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Confessions of faith: Clark Woods

God’s plan was to claim Clark as his own and show him where real rest and peace are found—only in Jesus.

The A-Team was my favorite TV show growing up in the mid-80s. This action-adventure series was about a group of US special forces soldiers who were court-martialed for a crime they didn’t commit. But they escaped from a military prison and began working as soldiers of fortune trying to clear their names and avoid capture. Each episode involved an elaborate plan to take out the bad guys or return stolen property to its rightful owner.

The best part of every episode was the flawless execution of the plan conceived by the group’s leader, Hannibal Smith. Nearly every episode closed with the team celebrating another successful mission as Smith would get a smile on his face, take a puff on his cigar, and say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Hannibal Smith’s great plans were part of a fictional TV series, but not God’s. God’s plan is to bring the real peace of Jesus to real people in real time. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11). One by one, through the proclamation of the gospel, hearts are healed, hope is restored, and souls are saved for an eternal future.

Here’s just one example. . . .

Clark had a plan

It was Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, when Clark Woods went to Mann Park in Folsom, California, to shoot some hoops.

Basketball had always been a big part of Clark’s life. It was his incredible basketball ability that prompted a move from his hometown in Michigan to play for the Hornets at California State University, Sacramento. After an injury forced him to reconsider playing professionally overseas, Clark took to coaching. Thousands of youth have benefited from his basketball programs, and a select few play under him as the varsity basketball coach at Ponderosa High School.

Clark Woods Confessions of Faith Sept 22Behind all the accolades, though, was a man struggling with loss. Four years earlier his favorite basketball coach had died. Two months after that his father died tragically due to complications in what should have been a routine surgery. Four years of mental and emotional struggles were mounting, and the weight was getting too heavy to bear.

“I lost a great sense of who I was. I know a lot of those feelings came from losing my basketball coach and father two months apart in 2016. Seeing my dad go through a very traumatic death in the hospital had such a great impact on me that I remember saying to myself, ‘Why would God do this? Why would he make him suffer like this?’ I blamed the hospital workers, nurses, and surgeons. Ultimately, I was angry enough at God that I lost my faith in him and in humanity. Being angry controlled every action and reaction from that point on. Being a basketball coach gave me an escape from dealing with the things I was going through in my life—a band-aid of some sort. But I turned to drinking and abusing alcohol to numb my pain. I did a pretty good job of hiding it from others around me because on the outside I seemed fine, but on the inside, unknowingly, I was slowly hating the person I was becoming.”

Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, just days after playing ball at the park, the weight of Clark’s emotional pain reached a breaking point. Folsom sits at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Beautiful Lake Tahoe is just a little over 90 minutes away. The crisp mountain air and incredible scenery draw people from all over the world. But neither of those reasons led Clark to drive to Tahoe just days after playing ball that Sunday in the park. Clark’s destination was Echo Summit, just west of Lake Tahoe. His plan for escape and relief from hurt was to drive his vehicle off the 7,382-foot summit.

“I thought I deserved to be gone from this world. I remember having this overwhelming feeling of wanting to end my life because of my past mistakes and feeling like those mistakes had hurt others in ways I never imagined. I drove to Tahoe with the intent to be at peace with feeling hopeless, helpless, and like a burden to all who were close to me. I was married for nine years and divorced in 2017. I have three beautiful children whom I adore and love very, very much. I remember thinking on that drive to Tahoe that even my children would be better off without me in this world.”

Clark was ready to end his life, but by God’s grace, he didn’t follow through. A phone call to the police from loved ones and a moment of hesitation eventually led to a five-day stay in a mental health facility for suicidal ideation.

Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, five days after being released from the hospital and ten days after his emotional drive to Echo Summit, Clark found himself back at Mann Park playing basketball. This time, he was with his brother Charlie. Just two brothers playing ball—one trying to heal, the other trying to help.

“That Sunday after being released from the facility, I went to Mann Park to shoot some hoops with my younger brother—to get some sort of relief from the experience I just went through. I remember seeing this church gather, the same one I had seen a few weeks prior to my downward spiral, but I didn’t think too much of it.”

Confessions of Faith Sept 22
Left to right: 1) Pastor David Koelpin baptizing Clark Woods’ three children. 2) Noel Ledermann (left), a member at Foundation, Folsom, Calif., and Clark Woods. 3) Clark Woods and his family at one of Foundation’s outside worship services. Foundation Lutheran Church started worshiping outside at local parks during the pandemic. That’s how Clark first was introduced to the church—he was playing basketball at the park during a service. 4) Clark Woods and his family: Clarky, Cinaya, and Cymari. 5) Pastor David Koelpin (left), Mark Waterman (center), and Clark Woods. Mark and his family helped get this mission church started.

God always has a plan

Foundation Lutheran was a young mission church in Folsom. Starting a new church amid a pandemic was difficult. The facility the church had rented for worship was no longer accepting renters for safety reasons. Plans for launching Sunday worship were indefinitely on hold. Frustrated but trying to make the best of the situation, the members had an idea. Why not worship outside? The city of Folsom had several beautiful public parks, and the climate of northern California was predictable.

Pandemic restrictions would be manageable if the group stayed outside. All that was needed were speakers and some shade. It would be different but could achieve the church’s goals of gathering for worship, proclaiming the gospel, and inviting the community. It would be called Worship Without Walls. After weeks of planning, members set the date for their first service: Aug. 16, 2020, at Mann Park—the same day Clark Woods went to the park to shoot some hoops.

Some might say it was a coincidence Clark Woods was at the very same park on the very same day at the very same time. It wasn’t. It also wasn’t a coincidence that he showed up three weeks later after he nearly took his own life. It was all part of a plan, a great plan, conceived in the mind of God and executed flawlessly through the unfolding events. God’s plan was to claim Clark as his own and show him where real rest and peace are found—only in Jesus.

“I remember listening and hearing Pastor Dave talk about God’s grace for us as people. How God knows our hearts and his calling for our life’s purpose isn’t a perfect road but a meaningful one. How God’s love for us is perfect in all ways, that he has forgiven us and calls on us to come closer to him even if we have given up on him. I felt that being in that park on that day at that time and hearing Pastor Dave preach the gospel was God calling me to him.”

Halfway through the sermon, Clark and his brother Charlie set the basketballs down and made their way to a picnic table to listen. “I went over and sat down and listened to the remainder of the service with tears running down my face, with an overwhelming, overjoyed feeling in my heart. I decided that day to forgive myself because God already did.”

Why did Jesus go through Samaria when most Jews would have avoided the territory? Because a woman, drawing water at a well, needed to hear the good news of forgiveness (John 4:1-26). Why did God tell Philip to go south to the desert road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza? Because he knew an Ethiopian eunuch who needed to know the good news of Jesus would be there (Acts 8:26-39). Why did God redirect Paul and his companions from their original destination to the region of Macedonia? Because God knew people in that area, like the jailer in Philippi, needed to hear the good news of Jesus (Acts 16:6-34).

Clark’s story is no different. Why was Foundation Lutheran proclaiming the gospel in Mann Park in 2020? Because God’s plan was to deliver the gospel of forgiveness and peace in Jesus to a hurting man named Clark.

“I became a member of Foundation after committing to weekly Bible sessions for nearly a year with Pastor Dave, and it has transformed my heart and understanding of who Jesus is for me. Knowing Jesus has given me so much peace within myself. My life has been better in how I go about my daily actions and thoughts. I’m not perfect by any means, but I have a totally different perspective on my life. God’s grace for me has given me that. God’s love in Jesus has given me the love for myself to be better and walk a path led by faith in him. I’m more fulfilled with joy and peace knowing that I walk with a God who is quick to forgive and finds it easy to express his love for me.”

Everyone has a story. How and when that story collides with the message of Jesus is up to God. We don’t always know how or where or even who he will use to make it happen . . . but by his grace, he will make it happen—just like he did with Clark. He works it all to fit his plan.

“I never thought that I would have gone through what I did. It’s overwhelming for me to be telling my story in this light! God isn’t just good, he’s great! He is mine and I am his, and I’m grateful for his mercy!”

Author: David Koelpin
Volume 109, Number 09
Issue: September 2022

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