God Moments (17): Transition Provides New Opportunities

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

Despite the seeming tragedy of losing an exciting opportunity as president of Here’s Life Publishers in 1992, the Lord kept dropping opportunities my way. In addition to the two books described in the previous installment, I was approached about helping a marriage counselor upgrade his book, Discovering the Mind of a Woman. I spent a fascinating weekend interviewing Ken Nair on his and his partner’s ministry to men whose wives had either left them or already divorced them. Based on the stories and information gained I reshaped the book and presented it to the editors at Thomas Nelson, who agreed to publish it—and it is still in print 20 years later.

In 1993 we were temporarily living in Nashua, NH to be close to our son and his family of three little girls when I finished the manuscript for In the Hands of the Potter. That morning I talked to the Lord, saying, “Lord, I need either a full-time job or better pay for my book assignments.” That afternoon a God Moment occurred when Dr. V. Gilbert Beers, president of Scripture Press, called.

Dr. V Gilbert Beers

Dr. V. Gilbert Beers

Twenty years earlier Dr. Beers had been in my office at Moody Press with a proposal for six full-color children’s books. I brought him into the editorial committee to explain his vision—and  Moody Press became his publisher for a dozen or more books.  The first set of six was sold door to door in southern states by students during several summers and netted Dr. Beers and Moody rewarding royalties from the distributor’s sales.

When Dr. Beers called in May, 1993, he began his call with “I’m sitting with Joyce Gibson, the director of our curriculum department, discussing our need for a managing editor. I received your postcard saying you were open to a full-time position. Would you be interested in becoming managing editor of the curriculum division of Scripture Press?” What a God Moment! An interview with key Scripture Press staff at the CBA Booksellers Convention in July resulted in my being accepted for the managing editor position.

Birth of an Agency

The interview was, however, only one purpose for attending the booksellers’ convention. In another God Moment in spring I had been approached by several writers about becoming their agent. They insisted my background in publishing was important to them as they were looking for a publisher to take on their book projects. After prayer I agreed to represent three writers—and in several months helped each find a publisher.  I established a pattern of setting up appointments with editors at the convention and introducing a variety of book proposals to them. At the time publishers were still growing their fiction lines, so a three-novel contract was fairly normal.  For the next 11 years I evaluated proposals and sent out selected ones on a part-time basis, focusing on helping first book authors.

Life in the curriculum division at Scripture Press took me back mentally to my years as denominational editor in Canada. For four years I was not only editor of a 12-page weekly publication, but I was also responsible for ordering the Christian bookstore’s inventory of English language books. Christian Press for years had operated a second floor bookstore to serve those in German-speaking congregations in Canada. Many of these churches were experiencing the pains of transition to English in Sunday services and needed resources for both Sunday school pupils and teachers.  I quickly discovered one of my other responsibilities every quarter became placing curriculum orders for 60 churches with Scripture Press.

Over the years I had also taught high schoolers in Sunday schools using Scripture Press curriculum—and while editorial director at Moody Press I had been free-lancing writing curriculum for junior highs for Urban Ministries, an offshoot of Scripture Press serving the African American churches. So in a sense I was coming home when I walked into the curriculum division offices.

A Technological Revolution

I arrived at Scripture Press in the midst of a technological revolution. Editors each had a Mac on their desk, but we still had to draw on past lesson materials stored in a large computer typesetting database. Five designers had advanced Mac software to develop full color lessons, drawing on illustrations by using storage devices. The completed lesson materials were stored on memory devices and hand carried to the printers. Since I had been working with Microsoft software I had to learn a new computer “language.”

With the Mac computers providing new design opportunities, the editorial team developed more modern and full color take-home publications for the middler and senior high curriculum. Power for Living, our adult take-home paper, transitioned into full color. We developed new curriculum for adults using devotional material developed by Walk Thru the Bible.

Within six months another God Moment expanded my duties beyond the curriculum department. Dr. Beers called me into his office and offered me the responsibilities of editor of The Christian Education Journal, a quarterly publication for directors of Christian Education in churches and professors of Christian Education at colleges and seminaries.  This enabled me to attend their annual convention and interact with those able to supply articles. I particularly enjoyed editing articles based on research being done by those in Masters and Ph.D. programs. I gained insights and contacts that aided us when I next served with the Evangelistic Association of New England and helped develop the program for their annual Christian Education Conference.

Sixty Years of Service

Celebrating 60 years of service to Christ and the churches became one of the highlights at Scripture Press. Founded by Dr. and Mrs. Victor Corey, Scripture Press featured All Bible Lessons first developed in the 1930s by Dr. Garner, a Christian Education professor at Moody Bible Institute. In time the growing publishing house moved from Chicago to Wheaton, IL, opened a Christian bookstore and eventually began publishing books under the imprint Victor Books. Scripture Press Foundation became the charitable arm. It published the Christian Education Journal, raised money for Bibles and Bible study books for those in prison—and let me employ skills as a writer of fundraising letters.

Not long after the great 60th anniversary celebration we learned that the Board was considering selling the publishing house. We were told the reason was that the megachurch movement was significantly reducing the number of Sunday schools, making the curriculum department a less than profitable division. Two financial analysts disproved that assumption when they finally separated out costs and incomes for both the curriculum department and Victor Books. They uncovered an unpleasant reality—the book program was creating the losses, which the curriculum department’s surpluses could not cover. Instead of divesting itself of the money losing department, the administration accepted an offer from David C. Cook Ministries for the whole publishing house.

For the second time I faced an uncertain future as negotiations proceeded toward the sale’s consummation. I needed a God Moment. What I did not know was that God had been preparing a new opportunity. One day I opened a newsletter from the Evangelistic Association of New England and out dropped a slip of paper with the news that the Association board had approved the hiring of a Director of Communication and Marketing. I carried the news home and told my wife Rita about it. Her immediate response stunned me: “Apply,” she said. My response was, “You’d move again?” And she replied, “In a minute, if I can get close to our granddaughters.”  I applied, interviewed and we moved from Wheaton, IL to Arlington, MA. We landed in a two-flat within minutes of our son, his wife, and three delightful granddaughters. And to a new series of God Moments.

Copyright, 2015, Les Stobbe

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