God Moments (3): God’s Turn in the Road Enables Skills Development

[This is the third article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life. Click here to read post one and post two.]

chicagoWhat can you do when the person who hired and empowered you is demoted? Hope for the best? Pray like crazy? Or all of the above? I engaged in the focused prayer I had learned from Mike Martin’s book, I Live By Faith. Paging through Intervarsity’s His Magazine I spied an ad inviting applications for an editorial position—no indication who was looking for an editor. I responded and discovered Christian Life Publications was looking for an editor for Christian Bookseller Magazine. Suddenly six years of bookstore experience, matched with four years as weekly denominational publication editor, seemed like a good match.

In the fall of 1962 I had a desk in an office on Wacker Drive on the edge of downtown Chicago. My sign said Editor, Christian Bookseller Magazine, but I was also associate editor of Christian Life Magazine. I began experiencing one God Moment after another.

Robert Walker, owner and CEO of Christian Life Publications, had a masters degree in journalism from Northwestern University, had worked at Moody Press as a young man, and ventured out on his own to bring the Christian reading public the finest level of journalism possible.

When I joined Bob’s team he had already been publishing Christian Life Magazine for at least 15 years, had added Christian Bookseller Magazine when the Christian bookstore movement was just gaining momentum, and initiated Christian Camps and Conferences Magazine to give the growing camp and conference movement a voice. He had founded Christian Writers Institute—and it was his ad for the Beginning Christian Writer that God used to turn my life strongly toward journalism ten years earlier.

Covering the Charismatic Renewal

Bob believed the charismatic movement sweeping the U.S. was of the Holy Spirit and had been reporting on it before I arrived. I came from an anti-charismatic background and Bob and I discussed his approach during the hiring interview. His humility impressed me when at my suggestion he agreed we would not report on charismatic revivals until there was abundant evidence they were of God. Remarkably, he gave me veto power when I sensed strange fire at work. A true God Moment came later when Bob taught me how to engage in spiritual warfare praying.

What I did not realize was that God had thrust me into an intense skills development experience. Bob paid for evening classes on magazine production and on feature writing at Medill School of Journalism in downtown Chicago. He edited every article I wrote over four years. We had regular meetings to analyze secular publications for what we could learn from their journalistic techniques. Every month he brought in a magazine designer and as editorial team we analyzed the presentation of articles in what Bob called the “editorial well” in the center of the magazine. I had no inkling that in a few years I would be doing the layout for two Canadian business magazines.

God Moments as a feature article writer for Christian Life Magazine:

  • Writing a cover article on Tom Skinner, an African American Harlem gang leader who turned to Christ when he came upon a Christian radio station and heard a speaker that spoke directly to him. He became the voice of African American Christians as he spoke to white audiences on race relations. During that trip I also interviewed a group of drug addicts who had been won to Christ.
  • Writing a cover story on David Wilkerson, author of The Cross and the Switchblade, during a Rockford, IL crusade and seeing a large group commit their lives to Christ. Teen Challenge grew out of his ministry.
  • Interviewing the 1965 Miss America, Vonda Kay VanDyke, with a tape recorder in the back seat of a car transporting her between book-signings in Christian bookstores—and then spending the evening with her parents. The next morning I took photos of her on the flat roof of their home that not only graced the cover of the magazine but were used for at least a year in circulation promotion.
  • Robert Walker and I interviewing Bruce Olsson at the O’Hare airport. He was on his way home as the first white man to penetrate the jungle in Bari, then called the Motilone, territory on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Since then it has become a Christian tribe bringing the Gospel to 16 other tribes—and Bruce is still ministering with them. I used my notes to write an article the Chicago Tribune ran in their weekend magazine, six pages with photos I got from Bruce.

Serving as editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine provided other learning opportunities. I traveled to New York City to interview editors on new books they were developing. Every month I interviewed Christian bookstore owners on what they were doing to be successful. Bill Moore, executive director of CBA, and I drove to Grand Rapids and visited the first store of a planned Zondervan chain that became Family Bookstores. My wife Rita and I manned the information booth at the Christian Booksellers Convention. I introduced Kenneth Taylor’s Living Letters to booksellers in the magazine, taking a picture of Ken in his garage holding a pile of his books, which had been a Billy Graham giveaway. Five hundred thousand asked for Living Letters and the distribution helped launch the sales of it nationwide.

God’s Provision for a Home

When Bob decided to move his offices to Carol Stream, IL, next to Wheaton, we faced a crisis as family. I told God about it. “God, we need to rent a house in Wheaton, but there are no rentals. Please provide money for a down payment.” A few weeks later a David C. Cook Publishing editor and book author, Joe Bayly, spoke at our CWI writers’ conference. Then a God Moment. Joe approached me, asking if I might be interested in editing and revising adult curriculum. They were between editors and badly needed help. 

“I can give it a try,” I replied. The next day he brought me four student lessons. I worked about five hours a night for each lesson on a 15-year-old portable typewriter—and then two nights for teacher lessons. In six months of editing God provided the down payment on a house vacated by friends who served in radio drama at Moody Radio with Rita. Once in the house with our two children, Carol and Gerald, God also provided an opportunity to write ad copy for a local agency—and newsletters for a Baptist General Conference foreign missions agency. Both not only providing needed extra income as homeowner but also preparing me for a God Moment years later.

In the next installment I’ll reveal why after four years with Robert Walker I followed a friend’s invitation to join his business magazine chain in western Canada. A sneak peak—it all started when I used a red pen to mark all grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, awkward sentences, in an issue of my friend’s magazine—and sent it to him.

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