David Tolo

Growing up as a pastor’s kid, Jesus was always my Lord and Savior. Jesus filled me with His precious Holy Spirit as a youth.  But I was destined for trouble in the world. Here is my story.

Everyone that I knew thought I would end up dead or in jail. I drank every day, used whatever drugs I could get my hands on, and was always fighting and getting arrested.  Believe it or not, I was a “nice guy” in a manner of speaking, but I had a huge “chip on my shoulder.” I would get out of control if something upset me when I was drunk, a real Jekyll and Hyde.  One day I found myself at 24 years old sitting in Elizabeth Park with a warrant out for my arrest; my life was unmanageable. Up to that point there were nine times in my life that if God hadn’t stepped in, I would have died. I had been drowned two times, fell out of a tree, fell off a cliff, been jumped by a gang, overdosed, and set up to be murdered, etc. I knew in my deepest heart that I was supposed to serve God, but I saw no way out of the situation I was in.
I pleaded with God to help me and the thought came to me to call Teen Challenge, so I went to the pay phone and called the operator. I asked for the number for Teen Challenge in Hartford. She said there was no Teen Challenge in Hartford but she did find a Youth Challenge. Thank God for that operator. She must have known by my voice how desperate I was.

I had my 25th birthday in Youth Challenge, which is a Christian residential drug and alcohol program where the stay is 12 – 18 months.  I went from being an angry alcohol and drug addicted boy to being a man dedicated to serving God. 

One lesson that comes to mind came from a roommate that didn’t seem to like me much.  I was determined to go through the program, get my life together, kick my addictions, and live happily ever after. God wasn’t going to let it be that easy; He had some things He wanted to work out of me and this guy was one of the tools He used to do it. My roommate loved to get into verbal sparring matches.  I was an easy target because I was really focused on changing my life so I wouldn’t fight back.  Most of the days were filled with prayer, work, classes, ministry and good things. All of this with the possibility of being humiliated by him in front of the guys at any given time. This went on for several months, then one day I heard he was going to the ranch. The ranch is the second phase of the program in Moosup, Connecticut. I was ecstatic!  It was like a big weight was lifted off of my shoulders. The next few months of the program were amazing and hard.

One day I heard I would be reunited with my nemesis at the ranch, because I was going to the second phase. I was looking forward to a change of pace and found out that I was going to bunk with a friend who was very spiritual, kind, and quiet. All the other guys, including the person I was hoping to avoid, were together in a different room. The following day there was an announcement that the staff didn’t want all the spiritual guys in one room and all the social guys in the other. I ended up bunking with the one guy I was praying to avoid! I felt a huge knot form in my stomach. I went off to pray. I said “God, I really can’t handle this, there must be some mistake. This guy is going to make me miserable.” A few bible verses kept popping in my head about dealing with people who you don’t get along with.

Every morning before I started the day, I rolled out of bed and onto my knees and prayed for a while. God was telling me to start including him in those prayers. I thought, “Fine, God. I will do whatever you say,” but I didn’t think it would make a difference. The next morning I rolled out of bed and started praying for him. I immediately felt the presence of God and suddenly I saw him in a completely different light. I saw him as vulnerable and full of pain for the loss of his wife and estrangement from his 12-year-old son. I felt his pain and started to sob for him. From that day forward he was kind to me and by the time we graduated and went our separate ways, he was one of my very dear friends.

I have never gone back to the way things were before I went to Youth Challenge. I raised three girls on my own, and now that they are grown, I am a full time urban missionary.  I have many fatherless young people who call me dad.  I have a job working for the largest software company in the world and God uses me to reach hundreds of young adults across the country for the Lord.

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