Joel Wright

Gospel Pioneers
Gospel Pioneers
Gospel Pioneers

Skid row was not a part of my plan for life. I was very ambitious and had a desire to make something of myself and to provide well for my wife and four children. I became one of the highest paid men in the General Electric plant in Boston, Massachusetts, was a councilman of the union, and seemingly, had a bright and prosperous future ahead of me.

My good intentions failed me, however, and a few “social drinks” led to the misery and breakdown of my once happy family. On paydays my wife would try to meet me at the gate of the plant, but I would sneak out the side gate to get to a barroom. It wasn’t long before she began going to the welfare commission for money to buy groceries, even while I was working.

A succession of events quickly brought things to a head. I lost many of my friends, and finally, I was given two-weeks’ notice from my company. Eleven years of service went down the drain; it was a terrible shock to me. I stopped drinking for two weeks, got another position, and was made foreman, but they didn’t know I was an alcoholic.

Then one day in 1944 when I couldn’t stand my craving any longer, I drew my money and quit my job. Sixty dollars went for drink at the bar. I loved my family, but the craving for alcohol became so great that I would do anything to assure its supply. I tried to bolster my courage to go back home and face my wife, but I could not face her. I telegraphed her forty dollars. I remember the words, “More when possible–God bless you all.” But there was no more.

The next morning I woke up in an empty tenement on Dover Street, the skid row of Boston. I had ridden over it on the elevated rails for years and had never known what a skid row was, but from then on, it was my home. I spent my time in cheap barrooms and one flophouse after another, once staying nine months on the Bowery in New York City.

I was in and out of jails for drunkenness, vagrancy, and disorderly conduct. Many times I worked in gandy camps (railroad camps for vagrants) where there was time out for drunken sprees. Though I claimed five dependents when I did work on the railroads, I never sent any money to my family; whatever love my wife had for me had changed to hate because of the disgrace I had put my family through.

After about a year of this life, I gave myself up in New York; I said I wanted to go home. The authorities kept me in jail for three nights and three days while they checked my record. Finally they said, “There is a warrant out for your arrest for nonsupport. Your wife had to swear out a warrant so she could get aid from the State of Massachusetts for herself and your four children. But we talked with her and she doesn’t want you back. They are better off without you. You are even wanted in jail to pay for it.” I felt I had no more hope in this world. The detective gave me a quarter, and I went out and got a jug of wine.

When I had godly sorrow for what I had done, the Lord came down and saved me from my sins, and I knew it!

Two years later, after having been on wine for nine months and having spent time in jail in Seattle, Washington because of drunk and disorderly conduct, I came to Portland, Oregon, helpless and seemingly hopeless. While lying on my bed in a cheap hotel room in this city, I heard some music from a Gospel street meeting, so I went to listen just to pass the time.

I had a pipe in my mouth and a sneer on my face as I stood there leaning against a drugstore window listening to that group of Christians. Suddenly, God spoke to me and told me that the Gospel story I heard that day was as real as the sin I was in and that those people were living what they were talking about. After that street meeting ended, I was invited to go with them to their downtown church, just three blocks away. When I arrived, I walked right out of Hell and into Heaven.

At the close of their church service, I went forward to the altar and started to pray. I told the workers praying with me, “You don’t know who I am. You don’t know what I have done. I have a wife and four children back on the East Coast, and they don’t know where I am. I walked right off and left them because I had to drink. I sold my blood and my best clothes to get booze.”

One of the workers told me, “Don’t tell us. Tell it to Jesus. He knows your heart!” I thought to myself, “If God knows my heart I had better get honest or get out.” I thank God that I started to get honest. I started to pray. I didn’t get saved right then, but I went back to my room at the hotel and there I prayed all night. The church people had given me an Apostolic Faith paper, and I read the testimonies. Then I got out of my bed and down on my knees, and I prayed, “God, give me what You gave them.” I knew I would have to have something real. My heart was black with sin. Finally, the Lord showed me that I had done more than hurt my wife, my children, and society. He showed me that I had hurt Him. When I had godly sorrow for what I had done, the Lord came down and saved me from my sins, and I knew it!

Thank God, He completely delivered me in a moment from all those sinful habits. I haven’t had a drink or a smoke since that day. The desire for those things left me. My heart was changed to the extent that I even thought differently.

I soon got a good job, and I wrote to my wife telling her what God had done for me. I sent her my picture so she could see the great change in me, but I received no answer. I began to send money home and clothes for the children. Finally, the overseer of the church wrote to my wife assuring her that what I had written was true—God had cleaned me up inside and out.

The day finally came when my wife began answering my letters, and eventually she took courage and came to Portland. At that time, all I owned was a little table and a chair, but I found an apartment that would house my family. I’ll never forget that day. First, eleven women from the church came in and cleaned that place from the ceiling down, and three men worked on electrical problems. Then came furniture, bedding, dishes, stocks of food, rugs for the floors, starched curtains, and even vases of flowers for every room. On the day my family was to arrive a good meal was being prepared for them while I went to meet them.

About a hundred people waited with me at the train station that morning. I caught sight of my wife first and I cried out, “There is Lil!” My children then came and with eyes sparkling, almost threw themselves into my arms. In that moment, I knew all was well.

Some years later, my mother-in-law came out here too. She had hated the sight of me for the years of hell I had put the family through. But, strange as it may seem, she had been the first one to encourage my wife to come to be with me in Portland. She told her that if God hadn’t done something real for me, she would wire her the money to return, but she never needed to! Instead, she came herself, and God saved her too, and made her ready to meet her Maker.

How I thank God for the change He made in my life and in my home when He saved me! He gave me a different outlook on life and put a new look on my face. I made restitution for past wrongs, and for many years now I have worked and earned an honest living. I am thankful that I am serving a God who specializes in impossibilities.