[This is the tenth article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life.]
Where is God when your well-ordered life takes a dramatic, negative turn? When your urgent prayers provide no answer?
In 1978 Moody Press was having a great spring and summer. Sales were the best ever over the first six months. Mary Beth Moster’s Living with Cancer hardback sales topped 40,000 within months of its release despite the marketing director fighting for a different title, “No one will buy a book with the word cancer in the title,” he insisted in our executive meetings. He put promotional dollars on the book he was convinced would be our bestseller. He had to eat crow and admit, “I should have put my promotional dollars on Living with Cancer.”
Another book he had fought against in the executive meetings, Fathering a Son, by two young editors at Christian Service Brigade and Foreword by Gene Getz, was selling so well it stayed on the Moody Press list for 10 years. Dr. Irving Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament was selling well despite a long-term bestselling text with the same title by a Wheaton College professor. Dr. Jensen’s New Testament Survey also sold well. He predicted sales of 3,000 for a well-researched Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim, but I knew there were around two million Muslims already in the United States, so I was not surprised when it sold 8,000 copies the first year.
The initial inkling of trouble on the horizon was the first visit to the Moody Press executive team by the executive vice president of Moody Bible Institute. Instead of congratulating the team for the great year we were having, he announced, “Moody Press will never grow larger than Moody Bible Institute. We won’t let that happen.” His pronouncement felt like an uppercut to the chin. The domino effect of that announcement resulted in a mass exodus of almost all of the Moody Press executive team.
What we did not know was that one of our team had ingratiated himself with the executive vice president and was bad-mouthing our director, Peter Gunther, and our production manager, Howard Fisher. Apparently his complaining gained a favorable hearing with the executive vice president, for the next mind-boggling announcement was that Peter Gunther was being demoted and left with only one of his long-term responsibilities, that of director of Moody Literature Mission, two years before his retirement age. His replacement was the director of Moody Magazine, whose book experience was one bicentennial book we had published for him. Obviously my eight years as editorial director, though my title was only “editor,” did not qualify me to replace my boss. I did not know that in God’s plan I was to become president of Here’s Life Publishers seven years later. But that’s a story for another God Moment.
My prayers focused on what God wanted me to do – keep my mouth shut and just do my job at Moody Press, or look for another position, but he was not giving me any answer. I needed a God Moment. At a conference I met two men, one working at a printer looking to begin a book publishing entity and the other ministering to pastors in my home province of Canada. When I got back to my office the next day I was totally confused, but remembered the Gideon experience. I had never resorted to the fleece approach, but I was desperate. I turned to face my bookcase and uttered the fateful words, “Lord, if you want me to consider leaving Moody Press, have one of these two men call me within 24 hours.” Our loving, faithful God responded by having the friend at the printing establishment call me within an hour to tell me they had decided against starting a book publishing entity.
A Diversionary Tactic
As an avid newspaper reader on the train ride out to Wheaton, a Chicago suburb, I scanned the business pages and an ad jumped out at me. The association of Credit Unions, with offices in Chicago, was advertising for an editor. I decided to apply, having been editor of business magazines for eight years. The association wanted an editor for a publication for boards of credit unions and another for managers of credit unions. I applied, carrying with me samples of magazines I had edited and written for. Within two weeks I was offered the position at a salary 33% higher than I was receiving at Moody Press.
Now came a true God Moment. The Holy Spirit reminded me of my commitment at age 22 when I was first aid and warehouse manager at a mine. I had focused on prayer and Bible reading for a week, asking the Lord what he had in store for me. All I learned was that I was to be a messenger for God, so I committed myself to serving the Lord to the maximum of my ability on a worldwide basis. There was no way around it, providing management advice for credit union managers and boards did not fit my commitment. In desperation, I again resorted to the fleece approach, telling the Lord, “If you want me to stay in Christian publishing have someone call me with an opportunity in publishing.” I was prepared to let the credit union personnel manager wait two weeks, but that evening the phone rang. It was Robert Cook, a Moody Press author whom I had taken to lunch some weeks earlier.
“I’m on the board of the Christian Herald Association,” he said. “We are looking for a vice president for our book club business. We have a small book publishing enterprise and the right person could be in charge of that as well. Do you know anyone we might approach?”
God’s New Opportunity
I was stunned. It certainly seemed God had heard my distress call. I asked for more information and he gave me a back-grounding on what the Christian Herald Association was involved in. It turned out they published a 100-year-old magazine (Christian Herald), operated two book clubs (Christian Herald Family Bookshelf and Christian Women’s Book Club), owned and managed the Bowery rescue mission in New York City, owned and managed a summer camp for inner city New York children in the Pocono Mountains of New York State, and owned a home for folk in recovery from addictions in New Hampshire. I suggested I was ready to apply for an interview.
My wife Rita and I were invited to fly out for the interview. But how would I know it was really where God wanted me, since Rita was being used by God as music teacher in Grades 1-8 at Wheaton Christian Grammar School. She had been there for just over three years and God had blessed. Her concerts had overflowing attendance, with parents filling the seats and standing along the back wall. Why should I be responsible for disrupting what God was obviously blessing? She insisted that if moving to New York state was God’s will, she was ready to move.
Since God in my distress had responded to my first ever use of the fleece approach, I resorted to an audacious request. If God really wanted us to make the move I would ask the Christian Herald leadership for a signing bonus the size of her salary for one year at the school. So while Rita was taken on a tour of Westchester County, I met with the executive team at Christian Herald Association. I laid my request for a signing bonus on the table and left the room. You can imagine the astonishment of the president and members of the executive team—and the discussion that followed. But God had his men even there. I had worked with one member of the team while employed at Christian Life Publications from 1962-66. He and the editor of Christian Herald Magazine, who was aware of my Moody experience, assured an incredulous president that I was worth the extra one-year bonus. I was called back in and given their offer.
What God had in Mind
We later flew in to look for housing and settled on a house in Danbury, CT, 35 miles from the offices of Christian Herald Association in Chappaqua, NY. Only later did Rita and I realize God had us in Danbury for several reasons. One was another God Moment, since two and a half years later we were asked to spearhead a church plant as daughter church of Black Rock Congregational Church in Fairfield, CT, which we had attended for two years. The church that became a reality in our home in time became Walnut Hill Community Church in a neighboring community, with attendance of more than 2,500 and five church plants.
But God had another reason for our move to the Northeast. Our son, enrolled as a freshman at the University of Iowa, decided he did not want to be more than a thousand miles from our new home. He spent a day in the library researching colleges in New England and settled on Gordon College, a Christian college about the same distance from our new home as he had been at the University of Iowa—and where several fellow high school students had gone. At Gordon College he met his future wife, Lorraine Tingley, and their three daughters have brought us immeasurable joy as they grew up and entered college. Their oldest, Bethany, has already been employed for more than a year in the marketing department of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Oh, and a year after I turned down the editor position at the association of Credit Unions, the financial disaster with the crash of the credit unions nationally would have meant I was out of a job.
The next installment will provide more about God Moments in New England as he gave us new responsibilities in our new environment, but also let us experience a new crisis.
Copyright, 2014, Les Stobbe