God Moments (1): An Inauspicious Start

mountains[This is the first in a series of articles I will be posting about God moments in my publishing life.]

A question many ask is, “How does God lead us into our life assignment?” God’s first hint at an answer for me came on a hospital bed in northern British Columbia, Canada.

Let me set the stage. I had completed my sophomore year at the University of British Columbia when three friends and I motored 800 miles into northern British Columbia for a summer job at a silver and zinc mine. The location would give us an opportunity to give a lift to the church planting efforts of two uncles and their families. On weekends we worked with young people, delivered sermons and wrote skits, and the four of us sang as a quartet in church and at street meetings in a nearby town populated largely by First Nations residents. On weekdays we went to the mine.

Working with a miner blasting out a vein of ore and shoveling it into chutes, then helping put up four to five foot posts to keep ceilings from coming down, and finally helping fill the ore cars from the chutes, gave me a good introduction to life underground. I particularly enjoyed coming to the surface for lunch at midnight to see the sun rimming the mountains nearby.

A Life Commitment

That all changed when the First Aid Man and warehouse manager had a heart attack. I had gained an Industrial First Aid Certificate at evening school the previous summer, so I stepped into his position. After I had handed out drill bits and sold rubber boots at the start of a shift, I had time on my hands, which for a week I devoted to Bible reading and prayer in hopes of discovering God’s will for my life. God used Moses’ experience and God’s challenge to Ezekiel, along with a biography of Charles Spurgeon, to lead me to a commitment to serve the Master on a worldwide basis to the maximum of my capabilities. If Spurgeon could preach every Sunday to 10,000 in London, England, surely he could equip me for an assignment with worldwide reach.

One Saturday I joined male cousins and the men in our quartet on a mountain climbing outing to see if we could reach the top of a nearby 5,000-foot mountain. Fog prevented us from reaching our goal, so we stopped at the edge of a deep ravine created by a rockfall. While the rest climbed to the top of the promontory at the head of the ravine I decided to rest on the edge of the ravine with my bent left leg against one rock and the other stretched out against another. Looking up I saw a cousin and my best friend roll a large rock to the edge of the promontory. My yells upwind were not heard.  When the rock crashed into the ravine, it sent many rocks flying downward, but none came as far as I was. Then I saw them roll an even larger rock to the edge—and again my yelling was not heard. Like projectiles, small rocks rushed by below me, but one took off in my direction. It seemed the rock would miss me, but instead, it hit my left knee a glancing blow and I knew I was in serious trouble.

One friend stayed with me while the rest hurried down to get a stretcher. Using my first aid know-how I had my friend build a splint around my 90-degree knee joint. Twelve hours later we arrived at the small mission hospital, where the doctor straightened my leg and took ex-rays, which showed a dislocated knee and split thigh bone. I had no idea I would spend four months in that hospital with a primitive Thomas splint, not once getting off the bed for three and a half months.

Seizing an Opportunity

But that, too, proved to be God’s plan. Some months earlier I had ordered a subscription to Christian Life Magazine. Paging through it one day I saw an ad that screamed at me “You Can Write.” The description revealed I could buy seven lessons in The Beginning Christian Writer for $15 from Christian Writers Institute in Chicago. I decided I could afford that, but when the first lesson arrived I realized I could not do it flat on my back in a four-bed hospital room. Yes, the other three occupants, usually First Nation men, were colorful enough, but I could not get at my typewriter. A mother-daughter nursing team giving me back rubs also entertained me with their story of twice escaping communist revolutions. First the mother’s family escaped from Soviet Russia into China after the 1917 Revolution. Then mother and daughter came to Canada to escape the Mao-led revolution in China.

The following April, after rehabbing my leg riding a bicycle on gravel roads, I signed on as despatcher with the B.C. Forest Service and was dropped off at a small fishing island between Vancouver Island and the Mainland. Now I could complete the journalism lessons, writing articles about a new principal at a high school, new ministers at two churches, VBS workers that arrived from Marine Medical Mission. Delivering the articles to the weekly newspaper editor, I discovered he had taken a journalism course from Newspaper Institute of America. He graciously loaned me his lesson materials. Another God moment.  Though I didn’t know it when I was writing those first articles in the remote fishing village, God had a plan for me. Ten years later my desk as editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine at Christian Life Publications in Wheaton, IL was next to Janice Franzen, one of the mentors who guided me through the lesson assignments.

The Breakthrough

Completing my summer as B.C. Forest Service despatcher in the fall of 1953, I headed for the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, where God took me a giant step forward toward a career in journalism. The president asked me to be the college’s publicist because he knew I was already writing feature articles for a Mennonite publication. The God moment came when, selling our college yearbook in a contest, I landed on the front porch of the publisher at Christian Press. I had done some proofreading and paste-up for him, so I was not surprised when he invited me to sit down. Then he dropped a bombshell. Would I be willing to become editor of a weekly he was hoping to begin in the fall. After a week of prayer I agreed. At the conference where the Board approved the venture and me as editor, I heard a local soloist with an extraordinary voice. When she showed up at the college that fall, we connected and one year later Rita Langemann became my wife and brought a lot of music into my life. 

When I began my first week as editor and realized I would have no assistant or secretary, I initiated 15 minutes of speed typing every day, getting to 85 words per minute. Not only was that a huge assist during the four years I edited a 12-page denominational weekly, it became invaluable as a book author. I wrote weekly editorials, feature articles, and wrote book reviews. I assigned devotionals and a children’s feature. Through the Evangelical Press Association, many of my editorials were reprinted in denominational publications, including The Alliance Witness, edited by A.W. Tozer, already a well-known book author. I also trained church reporters and managed circulation. Seeing only German books in the bookstore I accepted an opportunity as buyer for English language books, not realizing I would soon be managing the selling floor of the Moody Bible Institute bookstore in Chicago when God took my career in a new direction.

My next big God moment came courtesy of Kenneth Taylor, translator of The Living Bible. I’ll leave that for the next in this series.

7 thoughts on “God Moments (1): An Inauspicious Start

  1. Isn’t it interesting that when we look back upon our life, we can see the pattern and can often pinpoint God’s hand in it all. Sorry you had to break your leg to recognize the career God knew you’d love. But there you go…
    Can’t wait for the next installment.

  2. Love those God moments. Although I’ve never dislocated my knee or split a thigh bone, I’ve endured many other trials. And God has used every one of them for His plans, purpose, and glory.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you Les for your information on “God” moments. Thank you also for being my friend, I so enjoy our chats on Sunday at our church. I look forward to reading more.

    Jim.

  4. God’s stories are always the best and we never see the next plot twist coming. I’m looking forward to reading through the rest of this article series. Very inspirational to learn about your story. :)

  5. Not only a legendary agent, but you are an amazing writer, Mr. Stobbe. Now, I understand a bit better about the knee pain that you mentioned at the recent IFWC conference. What an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and provision in taking a difficult life experience and using it to propel you along His plan. Thanks so much for sharing.

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