George Derksen and I became acquainted when he was a newspaper reporter in Winnipeg, Canada. What I did not know was that he harbored a dream far bigger than a job at a newspaper. My involvement in that dream started with me daring to criticize a new publishing project of his, a business magazine for his home province, Manitoba. He had already added a Saskatchewan Business Journal when he sent me a copy of the Journal. I decided it needed an evaluation and knew he could handle a critique. So I grabbed a red pen and highlighted spelling, grammatical, and sentence construction errors, as well as descriptions under photos. He laughed so hard he could hardly pick up the phone to call me.
I was busy preparing a message for a German-speaking congregation in Benton Harbor, MI when the phone call came.
“Les, will you come join me as editorial director for my growing chain of business magazines? My goal is to capture Canadian publications for Christ, to be a Christian Lord Thomson, and I need you to join me in that endeavor. May I come and talk with you about it?”
I invited him to join us for the weekend—and the trip to Benton Harbor, MI where the weather alternated between sun and snow showers. But God was there, blessing the morning service and our conversation, becoming another God Moment. Two months later we were on the road with my wife Rita, a longtime friend of George’s wife Dorothy, driving the car, with me at the steering wheel of a U-Haul truck. We arrived in Winnipeg in mid-April, with the Red River in full flood mode, shutting down our usual entry station and usual routes into the city. We drove in on dikes and got to our friend’s house.
Interviews, Interviews, Interviews
Over four years I got to interview leading businessmen and town and city leaders in most communities in Western Canada. In Manitoba I learned about Junior League hockey in Flin Flon preparing players for the NHL, about Ukrainian culture in Dauphin, about high rise construction in Winnipeg and fishing, wild rice production, grain growing and processing, about the potato king, and the industries, like a potato chip plant, whitefish shipped to Chicago, inventors of agricultural equipment and automobile accessories. I did stories on innovative advancements in healthcare, the application of new-fangled computers to architectural design. The Lord had me continue my ministry of providing sermons oriented to practical Christian living, plus serving as chair of the Christian Education Committee. Rita quickly became immersed in choral and solo work in the church and the community.
A key God Moment was participating in my second Billy Graham Crusade, the first being the Chicago Crusade in 1962. This time my boss did the fundraising, while I was active in the local Christian Businessmen’s Committee promoting the Crusade. God brought many to faith in Christ.
Another God Moment came when as CBMC we brought Tom Skinner, an African American speaker from New York to Winnipeg as speaker for the more than 600 at our Christmas banquet. I helped him spend the previous week visiting prisons, being interviewed on radio and TV. A Christian radio station recorded his banquet address and re-broadcast it three months later—and CFAM told me it had the largest listening audience of any program they had aired.
Reconnecting with My Heritage
I entered Saskatchewan to read proofs for weeks at the printer—and reconnected with extended family, since my father was 11 when his parents landed there as German-speaking Mennonite immigrants from the Caucasian Mountains. At 23 he traveled to Hillsboro, KS to get his high school education. There he met my mother, born to Mennonite immigrants from the 1870s, who taught school. He drove a Model T over the mountains to Bible Institute of Los Angeles, then north to British Columbia, where his parents had moved and I was born and raised during the depression. But that’s another story.
In Saskatoon, SK I ventured onto a golf course for the first time, participated in a celebration of the life of Gordie Howe, one of the Detroit Redwing greats. With the Derksens and my wife we flew in two four-seater aircraft to a northern lake for a weekend with legendary teen fiction writer Bernard Palmer. We caught Northerns every time we trolled through a bay on the lake. I was unaware that four years later I would become his editor. I visited wheat, oat, barley and canola fields all over the province. Potash mining was just underway, and oil was being extracted—today it’s being exploited as an example of fracking success.
In Alberta I surfaced an agricultural editor, Don Sylvester, willing to become editor of the Alberta Business Journal–and helped Richard Horch, a Manitoba salesman and musician, settle in as advertising manager. I interviewed business and civic leaders all over Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, and Lethbridge. I attended the Calgary Stampede, wrote up the sugar beet industry, dry land grain growing and irrigated crops of all kinds. I wrote a major story on oil being extracted from the tar sands—now a multi-billion dollar industry gearing up to help the U.S. become energy-sufficient. I covered the arrival of the Colonel and Kentucky Friend Chicken, and cheered for the Calgary Stampeder’s football team.
Back to My Home
Then it was on to my home province, British Columbia, where as family we settled into Langley, from where I could visit my parents in 30 minutes or drive into my office in Vancouver in the opposite direction in about the same time. I had moved from the prairie provinces to “Beautiful British Columbia,” with its mountains of timber, coal and mines delivering a variety of mineral ores, logging and lumber, and paper mills—much of it shipped to Japan from the Vancouver ports. I was back where I had worked in a mine, injured my leg mountain climbing, and wrote the articles that became lessons in journalism and prepared me for a life in journalism and book publishing.
I traveled throughout the province doing special issues of the British Columbia Business Journal on the fruit and wine industry in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, to the smelters still spewing noxious substances into the air in Trail. I visited lumber processing mills, walked through smelly pulp and paper mills. I saw a cousin and his family growing tomatoes 600 miles north of the U.S. border near St. John on the Alaska Highway, I wrote a special issue for the dedication of a superport, where unit cars with coal from the Kootenay Mountains were unloaded into giant ships bound for Japan. Another issue was devoted to the construction of Vancouver skyscrapers, then one on Victoria, with its gorgeous Buchart Gardens.
Hitching a Ride to Japan
Meeting Peter Allinger proved to be a God Moment. When I was 12 years old our family visited a small church one Sunday evening. There Peter Allinger, a Christian movie missionary, showed a very new Moody Institute of Science film. While entranced, I did not know that years later he would still be showing Christian films in a theater in Vancouver and running a business serving churches and businessmen with new Japanese 16mm projectors.
I had come to interview Allinger when he revealed he had chartered a plane and was taking top-selling dealers of his projectors on a tour of the factory and other sites in Japan. I quickly suggested that since he had empty seats he could take my wife and me along in return for a full story on his business. I’d also prepare a news release the dealers could use on their return home. I did five major interviews in Japan, including the chairman of Honda, and wrote up a Japanese corporation starting with iron ore and converting it into everything from medical instruments to large earth-moving equipment. My wife and I attended the world expo in Osaka, where I interviewed the Canadian Government representative—and serendipitously my wife Rita got to visit with the president of Panasonic in the hotel lobby. He had come for the Osaka World Expo and was killing time in the lobby when he saw this obvious foreigner and decided he wanted to learn a little more English. After introductory exchanges and conversation his daughter arrived and they were off to the Expo.
By the spring of 1970 I had become weary of writing 40 or so articles for every issue of the business magazine. I mentally looked at myself in the mirror and asked, “What would you rather do than anything else in the world?” My answer was, “I’d rather be a Christian book editor.” About four months later I responded to a phone call from Moody Bible Institute, asking if I’d be interested in interviewing for editor of Moody Press, a position I had hoped to gain eight years earlier. The next installment takes me back into a world of books and interaction with writers of all kinds, but also a surprise God Moment with far-reaching implications as a writer.