HERE'S TOM'S STORY, TAKEN FROM HIS BOOK
As many of the Azusa Street Saints were migrating to Pisgah, being drawn there to join other Saints for
fellowship and divine purpose, Tom Welchel was headed to Pisgah from Chickasha, Oklahoma. God had a divine
appointment with Tom and these dear Saints. Just as Jesus told His disciples that He needed to go to Samaria
because God had a divine appointment set with the woman at the well, Tom would keep two God-ordained appointments: his Venice
Beach appointment and his Pisgah appointment. The first appointment had to do with his salvation and the
second appointment had to do with God’s plans for Tom—including a plan that would span four decades before it
At the age of 17, Tom
thought he was running from the law as he headed for California. What he didn’t know is that God
had prepared for him a homecoming of the prodigal son and that he was running right into the open arms of God Himself.
Recalling his childhood, Tom noted,
Mama took me to all the great revivals—tent
revivals. I’m talking about Brannum, Cole, Allen, and Roberts. From a little bitty
kid on up, Mama would take me to ‘em. I didn’t know what was going on—she just wanted
to punish me as far as I was concerned.
When I saw Brannum in 1954, I was only 11 years old. I saw
that halo thing on top of his head when he was in Houston. I was glad I was sitting way in the back—scared
the tullies out of me. That was one man I didn’t want to get close to.
So, I knew about the Gospel, but I
didn’t want it at that time. I was fourteen when I stopped going to revivals—almost fifty years
ago. By the time I was fourteen, I was no longer afraid of Mama. In the past, if I got
mean, she would say, “Alright, I’ll talk to your Daddy.” Well I didn’t want Daddy
to talk to me because he had a razor strap that would cut the blood right out of me and he would use it.
But my daddy went to McAllister State
Prison when I was 14—the revenuers caught him selling corn liquor.
By the time Tom was seventeen, he had been living on the streets for fourteen months and was a criminal
wanted by the police. Society was pretty much fed up with his lawlessness and was ready to lock him up
and if possible, throw away the key. According to Tom, the police wanted him and were looking for him big
time. Here are Tom’s own words:
An old friend of mine, Glen, came by and said, “Tommy, the police know who’s been breaking in
all those houses. They told me they have my finger prints.” So I says, “I guess I’m going
back to prison.”
“The cops say, ‘No! We want Welchel! We’re gonna get him off the streets and the rest
of you’ll split up.’ In fact, they have a warrant for your arrest and they are gonna come by
and get you.’”
God had a different plan. God would use Tom’s choice to run from the law as a life-changing decision.
Tom could escape the reach of the law from Chickasha, Oklahoma, by running to California, but he couldn’t escape
the reach of God’s love.
tells the story like this:
guy named Teddy and his grandma, who were con artists, wanted me to go to California with them. Things
were rough in Oklahoma. More than once, Teddy got his teeth knocked out, his nose broken, and his eyes
blackened cuz he would smart off.
They were from Venice Beach and they wanted to go back, and they invited me to go with ‘em cuz I
had a reputation as a good thief—I could be sitting there talking to you and leave with the stuff from your pockets
didn’t really want to go to California and leave Oklahoma, but Glen reminded me that it was either go to California
or go to jail. So I went to Grandma and Teddy and asked if the offer was still open to me.
They said “Yeah.”
I told them okay, but that I had two big boxes of loot that we needed to go and get early in the morning—stuff
I’d stolen. So the next morning we got my stuff and I got to runnin’ from the authorities to
keep from going to prison.
we got to Venice Beach, Teddy and I got into a fight over a girl. I didn’t get the girl, but I whipped
Teddy. Grandma said, “Look, I don’t care. I like you Tommy, but you can’t
stay here with you and Teddy fighting like this. You hurt him pretty bad!” So
I got kicked out—lost my place to stay—and the girl.
The stage was set for God’s loving intervention. God used the fact
that Grandma and Teddy were from Venice Beach in a powerful way. Tom was back on the streets but in an
unfamiliar world. His situation was ripe for him to continue his lawless ways just to survive. But remember,
Tom wasn’t alone. Grandma may have turned her back on Tom, but God had not abandoned him.
Those childhood years of sitting under the ministries of the great revivalists of that time planted seeds that were
soon to be harvested. Mama’s faithfulness in bringing up her child in the atmosphere of God’s
Word would not go unrewarded. Tom was about to meet God like he had never experienced Him in the past.
Tom continues his story:
I’m down on Venice Beach, not knowin’ what to do. It was probably four or five in the
evening. I’m sitting there thinking, “What am I gonna do?” Uncle Ed
lived in California but he was up there in Bakersfield and I didn’t know which way Bakersfield was.
Then I saw these two old ladies walkin’ down there, and I was sure they were lookin’ for someone to witness
to. Well, I’m sitting there with this long face, feeling sorry for myself, not knowin’ where
to go or what to do. I was really mad cuz the girl could have at least been nice, and now I am all alone
feelin’ sorry for myself.
These two ladies came over and sat down, one on each side of me, and started talking to me. One
of the ladies was the landlord at the apartment where Grandma and Teddy lived. The other lady, kinda small
and dainty, was called Sister Goldie.
Sister Goldie did most of
the talking while the Landlord sat there and held my hand. That felt good—she reminded me of both
of my grandmas. They were talking about the Lord, and Sister Goldie asked if I knew anything about Him.
I said, “Yeah, my grandparents were devout Christians and would tell me and my mother about the Lord.”
When they asked me if I wanted to
pray the sinner’s prayer, I decided why not, what have I got to lose? I thought, “Man, you’re here; you
don’t know anybody. What else are you gonna do?” At first, I really wasn’t
serious but rather kinda in my “con” mode. But as soon as I said the prayer, to my astonishment,
I felt something warm come all over me, and I began to cry. I looked at them and again to my surprise,
I told them that I was now a Christian.
Somehow these two women broke through a wall that had been built up for years. Preaching to
me never worked. I’d rebel and you didn’t want to get me mad. I was libel to hurt you. I said
the prayer for these ladies because I was hoping these women would do something for me. It was time to
eat and I was hungry.
Even though I began the prayer insincerely, God heard it, and it was like I just had a heater go off in
me. The love and kindness of these dear women touched me deeply. That day, that prayer changed me completely.
Tom’s divine appointment had been kept. Tom took a 1500-mile journey that brought him to two
sweet ladies whose love ushered Tom into his new life with Christ. The power of the Gospel caught Tom at
a very vulnerable time. He had hit bottom with no place to go and all of the sudden he was touched by love.
Two grandmotherly-type women who reminded Tom of his grandmothers—perhaps the only two people who had ever been
kind to Tom—touched his soul. So the plan of God unfolded as Tom was led from Chickasha, Oklahoma
to Venice Beach, California. But that was just the beginning of God’s awesome plan.
After Tom told the ladies of his predicament, they brought him back to the landlord’s apartment where he spent
the night. The next morning, Sister Goldie returned to take Tom to a place called Pisgah—Tom’s
arrival at the Pisgah community, Sister Goldie introduced Tom to many of her friends—Azusa Saints who had moved to Pisgah.
In 1960, Tom would meet many whose lives were touched and changed by Azusa. These were the children
and youth of the Azusa Street Revival, now retired or near retirement. For six years, Tom would literally
sit at the feet of these Saints and listen over and over again to their stories about the Azusa Street Revival and its impact
on their lives.