God Moments (2): Becoming Kenneth N. Taylor’s Manuscript Review Editor

[This is the second article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life. To read the first post, click here.]

To portray how another God moment developed I have to begin at Christmas 1954, when seven of us students at Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg boarded a bus with Intervarsity students from two universities for Urbana, IL. We joined about 15,000 being challenged to be missionaries. I got two interviews, one with the director of Radio ELWA in Africa and the other with Kenneth N. Taylor, director of Moody Press. I left the interview with him impressed but unaware our paths were to cross six years later in a God Moment.

After completing four years as editor of Mennonite Observer I felt I had learned all I could. I had balanced the store inventory between English and German. I had heard Bill Moore extoll the values in joining the quite new Christian Booksellers Association. A couple of months later I wrote Moody Press and asked if there might be an opening. With no position available, I joined the faculty of my alma mater, the Mennonite Educational Institute in my hometown, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, not even dreaming that grading 250 essays several times a year was God’s preparation for another assignment.

The following February I received a forwarded letter from Human Resources at Moody Bible Institute saying, “In light of openings, please complete the enclosed application.” What I didn’t know was that Kenneth Taylor had saved my letter in a file, pulled it out and sent it to HR, asking them to contact me. A God Moment in the making.

A Publishing Opportunity Surfaces

We were living in my home community near my parents. I had a job as teacher. Why move again? Six weeks later, with the Holy Spirit’s prompting I completed the application form, but inserted that it would take a supervisory job to get us to Chicago. God kindly disregarded my fleshly proviso and within a week a telegram arrived, “Will send airfare. When can you come?” Our son had just been born, so I telegraphed, “When I get my wife home from the hospital I will come.” I engaged a neighbor girl to stay with my wife while I flew to Chicago for the interview.

After a red-eye special I arrived at recently opened O’Hare Airport at 6:30 a.m. and was whisked to Moody Bible Institute. Four interviews later I left Chicago behind via  Midway Airport—and was home before midnight. While landing at Seattle I gained the assurance I would be offered a position as selling floor supervisor of the Moody Bookstore—and I was. Getting a green card took three months. Getting to Chicago created its own set of problems, with the U-Haul trailer being towed the last 400 miles when my car’s engine blew up. Once I found an apartment I had my family come from my wife’s parents by train.

A part-time Moody Bookstore student employee showing a customer a book.

A part-time Moody Bookstore student employee showing a customer a book.

I loved my position in the bookstore. I had seven really capable store clerks, plus three students part-time, one of whom set up our Spanish section and later became president of a large Latin American mission. I soon realized that in addition to daytime students Moody had a large number of African Americans as evening students, most of them so poor they bought books on layaway, paying a dollar a week. We also had men who would steal a Bible or reference book in our downtown store and then try to turn it in for cash at our Institute store. Again and again God had me read into a book at lunch, only to have a customer come in who needed exactly that book.

Another God Moment came when one day Rita commented, “I’d like to participate in one of the Moody radio dramas.” When Chuck Christianson, director of Moody radio drama, came into the bookstore I asked if they ever had auditions. Yes, indeed, they would be having an audition in the near future. I asked for an application and took it home. Unconvinced she could handle the role, Rita would not tackle the application, so I did it for her. Most reluctantly, she signed it. A few weeks later she became the lead female character, Hazel, in “Sailor Sam.” In subsequent years she played many other roles in radio drama in addition to singing in several radio choirs and serving evening school music students as vocal coach.

A Brown Envelope Represents the Future

Four months into my job I became acting pastor of a small Evangelical Free Church near our apartment. Six months into my job in another God Moment my boss, Mr. Bixby, brought me a brown envelope and said, “Ken Taylor would like you to evaluate what’s in it and report on it at the next editorial committee meeting.”

At home I discovered it was a new translation of First Timothy. Having studied Greek, and been a writer/editor, I did a thorough evaluation. At the committee meeting my turn came and I reported, “I’ve compared this new translation of First Timothy with the Greek and it is really quite accurate. It does need some help with punctuation and active verbs. By the way, whose is it?” Ken Taylor looked down and murmured, “It is not known” and I knew instantly it was his—and got beet red. My goose was cooked for sure, I thought, since he ran Moody Press. In reality, it was another God moment.

Several weeks later Ken called me up to his office, saying that he would soon be leaving for his vacation. He would provide me with an office, telling me, “I am asking that all incoming manuscripts and proposals be given to you. Evaluate them, rejecting those you think we should not publish and put those we need to consider publishing on my desk.” A few weeks later he brought me the manuscript for The Living Letters, asking me to edit them. After editing several pages I realized I did not have time to complete that task, what with spending half my time evaluating manuscripts, half my time in charge of a staff of 10 in the bookstore, and evenings preparing sermons for my role as acting pastor.

Living Letters never came up for a vote in the editorial committee because Ken took it to Moody Bible Institute President Culbertson’s office and introduced what he had done, asking for the president’s opinion. Dr. Culbertson expressed reservations about Moody Press releasing another Bible translation. That settled it for Ken, who tried to interest several other publishers, but none would touch it.

A Manuscript Changes My Prayer Focus

For 18 months I served Kenneth Taylor as manuscript evaluator, stumbling into another God Moment. One of the numerous fine book manuscripts I passed on to the editorial committee was I Live By Faith, by Mike Martin, an extraordinary West Coast leader who believed in pinpoint praying. By that time we as family were moving into the main floor of a home several miles from the church. With two toddlers I could not see us navigating two bus transfers in bitter winter weather. With tears dropping I prayed, “Lord, we need a car, but we don’t even have a down-payment. Please provide.” Two weeks later a non-member of the church asked if we needed a car. When I admitted we did, he invited me to his mother’s apartment and gave me enough for a down-payment. That experience so bolstered my faith that pinpoint praying became regular with me—and God answered in incredible ways year after year.

All good things must come to an end, and in late summer 1962 Kenneth Taylor was demoted as director of Moody Press, while keeping his role as director of Moody Literature Mission—and that started him on the road to becoming his own publisher. Meanwhile I answered an ad for an editor and joined Christian Life Publications as editor of Christian Bookstore Journal and associate editor of Christian Life. The God Moments that opportunity provided will be revealed in my next installment.

7 thoughts on “God Moments (2): Becoming Kenneth N. Taylor’s Manuscript Review Editor

  1. Hi Les: I am really enjoying your God moments. It always interests me to read about other people’s God moments.

  2. Leslie, I could sit and listen to your life stories for hours. I did not particularly know the name of Kenneth Taylor but I certainly knew of his bible “The Living Bible” when a sweet friend gave me one upon my baptism in 1976 when I was newly married and living in Chapel Hill. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to meet you at Blue Ridge in 2010 and sit in your class.

  3. Wonderful reading about your God moments, Les. It’s really amazing to see God’s hand in our lives as he leads us down our career path. Thanks for being a great part of mine!

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