Who Would Have Thought?

When Cec Murphey gave a talk on “Who Would Have Thought?” from his own life at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference it triggered a memory run covering 54 years in one area or another of writing/journalism/editing.

Les and Rita Stobbe

Les and Rita Stobbe

Who would have thought that a farm boy who spent his formative years helping light fuses that blasted up to six-feet stumps into pieces large enough for a bulldozer to move around, tending and helping pick two acres of raspberries, planting and harvesting silage corn, pitching hay, milking cows, lifting 100-pound milk cans onto a milkstand, would turn into a writer/editor, journalist, and writing teacher? If anyone did research into why that happened they would have to know my parents, for whom reading was a way of life and education a goal for all five of us children. And they would have to see me in my desk in fifth to eighth grade reading five books a week while the rest of the kids engaged in sports—and reading every missionary biography and novel in our church library (library rules were that you had to be 16 to read a novel).

Who would have thought that a mountain climbing accident that resulted in a four-month hospitalization with a split femur would initiate God’s path to a writing career? As I listened to three Native Americans in the room I read Christian Life Magazine. My eyes landed on a quarter-page ad that trumpeted “You Can Write.” The fine print identified the path to success as a seven-lesson course entitled The Beginning Christian Writer—and it would cost all of $15. I signed up—and did the lessons while a British Columbia Forest Service dispatcher on an island between the Mainland and Vancouver Island. Ten years after that purchase my desk was next to my instructor—only this time I was editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine and associate editor of Christian Life Magazine.

Who would have thought that a 25-year-old who graduated from Bible college with a Th.B. in pastoral theology, two years of article writing experience and five months as the college’s publicity person, would morph into the founding editor of a denominational weekly? That a yearbook sales competition would land me on a publisher’s porch two weeks before graduation with the surprise invitation to become founding editor of The Mennonite Observer? Four years later I still had no assistant and took a full load of 15 hours at a university while compiling those 12 pages of news and inspiration every week.

Who would have thought that a letter to a Moody Press sales manager would end up in Kenneth Taylor’s “Resource People” file, only to be pulled out one year later, with instructions to the Personnel Department, “Find him”? The invitation to interview for a position arrived two days after our son was born in British Columbia, where we had relocated from Winnipeg, Canada, so I could teach at my alma mater, the Mennonite Educational Institute, because I felt I had learned everything I could at my publishing position. God opened the Moody door and I spent the next two years as supervisor of the selling floor of the Moody Bookstore, overseeing seven full-time and three part-time staff.

Who would have thought that a critical review of a new translation of 1 Timothy would so impress the translator, Kenneth Taylor, now my boss once removed, that he would turn over initial screening of all incoming manuscripts to a 30-year-old still working half-time as bookstore supervisor? That I would get first crack at editing The Living Letters. That one of the manuscripts, I Live By Faith, immediately transformed my prayer life and led to remarkable answers to the pinpoint praying I discovered in it.

Who would have thought that Kenneth Taylor being removed from his position as Director of Moody Press would result in him founding Tyndale House—and me able to promote his first books during four years as editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine? That after a four-year hiatus as editorial director of a chain of business magazines in Western Canada I would be invited to become the editor of Moody Press. My boss? Peter Gunther, whom I had helped with a missionary book eight years earlier while reviewing incoming manuscripts. That several books I had evaluated in manuscript form nine years earlier and recommended for publication were still in print when I arrived at Moody Press in 1970.

Who would have thought that my first real editing assignment would be Philip Keller’s Bold Under God, the biography of an itinerant evangelist in British Columbia, the province that I had just left to come to Moody? This evangelist had come from Wales as a blacksmith, shod horses during the First World War, was aboard a ship torpedoed by the Germans, was rescued by a passing ship, became a chaplain with the army in England, and returned to become an aggressive witness to the saving power of Christ. His arms were so powerful that when enemies in an interior community set up a noose to hang him after leaving a service, he lifted himself out of the noose with a bloody neck. And who would have thought that I would meet this man, then over 80, moving dirt in a wheelbarrow, on a visit to my home province.

Who would have thought that my second significant assignment was to get the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia editing back on track—and later the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament? Working with some of the finest biblical scholars of the time as chair of the Textbook Committee proved to be an exhilarating experience.

Who would have thought that a meeting with Dr. Charles Ryrie behind the booth at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Dallas, and a contract signing at O’Hare Airport, would bring Moody Press the Ryrie Study Bible? Another publisher had failed to live up to a contract with Dr. Ryrie, making it available. With design by a New York Bible designer, text from the NASB and the King James Bibles, the Ryrie Study Bible became an important addition to the product line at Moody.

Who would have thought that a new Jewish convert I met in the media tent at Campus Crusade for Christ’s 1972 Expo in Dallas, Zola Levitt, former director of an opera company and a symphony, would team up with a missionary to the Jews, Tom McCall, to produce two bestsellers for Moody,Satan in the Sanctuary and The Coming Russian Invasion of Israel, plus another six books of his own? That list of books and experience as a radio talk show host helped Zola launch his own television show, eventually to be televised in all 50 states.

Who would have thought that an atheist surgeon and his atheist wife would be brought to their knees before the Savior because of the witness of a pastor couple in a basement church in Brooklyn? That together they would found the Malumghat Memorial Hospital in Bangladesh when it was still East Pakistan. That the dramatic story of his conversion, his exploits as surgeon, as representative to the government for missionaries, would be published as Daktar/Diplomat in Bangladesh—and sell more than 60,000 copies at a time when no publisher wanted to release missionary biographies. Many came to faith in Christ through Dr. Viggo Olson’s story of his and his wife’s attempt to prove the Bible was just fables—until they were both overwhelmed by the evidence for the Bible’s trustworthiness.

Who would have thought that the demotion of my boss, Peter Gunther, would be God’s way of moving us to Danbury, CT and employment as vice president for books and book clubs at Christian Herald, Chappaqua, NY? While the three years there were rich in experience, who would have thought that God’s real purpose for bringing us there was to help found a daughter church of Black Rock Congregational Church, now the 2,000-plus Walnut Hill Community Church.

Who would have thought that financial losses at the Christian Herald Magazine would be God’s way of moving us to San Bernardino, CA and an eventual role as president of Here’s Life Publishers? That God would use me there to help Dr. Bill Bright achieve a longtime goal—a book on personal evangelism. By teaming a writer with Dr. Bright and holing up with him in a board room to pull stories out of him, we produced the Gold Medallion winning Witnessing Without Fear. Loaded with stories of Dr. Bright’s personal soulwinning exploits using The Four Spiritual Laws, this book’s sales exceeded all of marketing’s projections six-fold.

Who would have thought that the sale of Here’s Life Publishers would land me at a publisher, Scripture Press, whose Sunday school curriculum I had ordered for 60 churches 40 years earlier? That as managing editor of the curriculum division I would be working for the writer, Dr. V. Gilbert Beers, whose children’s books I had pioneered at Moody Press 20 years earlier. Not only that, I was also given the opportunity to write fundraising letters that brought in the funds to distribute Bibles in prisons. And God again let me work with biblical and educational scholars as editor of Christian Education Journal.

And who would have thought that the sale of Scripture Press would land me at Evangelistic Association of New England as vice president of communication and marketing? The hundreds of interviews and articles featuring pastors and other ministry leaders became God’s final preparation for my new role as writer of much of the curriculum for the Apprentice and Journeyman courses of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.

Who would have thought that acceding to the requests of several Christian writer friends to represent them with publishers would in time allow me to help many first book authors of both non-fiction and fiction books get published?

Finally, who would have thought that agreeing to fly to Pakistan and Afghanistan to speak at Christian writers workshops would give me the privilege of walking the streets of Lahore and Peshawar, Pakistan, and Kabul, Afghanistan, and see firsthand what it is like to be a Christian in those countries? While I was used to meeting in fine church structures, there we met on a rooftop to ordain a seminary student for ministry, listened to a Pakistani Christian woman read Scripture in a literacy class for Christian women, met in secret with Christian tribal translators, and traveled to the top of the Khyber Pass in the midst of trucks carrying supplies to UN military personnel in Afghanistan.

As I reflect on all these—and many more—experiences of God’s guidance and provision, I have to give credit to not only God but my wife Rita, who has stuck with me for 53 years. Not only is she the mother of our two fine children and grandmother to five, she has served the Lord in music in many ways all these years. By God’s grace we are now experiencing the happiest years of our married life.