Carl sees the light
In 1994, Carl Wolden went through a divorce and lost his job almost simultaneously. Once again, his middle brother came to the rescue.
Carl’s brother had remarried, moved to Antioch, and found work in the Alameda shipyards. He invited Carl to move in and helped him find work as a pipefitter’s assistant.
Things went well until the shipyards shut down. The stress put added tension on Carl’s living arrangements. Things came to a head in Christmas of 1996, when Carl was told he couldn’t enter the house unless he turned his marijuana over to his brother.
Carl was dumbfounded. He had always been open about his marijuana use. In fact, it had been his brother who introduced him to marijuana when Carl was barely into his teens. As a rule, he left his stash in a hiding place outside his brother’s house. Now he was being asked to turn it over.
Stunned and confused, Carl left for a nearby park where he vowed to himself he would never return to his brother’s house. He had been there three days when he was approached by a gnome-like man with his back so severely bent he had to tilt his head up to see forward.
“Are you hungry?” said the man. “Come over here and we’ll give you the Word and some food.”
“I could see he was in great pain,” says Carl today. “It hurt him just to walk, but he overcame his pain and reached out to me. When he reached out like that I felt something I had never felt before. He invited me into his house on the same day he met me.”
The little man, who suffered from a severe case of scoliosis and spinal degeneration, called himself Pastor James. His house was full of people with nowhere else to go.
Carl soon saw that Pastor James was in dire need of house management. There was clutter everywhere. Carl’s natural gifts for order enabled him to organize the house and garage within a few months. He also established a set of rules for the often disorderly crew of guests.
Pastor James was affiliated with the Gospel Mission. He communicated the lessons of the Bible as guidelines to good living. Carl had never viewed the Bible in such a way. He felt a spiritual awakening.
“He showed me the NIV Bible,” says Carl. “I could understand it and see how it related to living every day.”
Pastor James saw Carl’s untapped potential and enrolled him in the nearby Richmond Gospel Mission’s training program, where he studied culinary arts and also managed to earn his high school diploma. But Carl’s continuing marijuana use almost derailed his progress.
“They had a zero-tolerance policy, “says Carl. “I was always honest with them and when they asked whether I used it, I said yes.”
Mission officials were flummoxed. Carl was their star pupil and they had plans for making him a staff member. In a rare exception to their zero-tolerance rule they sent him to the Modesto Mission, where he continued his culinary studies and began working under the supervision of staff chefs.
Mission officials felt Carl would be a major asset, but after over a year of work, Carl began having misgivings about working at the Mission. He felt Mission staff too often saw themselves as superior to the people they were trying to help.
“People coming into the Mission don’t need criticism,” says Carl. “There was too much criticism and not enough uplift.”
While Carl appreciated all he had been taught, he felt it was time to move on. With the help of people affiliated with the Mission, Carl had learned job-finding skills. In 2002, he found work at Modesto’s Napa Auto Parts store. He moved into a room with a generous Christian couple and once again began paying child support.
Things went well until 2004, when he was laid off. At the same time, the couple he was living with had a child.
“I didn’t want to burden them,” Carl says. “I couldn’t pay rent and they had new expenses. Even though they didn’t ask me to, I moved out.”
Carl had no money and nowhere to go. He began living in his 1984 Nissan Maxima and parking near Graceada Park. One day he got word that Pastor James had passed away.
“He always told me to, ‘Go where God leads you,’” says Carl. “He said I had a gift. He saw I could relate to people. But I didn’t really know where to go.”
For a while Carl worked at “labor ready” jobs, where he waited to be called for temporary work. He applied for job after job, but couldn’t find steady employment. When the state received notice of his failure to pay back-dated child support, he was once again classified as a dead-beat dad. His driver’s license was revoked, the tags on his license plates expired, and before too long his car was towed.
Once again, Carl found himself alone and adrift in a city park, only this time he was in Modesto.
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