My Story – By Joseph Cooper

MyStory1I was raised Episcopalian, one step above Catholic. As a teenager I learned the Bible well there and was given an award and a Bible that I have to this day. Yes, I knew the Bible well, but at that time I did not know Jesus.

It was during my last year of high school that my life took a turn for the worst. I took a job as a busboy at the exclusive Charles Restaurant in downtown Boston. The waiters decided to make a man out of me by introducing me to alcohol. They would take a little off the top of each liquor bottle so the owner wouldn’t get suspicious. Then they would top it off with beer. Naturally my grades went down from A’s and a few B’s to B’s, C’s and D’s. Late one night I got off work as usual. My father had to get up to use the restroom and as I crossed his path he smelled the liquor on my breath. He yelled, “What?” He made me quit that job, but by that time it was too late. I was now an alcoholic, and remained so for the next 13 years.

I was graduated from Boston English and I chose Howard University in Washington D.C. just to get away from Boston. Since my parents did not have the funds to put me through school, I worked at Green Shoe Company that summer and earned enough to pay for my first year of college. In my first semester I experienced something that challenged my religious beliefs. My sociology teacher Dr. Ahmed who was from India challenged our class to prove there is a God. He introduced us to Darwin’s theory of evolution and I chose evolution as my thesis paper which eventually took me away from God. Although I continued going to church I realized that most of the people were hypocrites. Then I realized I was the biggest hypocrite for I was drinking and doing something I no longer believed in. I stopped going to church and for the next eight years I became an agnostic. The next year Dr. Ahmed was fired, but the damage was already done as I had lost my way.

After I finished my first year I earned enough money that summer to almost carry me through my second semester at Howard U. I hung out with Stokely Carmichael and other students interested in addressing Martin Luther King, Junior’s concerns in a more radical way. However, I found it hard studying on an empty stomach. After falling out on the ROTC drill field from food poisoning after eating my own cooking I dropped out and got married. The Presbyterian pastor who married us had lost his wife two days before. He saw marrying us as passing on the legacy. My son was born breech buttocks first a year later. Because my wife withdrew her attention from me to her son I began drinking more and more. Eventually I was consuming almost a fifth of liquor or a case of beer about every night.

I worked at the Post Office for a couple of years until I got tired of the plantation like atmosphere. I passed the civil service examination and got a job working for the Census Bureau. I got the fourth highest mark in the history of the Census Bureau on their merit promotion test, but they gave me a job pushing a mail truck. That irked me. I eventually worked my way up to control clerk and began assisting a group of programmers by running their work on the computer. Because the opportunity to become a programmer was denied me I put my dream on the shelf for years. My angst regarding the racism at the core of their promotion policies took a turn for the better when I was elected president of the local union. I then fought for better rights for all employees. However, after seeing the all Black unit I was in treated unfairly by making us work a sliding work week from Tuesday to Saturday without paying us time and a half for Saturday work, I teamed up with two other leaders to form the Invaders. We began holding meetings and began fighting the inherent racism at the bureau. I edited a popular newsletter titled The Invaders are Here and was elected chairman of communications for the Urban League’s Government Employees United against Racism Division (G.U.A.R.D.). I also joined the Black Panthers at that time and arranged for donations of food and clothing for their disadvantaged program. After a year of activism and protest we won, and an upward mobility college was formed at the Census Bureau to help minorities achieve professional status.

It was during this time I bought my first of several motorcycles. I went from a 90cc Honda until a few years I bought a fully dressed Harley Davidson. My riding partner was a fellow cyclist named Benny and we began running around picking up women and staying out late. I was living the “good life” or so I thought because I always had my doctor ready with a penicillin shot to get me back on the road. My wife was praying for me, but I wanted nothing to do with her God. If she left any literature around me it ended up in the trash. I even threw a preacher out of my house that came by to try and convert me. I got into drugs and dropped acid (LSD) 44 times. I was smoking pot and hashish on top of the alcohol. Sometimes I would have blackouts and not know how I got to where I was the next morning. It was one evening when I had dropped acid that I had an experience that shook me up. I could see three demons’ faces leering at me. What I saw was the luminescent outline of their heads and a leering expression on their faces, but it shook me up. I decided that if there was a devil, then there had to be a God. I decided I had to get away from my family so I loaded up my Harley with camping gear and headed for California. I shaved off all my hair and looked up in the sky so the beams could get to me. I did not realize at the time why I did this, but later learned after I had left home a prayer chain had formed. There were many who began praying for me. Eventually due to engine problems I returned home. I undertook a spiritual journey investigating all the different religions. Kung Fu with David Carradine as Grasshopper was a popular TV show at the time, so I delved into that scene. Then Islam interested me and I set up candle worship alter in a corner of my basement.

Then one morning after drinking a fifth of Bacardi Rum I jumped on my motorcycle and headed for the pusher’s apartment. He sold me a lid of Jamaican and rolled me a joint of something which gave me a very bad trip. I called my wife at work who arranged for an ambulance to meet me when I got there. I drove off the road into the nearby woods and buried all the drug paraphernalia that I had in my saddle bags. When I arrived at her office I was out of my head. I could see myself, but had no control over myself. I realized I was staring death in the face and could do nothing about the intense fear that overcame me. On the way to the hospital I was crying out for help. That is when the ambulance attendant said to me, “Why don’t you say the Lord’s Prayer?” I hadn’t said that since I was a teenager, but grabbing for straws and wanting to hang onto something I began repeating it. When I arrived at the hospital they gave me an injection which immediately calmed me down. When I was taken upstairs to the psychiatric ward I came to the realization that God had slammed me against a wall and said, “Enough!” Right then and there I made a commitment that whatever God said do, that is what I was going to do. So when my wife called asking if I needed her to bring me anything, I said, “Yes, bring me a Bible. There’s got to be a better way to live.” It was during one of her hospital visits she related to me a dream she had. I was leading my family through a very dark tunnel with no hope of finding the end. She said that in the dream I kept urging them to not give up and to push on. Eventually there was a light at the end of the tunnel and we broke free of the darkness.

After two weeks I was released and I began studying the Bible in earnest. I did not understand it for weeks. After three months when God saw I meant business, He blessed me with the Holy Spirit and my conversion began. I began to confess to my wife some of the things I had done, but from the pained expression on her face when I confirmed her suspicions of my sins and infidelities, I realized I should stop. She had a hard time trying to forgive me, and from time to time threw those sins back in my face. This eventually led to our breaking up. I began church hopping from one denomination to another seeking for truth, but none of them seemed to square with the truths I was reading in the Word of God. Baptism by immersion was in one faith, but sprinkling in another. Tithing was believed by one church, but constant calls for offerings in another. I had a problem with my childhood Episcopalian church which allowed smoking in the parish hall after worship. The Dutch Reformed Church and Garner Ted Armstrong’s World Wide Church of God came closest to some of the things I was discovering in God’s Word, but the Holy Spirit impressed me that I had not found His truth yet.

Meanwhile I struggled with smoking, drinking and marijuana. I would stop drinking only to rely on MJ. Then I would get off MJ and used alcohol as my crutch. Meanwhile the Holy Spirit was impelling me to stop with the bad habits as I knew from my Bible studies and reading Corinthians that my body was a temple and I was defiling it. I would be praying “God help me drink from the fountains of faith” but I couldn’t seem to get the victory over my bad habits. Back and forth I would go from drink to marijuana and back again. Finally one night in my basement in abject helplessness I fell on my knees and cried out at the top of my lungs, “God help me!!!” In that instant I saw Jesus standing to my right and He immediately took the desire for alcohol away from me and I have never drank since. Two weeks later I prayed that same prayer and he took the desire for cigarettes away from me and I’ve never had a desire for tobacco since.

I continued to church hop, but after reading Plain Truth’s lesson on Baptism I had an intense need to be baptized. Then one day in August 1974 someone left a track on our doorstep titled, come down to the center of Hope. It had eight subjects I had been studying. One of them was titled Black Marriages on the Rocks, How to Save Them. Since we were having marital problems I showed it to my wife and said we should attend. It was the 7th-day Adventist Church and school my wife had wanted to enroll my son in a few years before then, but I had refused to let her do so. I did not want my son enrolled in a school where they had to wear military like uniforms. I did not know it would have given him an educational foundation far superior to the public schools. We attended the evangelistic series, received a warm welcome and at the end of the series I was baptized. My wife and son were baptized a month later. Our family life improved and under the tutelage of two of the members we learned the total health plan and became vegetarians.

The pastoral staff did not tell me about Ellen G. White until after I was baptized, which was for the better. At that time I was struggling with Christ being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” dilemma. Providentially one of my co-workers who liked to walk around with a Bible under his arm decided to open a Christian book store. Someone had given him several hampers full of books and he wanted me to have to ones he considered denominational. What he unwittingly gave me was almost all of Ellen G. Whites little red books and practically all of the testimonies. I became an avid reader of her books which settled me even further into our message.

Within the year after our baptism we sold our house and moved into a two story gamble roof on the outskirts of town. I began receiving promotions at work and soon began developing more intricate computer programs. On a spiritual plane I began teaching Sabbath school classes until an elder brother introduced me to prison ministry. We founded the Allegheny East Prison Federation and I started helping with worship services and giving Bible studies in the prisons, local jails and juvenile halls. After a few years I took over the lead from the elder who introduced me to prison ministry. We continued presenting worship services in the maximum security division of Lorton Reformatory.

Meanwhile after eight years all still was not going well on the home front. Our son by now was 17 and decided he wanted to taste the world. He was disobedient and began developing some pretty bad habits including playing one parent against the other. His rebellion had him thrown out of every church school we registered him in. His grades went down until we finally gave up and put him in public school where his grades improved some. But things got worse and after getting him out of the local jail one time I gave him an ultimatum. I told him he could either follow the rules of our home, do his chores or I would take his keys and put him out. He chose the latter. With my son out of the picture I suggested that my wife and I iron out our differences and try to make our troubled marriage work without the distractions of a rebellious teenager. It was a no go as she pined away for her son until year later we separated. I found another place to live and continued prison ministry until the divorce came through.

Then one night I had a dream that was related to Lorton Reformatory. It was after I finished giving Bible studies and I was approaching the final gate. For some reason the electricity went out and the guard couldn’t open the gate from his tower. He threw down the key and I opened the gate manually. But then I heard some shouting and looked up and saw a group of criminals with machetes in their hands coming down the hill with murder in their eyes. So I stopped and backed up to relock the gate, but it stuck in the open position. The criminals paused for a moment and I kept struggling with the key to lock it. However, when they saw I could not lock it they came up to the gate swung it open and swung the machete down on my skull. But I woke up just at that moment in a sweat I wondered what the dream meant. The next week our team took up our usual work again at Lorton, but when it came time to leave the guard at the last gate called down to let me know for some reason he couldn’t get the gate open and threw me down the key. I took that a sign from God and never went back to Lorton.

I continued giving Bible studies and teaching in church and after a few years I fell in love with my second wife and we were married. Then an offer to become an independent programming consultant came doubling my salary and we moved to California. All went well until the contract ended and I was in dire straits. It was my first Job experience and I lost everything. Friends and relatives kept a roof over our heads and we never lacked for food in the refrigerator, but we were having marital problems. I needed a break so I put everything in storage and went back to DC for a brief vacation. When the plane landed I picked up a newspaper so I could look at the want ads later that week. I finally looked at the paper and found a programming position that first sent me to Alabama and then three months later to Germany. When I told my wife of the position she said she wasn’t going with me and we separated which was devastating to me.

I was writing the computer programs that the Air Force wing and control command uses to go into battle during the week, and on the weekends I visited the castles of Germany. Then one Sabbath I attended a church on the Frankfurt Air Force Base. A Pastor named Bell preached a sermon on the book of Job. I was fine until he got to chapter 39 where God rebukes Job. I was shocked because I thought Job was God’s man all right, and his friends were the ones who had it all wrong. But when the pastor said that Job did not understand who God really was, the Holy Spirit convicted me. It was for that the reason I had lost everything. God was tired of my ivory tower religion and wanted me to really know Him. The closing hymn was Take Time to be Holy. I cried realizing for the first time in my religious experience that I had God in a box. I had an ivory tower picture of God and did not know that He loved me and wanted me to really KNOW Him. He wanted me to have a real and deeper experience. I purchased a copy of That I May Know Him by E. G. White and made a vow to cast aside my preconceived notions about God, spend more time in the Word, and do everything in my power to be real with Him. The one thing that has come out of the Job experience was that I am more sensitive to other people’s pain.

When that position ended I flew back to the states and stayed in DC for a while and because I wanted to restore our marriage I flew back to California and we got back together. I got a programming position in Silicon Valley working for a financial company in Milpitas. After that I landed a consultant position working for General Dynamics in Pomona. When that contract ended I got an offer to consult for El Dorado County where gold was first discovered. It was by then the poorest county in California. We bought a home next to the national forest. After a few years I got a heads up from my supervisor that they were going to change from mainframe to PC platform so I began looking again for another job. I received an offer to work for Harris Methodist in Arlington and we moved to Texas.

We transferred our membership to Mosier Valley SDA Church. Then Harris Methodist began laying off top managers and eventually much of their IT department and I was laid off. I was offered a position with EDS in Plano. We built a house in Corinth and raised a garden. Things went well, but after two years EDS hired a hatchet man and they downsized their IT department and I lost that job. It was at this point that things really took a turn for the worse and my second Job experience began. First I lost my job, then my health, then my wife, and finally the house we had built. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but that was treated with Brachy Seed implants. However, one Sabbath a student from Southwestern dropped by Mosier and gave a sermon on remarriage using passages from Ellen G. White’s Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce. After hearing the sermon my wife said that God told her to leave me after 16 years of marriage because I was only separated when we met, and that we were not supposed to marry. I tried to explain that seemed illogical and he had said nothing to me, but she was convinced we were not supposed to be together. Two weeks later I came home to find a note on the kitchen island and an empty house. Another divorce eventually followed.

The bills piled up and my unemployment ran out. For the next year no matter what business I tried everything I touched turned to dust. I signed up to work for the 2000 Census, but even that only lasted a few months. I decided to take advantage of a company called The Tax People which let you have your own business by using network marketing helping other people do the same thing. It was during that time I met Marcia when she, her sister and a friend visited Mosier one Sabbath. I later introduced them to my business and they signed up. Marcia had a good head for business so we partnered up on the appointment visitations. We eventually became friends. Then the founder of The Tax People got in tax trouble with the state tax authorities and like Enron they went under. Everyone lost their businesses. It seemed like everything I touched turned to dust. Nothing seemed to pan out. Eventually I lost the house. So I applied for work in sales at JC Penny’s. Marcia and I fell in love and we talked about marriage. I felt strongly impressed that this was the woman that God was going to use to make it safe to take me to Heaven.

Then I received a call from my head hunter about a consulting position working for Nielsen Media Research in Dunedin Florida. So I rented a truck, moved to Palm Harbor and after a while I was established as a permanent employee. After a few months I sent for Marcia and we were married. Then Nielsen built a new facility in Oldsmar so we moved to another apartment there.

I worked for Nielsen for seven years until one day in 2008 I began to notice many people from India were working the empty desks in Nielsen’s new building. Then we were told to train these new workers and they took our jobs. I was amongst the hundreds of employees whose jobs were outsourced to India and that led me to decide to retire and retool. After being downsized for the third time in the information technology (IT) field and seeing American jobs outsourced I retired from the workforce as a computer programmer. I decided to retire and retool myself by going back to college and get the degree I never received from Howard U. At the suggestion of my sister-in-law that I could be an asset by becoming an occupational therapist I looked at two universities in Texas and decided the better of the two was Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. So we moved back to Texas and I enrolled at TWU and was received into their fast track Bachelor of Science to Master’s in Occupational Therapy program (BS-MOT). I soon realized that I was not a hands-on person so I decided to just pursue my Family Studies major at TWU. I chose this major because families are the basis of society and they are in trouble. I observed how family discord flared up in some of my co-worker’s families whose spouses had been laid off. Others survived, but those that had extended family support survived better. I decided this was the field that had a good future. Two years ago I was graduated with a bachelor’s degree and received provisional status as a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE). Then this past May 2013 I received my master’s degree in Family Studies.

During that time we a built a new home, and this year have been approved to become providers for Texas Home Living (TxHmL) under the Department of Aging and Disability Services. I am looking forward with great anticipation to this change in career and achieving this goal of helping people with developmental and physical challenges. Like Job’s after he experienced all those losses, the Lord has blessed sevenfold. But that is another story.

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3 Responses to My Story – By Joseph Cooper

  1. Salomon says:

    Amen great testimony of the power of God!

  2. Althea Espinoza says:

    Thank you for your testimony! It is encouraging to see that though you had many setbacks, GOD never left you without hope. For those of us going through setbacks and financial problems now, your story is inspiring.
    One followup I’d like to see – what happened to your son?

  3. John says:

    Wow Joseph, God has been watching out for you and pursuing you for years. Keep hanging onto His hand. God Bless you.

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