains between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. After he hiked about 400 yards into the hills he stopped and looked up to heaven.

“God, I don’t know if you’re real or not. If you are real can you help me? I don’t like my life. I don’t know how to change it.”

Then he fell on his knees, weeping. “I was a pretty macho guy who didn’t cry,” he recalls. “I was wondering what was happening.”

Then he heard something completely shocking. An audible voice said, “I forgive you.”

“What’s going on? I don’t understand,” he said, as he continued to weep.

“I forgive you,” the voice said once more. Keith says the voice was “the most beautiful, calming, peaceful, loving voice I ever heard.”

He threw his hands up in the air in doubt and anguish. His mind began to race. He thought of the worst sin he had ever committed.

“How could you possibly forgive me for this?” he cried out to God.

It was quiet for a brief moment. Then God said, “Because I love you.”

“I knew exactly at that second who my Father was, who the Holy Spirit was, and who Jesus Christ is. In that second I was born again,” Keith says. It was Easter Sunday, but he was completely unaware of it.

“My only question was what do I do now?”

Three days later he opened a letter addressed to occupant. It was a questionnaire from Calvary Chapel in Capistrano Beach.

“God, you’ve got to be kidding me, right?” he exclaimed. He felt like God sent him a letter.

He ended up attending the church for the next 14 years, where he grew in his understanding of the faith.

On a church mission trip, Keith traveled to Venezuela to work with Ninos de la Luz, which helps poor street boys. About six months later, the overseers invited him on a two-year mission to Venezuela. They also asked him to prepare by spending a year in Costa Rica learning Spanish.

Keith Britton with street kids

He sold everything and moved to Costa Rica, but found learning a new language at age 60 especially challenging. Unfortunately, he could not get a pastor’s recommendation from his home church, something required by the mission. His church refused to endorse him for missionary work, something he found demoralizing.

One day he was on the street waiting for a bus in San Jose. A 12-year-old boy approached him and asked for money. “Dinero?” the boy asked.

Keith said no three times.

“I have hunger. I have hunger,” the boy replied in Spanish. The boy asked for food three times.

Keith said no three times. “Then I took a step to walk away and the Holy Spirit stopped me.”

What are you here for? the Lord impressed on his heart.

“I’m here to help children,” he replied sheepishly.

Keith handed the boy his Coke and a piece of corn on the cob.

He started to walk away and the Holy Spirit apprehended him once more. Are you through?

Keith turned to the boy and said, “Un momento.”

He pointed to his heart and said in the best Spanish he could muster: “You’re heart and my heart are equal in Christ.”

Then the street boy looked him straight in the eyes and said in perfect English: “Trust in the Lord and he will bless you.”

“I heard it in perfect English,” Keith recalls. “That couldn’t have happened. I realized God had sent me an angel. I started weeping. Three seconds later I opened my eyes and this kid was gone.”

Following this, Keith concluded that God brought him on the mission — not any organization or any man. Emboldened, he felt God could get him through any challenge he would face. “I’m not afraid of anything anymore,” he says. “If I don’t have money I don’t worry.”

He joined some other missionaries working with the poor in the barrios near San Jose. “These families had nothing, dirt floors. I was helping 3-4 families, then 10 families. I would get them food. I would repair their houses for them.”

Then God led him to visit a primitive drug and rehab center for men in the mountains, about an hour outside San Jose. “There were only three men there and they were going to shut it down. I was appalled they wanted to go back to the streets.

The next thing he knew he was living up here. “Somebody’s got to help them,” he realized. He told God he would need to provide everything.

men at the rehab center

Usually 12-17 men live at his rehab center, which is a working farm.

“The men come to me broken. They are standing in the rain at the gates begging to come in. We’re often full, but I still open the door.”

It is an eight-month program and he charges the men $60 per month.

When he started teaching the men about abstaining from drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex, he discovered that 99 % were also addicted to porn. “The porn is harder to get off than drugs and alcohol,” he notes. “It is devastating. It is harder than heroin.

“It is so evil that only God can control it. You can’t stop except through Jesus Christ.”

Young man graduating from his program

The rent for his rehab center is $500 a month and he sometimes finds himself short a few days before it is due. “Every week and every month God supplies. I don’t ask for more but I ask for enough. He is always faithful,” he says.


To know more about a personal relationship with God, go here

To learn more about Keith Britton’s ministry, go here