At Vision New England in Acton, MA staff were intrigued by the “extending your territory” imagery in The Prayer of Jabez, a book by Bruce Wilkinson that sold millions more in the first year than any secular non-fiction book ever. We decided to study the book’s chapters at lunch. Some of us printed up small posters with Jabez’ prayer, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” Critics called it a selfish prayer, but so few pastors were challenging their congregants to believe God for achieving beyond initial expectations that it caught fire and small church groups were studying it everywhere. And though already beyond typical retirement age, I put up the poster with the prayer in my office and in faith prayed the prayer daily.
Did God quickly respond? It did not seem that way when I got my notice that I was being released because of budget shortfalls. Then God stepped in with a God Moment. Two weeks before my final day in the office I received an e-mail from Jerry Jenkins announcing he had purchased The Christian Writers Guild from Norm Rohrer. After 37 years of guiding writers in improving their skills, Norm and Virginia were retiring. I responded to Jerry with the news I was being released at Vision New England and was ready to help him in any way. He replied he wanted me on his editorial board.
The real God Moment came after Jerry had me examine the Guild’s lessons and I recommended we start over. He called and said, “I am going to announce to the Board that you will be writing a new set of lessons.” Astonished, I reminded him I did not have a journalistic degree and he had two retired journalism professors on his board. He replied, “I’ve followed you through the years and I know you can do it.” Talk about God extending my territory in response to me praying the Prayer of Jabez!
I wrote my first correspondence course lesson on writing as a Christian over Labor Day and e-mailed it to Jerry. His over-the-top positive response gave me the courage to continue. Jerry gave me permission to enlist writers for specialized lessons on writing for children (Christine Harder Tangvald), writing poetry (Michael Bugeja), church plays (Paula Bussard), screenplays (Kathy Mackel), novels (Dave Lambert). I had gotten to know most of those I enlisted at writers’ conferences as published writers and workshop leaders. Others Jerry had gained confidence in and had joined the team.
Tackling the God Assignment
My approach included ordering samples of magazines, take-home papers, and specialized resources that I could use to illustrate publishable writing. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 resulted in an explosion of colorful, graphic and imagery-rich articles in Boston newspapers that I could draw on as illustrations of great writing for the media. But I knew only the Holy Spirit could give me the insights I needed to resource a generation of writers seeking to improve their skills. Thus every day I opened my computer to an empty screen and prayed, “Holy Spirit, give me the outline for this lesson. Remind me of examples from Scripture and life. Help me shape into usable form the lessons writers need to learn to improve their skills.” Even as I was praying God would remind me of an outline, biblical illustrations, life illustrations, sending me to my keyboard. Lessons learned from correspondence courses I had taken, evening school classes, on-the-job journalistic techniques I gained from Robert Walker, founder of Christian Life Publications, as business magazine editor/writer, as freelance writer, newsletter writer, advertising copy writer, and book author came alive as I wrote lessons.
Asking God to extend my territory came alive as I later mentored writers taking the Apprentice and Journeyman Courses, who sent their completed lessons by e-mail from Nigeria, Kenya, Great Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada. He also gave me the opportunity to fulfill a commitment I made in a mine warehouse in northern British Columbia at age 22 to serve the Lord to the maximum of my ability on a worldwide basis.
Another Surprise Opportunity
God had another surprise in store for me. Stymied in their attempts to enlist a Ph.D. in communication as head of their journalism faculty, Gordon College in Wenham, MA decided to appoint a Journalist in Residence as a stop gap. An associate at Vision New England had moved to Gordon College as director of their media relations and publicity departments and heard of that decision. She recommended me as Journalist in Residence, another God Moment. After several interviews I was invited to join the faculty. Ironically, both our son and his wife were graduates of Gordon College– and we lived in Haverhill, an easy commute to Gordon College.
I had taught journalism principles in workshops not only in North America but also to Campus Crusade for Christ staff in Europe, the Philippines, and Singapore—and I had just completed 52 lessons in writing journalistically for the Christian Writers Guild. But would my experience-based journalism hold up in an academic environment?
I quickly discovered textbooks previously used did not provide as broad a scope of lesson material as the lessons I had written for Jerry Jenkins. I also enlisted visiting Chapel speakers to join classes and give students an opportunity to practice their interview techniques. I brought in reporters from the daily newspapers to share how their reporting skills were tested during the burgeoning scandal about priests molesting young communicants. I also enlisted Kathy Mackel to lead the first class on screenwriting. And again the Lord extended my territory with four students from Kenya in my classes, one of them a practicing reporter in the capital city.
My “extras” during the three semesters I taught included eating lunch in the faculty classroom and listening to conversations unique to academic environments. What a difference from the lunch times with the Moody Bible Institute faculty in 1961, though in both cases political issues connected to an election intruded on weighty spiritual and academic issues!
Getting acquainted with faculty in their lunchroom prepared me for another exhilarating experience—marching in cap and gown with the faculty during the graduation in 2003—it was 52 years since I had worn quite different garb at a graduating ceremony of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College. Two weeks before that graduation ceremony I had agreed to become the founding editor of the Mennonite Observer—now I was celebrating graduating Gordon College seniors who had been in my classroom to complete qualifications for their degree. God had brought me full circle.
My next installment will tackle God Moments as a literary agent. But first I’ll introduce a series of God Moments in “everyday life” that brought us to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina in 2004.