Redwood Valley is not marked on most maps and yet has a compelling, contemporary history. Redwood Valley was home to the notorious Jim Jones and The People's Temple.
I knew Jim Jones as "Mr. Jones," my substitute English teacher at Ukiah High School. I remember his charismatic, captivating personality, which inspired students and adults. He was the founder and leader of The People's Temple, which he built on land he purchased on East Road in our valley. He believed a nuclear holocaust would occur on July 15, 1967, and his research revealed Redwood Valley would be one of the few places in the world likely to survive the holocaust. He predicted the surviving elect would create a new socialist Eden on earth, and he intended to be the leader of that select group.
The holocaust did not happen. Even so, Jim Jones' congregation remained faithful and the church membership increased. He expanded, opening new churches in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
His sphere of influence continued to grow, and he and his congregation were applauded for helping the poorest of the poor –- drug addicts, the homeless, and racial minorities throughout California.
During the 1970s, The People's Temple purchased and managed at least nine residential care businesses, including my family's board and care home. At first, my parents respected his work with the poorest of society; however, in mid 1975, he tried to cheat them out of a portion of their vineyard land and their opinion changed.
I went to visit Jim Jones in August 1973. What follows is an excerpt from my book (Chapter 27):
...During my parent's visit at the San Diego commune a couple of years earlier, they'd spoken highly of Jim Jones's accomplishments—helping drug addicts, the homeless, and racial minorities throughout California—and had even encouraged me to join The People's Temple.
Just that morning they'd told me the County Deputy District Attorney and his family were members of the church, adding to its credibility. The People's Temple was flourishing.
I wanted to share my religious experiences and find out about the church's mission. Maybe Mr. Jones's group was a better answer to my desire to serve the Lord than The Children of God.
The Temple was located two miles from my parent's property. Borrowing their pickup truck, I went to meet with Pastor Jones before his Sunday service. Gravel and rocks popped and cracked under the car tires as I drove into the parking lot and parked near a large unmarked building. A small wooden sign on the side of the building pointed to an office. Approaching the front door, I found a tall, thin, black man with a harsh look on his face. He clutched a rifle in his hands.
"May I help you?" he asked.
"Is this The People's Temple? I'm looking for Pastor Jim Jones. Isn't he the pastor here?" I was confused to see a man with a rifle on church premises.
"Yes," he said, looking me over. I was wearing a long, sleeveless dress and sandals, trying to be comfortable in the hundred-degree August heat.
"May I see him?"
"Do you have an appointment?"
The weapon in his hands and the stern face did not make me feel at home or welcome. "No, but he used to be my high school teacher. I've just come back from two years in the mission field and I want to share my testimony with him."
"He's not receiving visitors. Please leave." His rough, dismissive tone of voice surprised me.
It's not in my nature to turn away from opposition without some type of response, but this time I didn't stay to argue. The rifle shocked me. There was nothing spiritual or enticing about the rifle. Why would Jim Jones need an armed guard at the door of his office? I didn't bother to ask, and drove back to my parents' house, unable to understand what I had just experienced. My hands trembled on the steering wheel.
Nobody was prepared for what happened years later, after Jim Jones moved his followers to a remote jungle in British Guyana, called "Jonestown." There, on November 18, 1978, Jim Jones, my former teacher, a man who lived in my hometown, ordered the mass suicide of over 900 followers. Men, women, and children died agonizing deaths. Some were shot, and others were forced to drink poisoned "Kool aid." Most were said to have willingly participated in what was called "revolutionary suicide."
I heard the news on my car radio. I pulled the car to the side of the highway and sat there listening in complete shock. The pictures of death were soon broadcast to the world. The dead, lying on top of each other, mothers lying face down holding onto their young children, and men holding their wives. I lost several of my neighbors that day. They were good caring people who followed Jim Jones and moved to Guyana to find peace and purpose. He had promised them life in a Utopia – he delivered death. It was a sad day for the world, and for all of us from Redwood Valley.
I am forever grateful that God was looking out for me on that hot August day in 1973. In retrospect, I believe that the man standing at the front door of The People's Temple with a rifle was actually an angel, stopping me from entering Jim Jones's world.
Padre Beto asked me about the outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He wanted to know about praising aloud, speaking in tongues, and the laying on of hands as was the custom for healing. Although I explained things as best I could, I thought it better for him to see what The Children of God called a Holy Ghost sample. We went for a visit. It inspired Padre Beto to see nearly a hundred young people praising God with loud, fervent voices and arms raised to the heavens.
After experiencing that first evening of praise and worship, he asked me to explain the gift of tongues.
"I was anointed with the gift of tongues a couple of years ago," I explained. "This might sound weird, but hear me out before you write me off as a psycho."
My parents raised me to be independent, responsible and make good choices.
I didn’t always.
Two years before graduation, at the age of sixteen, my girlfriend, Debi, called to tell me she’d gotten a summer job cleaning cabins at a resort in Homewood, on the west side of Lake Tahoe.
“If you get a job there,” she said, “we can spend all summer together. Just don’t tell them you know me ‘cause they don’t hire friends.”
I found my mom in the backyard hanging sheets on the clothesline. The cats scampered over the woodpile as I slammed the backdoor.
“Please, Mom,” I begged. “This is a great opportunity for me to get some work experience. And Debi is going to be there so I won’t be alone. Please?”