God Moments (12): Getting Settled in California

[This is the twelfth article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life.]

Two questions come to mind when thinking back to our move from Connecticut to Southern California in 1982:

What does a couple leave behind when forced to make a major move?

What unexpected consequences can imperil a successful transition?

Let’s tackle the first question in this installment. One word provides an answer to the first question: memories. While the founding of a church in our home was undoubtedly the most exciting, a less momentous one remains vivid after 32 years. In Danbury our home stood on a triangle of land extending into a small pond that at one time had provided frogs for New York eateries in summer and ice blocks for ice-boxes in winter. The frogs were basically gone, with turtles sitting on every rock protruding above the water. Winter ice, on the other hand, provided an attractive surface for skaters, with hockey games going on simultaneously on three sides of our home. In fact, our first winter was so cold the pond froze to the bottom. I was feeding 32 ducks who had not migrated with corn the previous owner had left behind, but I had to finally give up chopping a hole in the ice so they could have water. During spring melt, ice piling up revealed large catfish still encased in ice. Our fears that we would later have the horrible smell of decaying fish were allayed when dozens of seagulls arrived and cleared all the fish out of the melting ice.

A God Moment with huge implications occurred when a friend at a women’s gathering told Rita about a church 21 miles down Black Rock Turnpike. Our experiences at Black Rock Congregational Church left us with many God Moments. Soon after we began attending services an adult class leader moved—and I was invited to take his place. The class members loved Bible discussions, so I’d typically arrive with only questions as my notes. Several months later I was asked to become chair of the Christian Ed Committee and participated in planning for significant enhancements to the church. Rita was asked to become chair of the Music Committee. She left her mark not only in occasionally leading the choir but also in negotiating moving of the choir to behind the pastor from one side of the sanctuary.  She also spearheaded fun parties at our house and the church for members looking for relationship building opportunities. These involvements smoothed the way for us helping plan a new church for Danbury.

Hello California!

A former writer I had published provided the God Moment that resulted in a telephone call inviting me to come for an interview for editorial director of Here’s Life Publishers. We arrived for our interview at the for profit subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ International on December 18—and by Dec. 23 knew what my next field of ministry would be. My assignment was to ramp up the acquisition of books that would move the book publisher into profitability and provide guidance for a young but competent editor, John Carvalho, of Athletes in Action Magazine.

But first we had to sell our Danbury home and acquire one reasonably close to the office. But how do you sell or buy a house when the mortgage rate is 18%? God provided a couple who rented our home with option to buy—and we moved into a former show home at a new development with a similar arrangement. Six months later we knew we would have to abandon the home because noise from engines at Norton Airbase revving up at four in the morning bounced off the neighbor’s house into our bedroom. In addition, the kitchen was located in the southwest corner and was the hotbox of the house despite air-conditioning. We discovered our pastor was looking to rent their house nearby, so we moved into it.

For one year that house became home to a lively Bible study group, including a key executive at Mission Aviation International, a member of a government intelligence unit whose secrets were never divulged, several veteran Christians and one seeker. If you’ve never been part of group that put its loving arms around a recently divorced spiritual seeker, try it. When she desperately needed encouragement the group gave it. When her car broke down, she was helped. And when the God Moment arrived when she accepted Jesus as her Savior, we all rejoiced.

A God Moment a year later developed slowly. Rita went house hunting with a Christian realtor, seeing a home she really liked but we felt we could not afford. Months later we were told the house we were renting was being sold. Rita remembered her brother saying, “Make a ridiculous offer and go from there,” so we approached the realtor about the house Rita liked, an estate sale. Reluctantly, she agreed to present our offer of $25,000 less than the listed price, with the two married children carrying the mortgage at 10%, well below the going rate. The counter offer was what we had hoped for. We praised the Lord, but we had no down payment, since our Danbury home had not yet sold. In another God Moment, the realtor volunteered to provide a bridge loan. Several months later our Danbury property was purchased and the bridge loan repaid. Now we faced significant renovation, accomplished over five years.

Staff Needs for New Ministry Tools

Bill Bright

Bill Bright

Here’s Life Publishers served several constituencies. One was the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, with the evangelism and discipleship books that staff under Bill Bright’s direction had written and used for years. The second constituency was the one developed by Josh McDowell’s apologetic campus ministry and youth groups beyond that. The Family Ministry of Dennis Rainey represented the third significant constituency. We also served the high school ministry, the ministry to churches, prison ministry, ministry to athletes and ministry to foreign diplomats in the U.S.

I soon learned college campus ministries were unhappy with the evangelism and discipleship tools written several decades earlier, with some using Navpress materials, some material developed in England. We learned staff at a Texas University were about to embark on writing their own material. In a God Moment, my boss, Dave Orris, engaged a former educational specialist and an editor/writer from Gospel Light Publishing to set up a meeting in Texas with the dissident group.

With Dr. Brown leading the meeting, 20 staff began explaining what they were looking for. Ideas flowed quickly and were put on large sheets taped onto the wall, a form of storyboarding. By the end of the day we knew what staff was looking for. Over the summer staff from several colleges and universities settled into dorms at Redlands University and, as I remember it, worked for six weeks on new evangelism and discipleship booklets, with the editor/writer transforming suggestions into booklet form. Our job at Here’s Life Publishers was to edit and print the booklets in time for the 1983 Christmas event for thousands of college students from all over the U.S. The God Moment came when the new material for evangelism and discipleship was introduced and put in the hands of staff.

For the nine years Here’s Life Publishers served Campus staff after that, we heard no complaints, only accolades. After all, campus staff got what they asked for, based on their input. If only more educational material for use in Sunday Schools and youth program were produced with that much input from end users!!

We discovered another area of discontent. Even though we sold four million copies of The Four Laws booklet a year, a growing number of Crusade staff were ordering the British version, Would You Like to Know God Personally? Bill Bright shared with me his unhappiness over the growing use of the British version, which he considered too wordy and not as clear as his The Four Laws booklet. As a writer I liked the warm spirit of the title and appeal to a personal relationship of the British version, so I set about editing, rewriting the British version. After several consultations with Bill Bright he was satisfied and approved us printing it. For me, that was a God Moment. Sales soon equaled those of The Four Laws and today it is the most used evangelistic tool of CRU (the new name of Campus Crusade for Christ) staff members.

Capturing Bill Bright’s Heart for Evangelism

In interacting with Bill Bright I became aware he badly wanted to write a book on personal evangelism, but nothing had been done about it. I felt that could be a major legacy if done right. I developed a title, Witnessing without Fear and prepared a dozen chapter titles, running the approach by Bill Bright. He loved it, but I knew he would never take the time to write it. Asking around at the International School of Theology a faculty member mentioned the name of a former editor at Crusade’s magazine, Worldwide Challenge.

Dan Benson agreed to accept the assignment. Bill Bright agreed to give us two days alone with him in his board room. I had developed questions for every chapter designed to elicit stories of successes in personal evangelism, since Dan as former CRU staff had absorbed Bill Bright’s teaching on evangelism. We heard about one God Moment after another as Bill Bright regaled us with stories of leading people to faith in Christ. One of his extraordinarily successful approaches on an airplane was to settle in a seat in the economy section and give his seatmate a copy of The Four Spiritual Laws and say something like, “I’d like to discuss this with you after you’ve read it.”  He led many taxi drivers from all over the world to faith in Christ just on a ride from one part of a major city to another.

Our Here’s Life Publishers marketing team projected sales of maybe 5,000 copies of Witnessing without Fear, since in our experience CRU staff were oral communicators and not active book buyers. I was more hopeful than that, so was delighted when sales totaled 30,000 copies the first year it was offered to the public. Another God Moment came when the book won the Gold Medallion for the most outstanding evangelistic book of the year.

More about Bill Bright and his wife Vonette as book authors in the next installment—and how one of Vonette’s books led to a very special writing assignment for me.

Copyright, 2014, Les Stobbe

One thought on “God Moments (12): Getting Settled in California

  1. As I read this article I had to get up for a pad and pen in order to remind myself to pose a relevant question on each of my next series of one-minute videos. I have been recording and posting brief videos on You Tube and Facebook using juggling as an intro. For the next series, I will combine a question with my brief juggling intro and then answer with a tie-in to the book’s subject. I consider this idea from reading Les Stobbe’s article to be a God moment.

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