– by Associate Pastor Tony Paraspolo –
So, leaving my family was a hard thing but, I realize now, it was an easy thing for them. They were glad to see me go because I was causing most of the trouble. Anyway, I got down to 42nd St. in New York City and as I got there the bus leaving for California was just pulling out and I decided, well, I got to keep going. I had taken the last $150.00 from my family leaving them without a penny and two months behind in rent. I figured I might as well go through with it, so I bought a half pint of gin and went to a local movie on 42nd St. (which was probably 75 cents at the time). I spent four hours there. When I came out I had to wait about another hour or so until the bus for California was ready to go. This was a miracle in that had I got on the first bus, I wouldn’t have met Richard Barerra who ended up keeping me in California (and was the best man at my wedding 26 years later). I got on the bus, and as we started taking off, I noticed that there was an old lady sitting next to Richard and he stayed by her for the whole trip. He kept helping her and getting her stuff because she couldn’t walk well. And I thought, “Oh this guy probably is taking this woman for every penny she’s got,” – because that was my mentality – you didn’t do anything for nothing. On the last day of our trip to California, he came and spoke to me and asked me how I was doing. I told him my fantastic story about having three trucks, owning my own moving business and moving to California and that I was checking out the roads to make sure that when I let my guys drive the trucks there, everything would be alright. He had also been an alcoholic and recognized it for a story; I thought I buffaloed him but he knew from the beginning that it was all a lie.
Anyway, when we got to California, we had become friends. I kind of hung out with him. He had been to California before so he knew a little bit about it. My friend lived in Burbank and Richard knew where that was and I had no money left. He said to me, “Well, you know, you can spend the night with me tonight, then tomorrow we can go see if we can find your friend.”
Well, again my sick mind assumed that this guy must have been gay or something – why would he do this for me? We got to his place and as I stood there I had in my mind this thought, “I can handle this guy.” You know, when you drink, you think that you’re the toughest guy in the world and I didn’t have any worries about him trying anything, I thought I could handle him. Anyway, the morning did come without a problem – I called my friend, and called him and called him and called him and still there was nobody home.
42nd St. in New York was a pretty lowlife place and I saw that Broadway and 6th in L.A. was also a very lowlife place and I was ready to go home. Had it not been for Richard, I would have wired for $150.00 from my father again and went back home. But he decided to take me to Burbank where I saw an outside mall for the first time and, to me, that was a miracle because in New York, you can’t have too many things outside all year around. We went to the house where this friend was but he still wasn’t home. So I spent the next three days with Richard and that Monday I called and finally got a hold of the friend. He told me to come on over and see what’s happening. Richard and I caught the bus and went over to his house to meet him.
There was something different about him and I didn’t know what. He told me that I could stay in his home until I got a job and that he would feed me and I would have a place to stay. But there was one condition, and that was that I had to go to church with him. Since I had no money and not knowing what was going to happen, I just decided, “Okay, church ain’t so bad, I’ll go – what can it be an hour or so?” Well I went two or three times and played the game of ‘Oh yes, I know Jesus.’ Then I began asking questions. One thing that really helped me was when he didn’t have the answer, he said he’d get back to me. Where we came from in New York, you weren’t allowed not to have answers, even if you had to make one up! So, this impressed on me that he was telling the truth because he said he’d come back with the answers.
Well in about two months maybe a little less, I accepted Jesus in my life, not having any idea what that meant, but I saw something in my friend and it was good so I said I’ll try it. I got baptized but then about two weeks later, I began a true relationship with God. I found out that He was real in some way that I couldn’t understand and that He’s a good God. I was taught by a great pastor of that church, Hazen Simpson of the First Baptist Church. How I got taught this: I was in church one day when they had communion and gave out the little cup and the bread. I took the bread and we said the prayer but when we took the cup, I realized it was juice and, where I came from they used wine. I thought this was some kind of a sacrilege, I thought it was some kind of a cult. So in the middle of church I got up and ran out and said, “I will not drink this.”
This same pastor came to the house after church and sat down and talked to me. He said, “What’s your problem?”
I said, “Well, I want the real Jesus, I want the real God and I don’t want to be caught in anything wrong.”
He said, “Well, then, what is your problem?”
I said, “Well, you gave grape juice instead of wine.”
He said, “Where did you get wine?”
I said, “At the Catholic church.”
He said, “Sir, I don’t want to tell you your own business but you never got wine in the Catholic Church.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “When you received communion, you received the host and the priest drank the wine.”
And of course, he just coming there and talking to me helped me tremendously. I saw a man who really loved the Lord and wanted to bring someone to salvation, for real. So, from that day on I grew in the Lord. I went to that church, then to an Assembly of God where I learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. From that church I went to Raul Ruiz’s church where I learned about the Word and how to read it with understanding. Then I went to the Vineyard where I became a pastor.
But I want you to know that I took over leading a Bible study the third month after I first got saved. I was teaching the Bible but I could not read. I had probably a fourth or fifth grade reading level or maybe less than that. Yet I saw the Holy Spirit move fantastically; even though I didn’t know who the Holy Spirit was at the time! And, that Bible study grew to about 45 people or so. My daughter, Donna, brought a lot of people into the study by going out witnessing and I did some witnessing. They tried to get me to start a church but, as ignorant as I was, (that’s not a bad word) I realized that I didn’t have the ability to be a head pastor – I knew that I didn’t have all that it took, so I refused it. I stayed at that Bible study until we moved.
Well, getting back to the Vineyard, there they asked me to be a pastor! I couldn’t believe that such a one as me who the devil had told that I was totally useless, that I had no value in life whatsoever, and thinking of all the sins that I had committed and all the things I had done wrong – I believed that nobody would love me, nobody would care, especially God. I had bought that lie and that’s why I left New York: the idea that I was useless and no good. Now, being asked to be a pastor, just kind of blew my mind and I accepted it and went with that for a while enjoying serving God very much. I found that even someone like me could be useful to God if we would just allow ourselves to be used. There was a disagreement in that church and, rather than break up the church, a few of us left.
I found CCC where I am now. I searched maybe five or six other churches and even joined another church for a short period of time but realized that was not where God wanted me to be. When I came to this church, I felt the love of Jesus Christ the moment I walked in the door where I was greeted by Pastor’s sister, Dorothy. She just made me feel like she really wanted me there and so I came in. I’ve been there now for 12 years, serving God.
The biggest point of my testimony is for you to understand that the devil hates us. He wants us dead because once we’re dead, we can’t turn around and we can’t get back to anything good when he has us in his pocket. I confess that there was a time when I planned to commit suicide by taking a lot of pills with a bottle of alcohol and had the room already set up for it. Before I went to work that day, I had put the pills in my shoes in the closet where I was staying and put my socks over them so that no body could see them. A two year old boy got into those shoes which caused the mother to ask me how many pills there were and she had to take that child to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. The child was okay but, of course, when I got home – they threw me out. So it was over. The devil wanted me to kill myself but God had other plans. I had to make a decision and to anyone reading this: you might know that you have to make a decision – a decision that says do I want everlasting life or life for a moment? Life for a moment in this world seemed good to me for a while, but it got worn out and I thank God today that I’ve come to realize who God is through Jesus Christ and that I can walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I now teach Bible studies and, for someone who couldn’t read, to be a teacher, you have to know it’s a miracle of God. Someone who can take a Bible study over who couldn’t read and see it grow from three or four to forty-five, you have to know its God. So God will always use us if we allow ourselves to be used. I learned that at an early age in my Christianity and I still try to walk in that today. I know that I have some abilities but I also know those abilities are useless unless they’re connected to God. So I thank God for this church that I’m at now and we know we’re expecting great things because we have a great God. We have a pastor who is faithful, we have a staff of people who desire to know God better than ever before, and we have a group of people in this church who are seeking and wanting more of God in their lives. So we know that great things are going to happen.
I need to add to this that my kids are all within a three to five mile radius of where I live now. We have a great fellowship. My ex-wife is remarried and happy again and still comes to visit the children. I have now gotten married and am very happy. And I thank God for all He’s done in my life.
Thank you for reading about my life. I leave you with this: there’s only one answer and that is God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.