My Spiritual Journey
by John Bush
The Early Years
There are many great memories of my growing up years. Like my farthest back memory of walking home from kindergarten with little red-headed Sandra and having lunch at her house. Or the short path that connected our backyard with Bobby’s and eating lunch by a tree in his backyard. I remember draping a blanket over the railings on Barbara’s front porch to make a primitive fort. (That fort building was only the beginning of what would be a very long dream.) And I remember a birthday party at Herby’s house where we played this fishing game where you would hang the line at the end of your pole down through a basement window, and then magically there would be a tug on the line which was a sign to real the hook in and get a prize. And there was also Wilshire Park where I learned how to make neat things, like a key chain, out of gimp.
Then there was my baby sister. At some point in my impressionable years my bedroom became this huge room upstairs. During the daylight hours I had the pennants above my bed and a very small electric train to keep me company. But at night, when the goblins came out, not even my stuffed bunny or my small and special pillow were able to provide adequate protection. I had to come up with a plan to escape my chamber of nightmares.
It was almost too easy this plan I concocted. But, with a smile on my face, I did it night after night. We would play this little game, my five year old little sister, Nancy, and I. The plan was a simple enough one, but a five year old isn’t that difficult to outsmart. I would simply make the challenge to see who could get to sleep the fastest. Then, when she was obviously the winner, I would tiptoe past her room, which was actually just a wide spot in the hallway between my room and the stairs. Then it was down to my freedom from the scary nights in a large room where shadows were everywhere, to the place of ultimate safety in my parent’s bed.
I remember my father pulling us kids around on our sleds in the snow with his pickup truck, and the time with Dad and my friend Bill fishing in one of Dad’s favorite spots.
My world was a small one, though, during these impressionable years. Two blocks away was almost like being in a different country. There were definitely scary places on my way to and from school along those six blocks each way. They were places where my imagination dredged up possible creatures that I wanted to just, somehow, get safely past.
We played war during recess, the other boys and I, in about the third or fourth grade. We’d hunker down by the sidewalk below a two or three foot rise to the school playground. Then rise to charge out into battle (with our imaginary enemy) and then get shot, falling in a dramatic remaining energy to our grassy operating table where one of the girls would rush to us and somehow bring new energy back into our veins.
There was always that “something” within me that said there’s nothing as great as a fort. The small grape arbor behind our garage may have been my first attempt at one. I remember playing with my toy cars in the dirt, and trying to dig to China, which lost steam at about a foot down. And climbing up into our front yard tree was sort of like being in a fort. It was an escape into a private little world where not just anyone could enter.
That little voice said, “Escape into your private space where you can be all by yourself.” But that other voice, even at eight or nine years old, whispered, “Girls, John. Girls, also, are maybe worth letting into your little world.”
Janet was the name that turned “girls” into “the girl.” She had dark hair and dark eyes and a red house that I passed every day walking to and from school. Patty was another girl from those early school years. But even in all her beauty she was just another girl compared to Janet.
I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it when I was eight or nine years old, but I had a way of somehow getting into trouble. Not big trouble. Just trouble enough to get my dad’s or teacher’s attention. From a report card in the first grade, it seems that talking out of turn was a factor that lead to my early discipline. It was either too much, too loud, or maybe a wrong choice of words. But either way, it was not accepted, and an appropriate discipline followed. The view is still clear in my mind from my spot of correction in the hallway outside that first grade class. As clear as it is to me, this punishment must have been more than a one time occasion.
The Principle’s Office
I remember being threatened in the principle’s office with a large hair brush for some misdemeanor. I’m sure it was only a threat, and I must have not been too afraid. Then there were further trips to another principle’s office in the years to follow. They must have been a result of some infraction brought about by my special creativity or maybe just the habit of being near the one who did step just past the rules.
My dear mother was also a contributor to my early correction. Her words, “I love you, but I don’t like you,” were permanently imprinted on my brain for the decades to follow. There was the time she tried to apply a bit of correction to my backside with a yardstick. My attitude must have been several notches off center. When she was letting me have it, the yardstick broke. Then, caught up I’m my defiant attitude, I let loose with some laughing. That must have convinced Mom that she was raising a no good child. God must have blessed my poor mother’s efforts though, because the moment I left home for college we became great friends from then on.
The Razor Strap
But the early discipline was not left entirely in Mom’s hands. All it would take was the sound of my baby sister crying to roust Dad up from his downstairs TV watching and bring him bounding up the stairs to apply the necessary correction to his wayward son. It was usually with the pants down and draped over his lap. I believe the razor strap (which I now have hanging in my den) was only used once. But the threat of using it brought on an element of fear and respect that it could happen again. That undoubtedly kept my naughtiness from growing too far out of control.
Church and Sunday School were always a time of at least intrigue for me. Learning about God and the Bible was never a drudgery to have to bear. I remember fondly in about the third grade looking at a showcase of awards for perfect attendance. To earn a great looking pocket knife required about a year’s worth of perfect attendance. Our move from that neighborhood and church stole that dream away only to be added to all my neighborhood friends that I would never see again.
Before that move in 1954 came, however, I got word that a friend was going to be baptized. Beyond a partially wrong incentive was the desire to do what God wanted me to do. So, while we were still at Bethany Lutheran Church, I did it. I don’t recall it being a Sunday morning event, but it was done, and I must have felt better for doing it.
Then it happened—the move. From a barely workable amount of friends to zero, all in one day. But having my own bedroom on my own floor of our brand new home must have lightened the pain somewhat. But that girl—Janet—must have been a very difficult part in the moving process. My school notebook cover during that first year of the move, in very large letters, read “JB + JP.” That was my statement that I would never ever forget her.
My new next door neighbor Larry was a help to this adjustment into a new neighborhood. We had a creek that ran behind both of our houses that was fun to wade in and explore. We would see how far we could wade up the creek before water trickled down over the top of our boots. And the huge woods across the road had an immeasurable amount of possibilities for building forts. That presented the potential for a much higher level of fun than on Barbara’s front porch.
A nine year-old doesn’t have an overly complex romantic life. But there was that intrigue about girls that remained somewhere in the back of my thinking. So, in those first months in Lake Grove School, my eyes caught the sight of Carol. I had a plan. Valentine’s Day was just ahead. I had a fool proof way of letting her know that she was special to me. In the class exchanging of Valentine’s Day cards, I would give her two cards. Then she would have to know how I felt about her. But this romance mindset of mine was still at the kindergarten level of learning. My hope that Carol’s response would be a sweet appreciation and a warming up to a possible friendship was instead a look of puzzlement over this obvious mistake I had made . . . and zero followup interest in being a friend.
My low self esteem and resulting behavioral problems followed me to Lake Grove School. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Gross, who I have memories of being a nice enough lady, must have had some behavior problems with me. She made a chart especially for me inside her closet door. I got stars for various types of correct behavior, and probably a lack of them when they were less than correct. (Those stars must have gotten my attention a little bit.)
A Tree Fort
At ten years old, this move into an evidently more country-type neighborhood was beginning to seem quite okay. Larry and I, with some more mature help, I’m sure, built our own two-story triangle shaped tree fort between three trees. It was a very small and primitive tree fort, but it was ours, and we were in control of who entered it.
Well, this tree fort was on the back of Larry’s lot, and within a stone’s throw from Carol’s house (not the same Carol as before), and about another such distance to Sharon’s. These were two older “women.” Larry and I were only a mere ten years old, while Carol was eleven, and Sharon a whopping fourteen.
I don’t remember any particular tree fort activity (with or without girls), but Carol and I seemed to hit it off. My big memory of her was us finding a long blade of grass and then we would start chewing from opposite ends until the ultimate. I believe she must have moved because my memories of our infatuation are very limited. (And the tree fort blew down in the Columbus Day storm.)
Then there was some kind of school district boundary change that moved me from Lake Grove to Forest Hills School in the Sixth Grade. Now in spite of being a much more “mature” young man of eleven, and being seemingly surrounded by very distracting beauties, my behavior was still not quite under control.
The Furnace Room
I think it was all Dick’s idea to do it, and I’m sure that it made us feel cool. The simple little pastime during class of making a couple of mock roll-your-own cigarettes and pretending to be high class smokers earned Dick and I a trip to the furnace room. But, with a bit of a reckless attitude, Dick and I took our pre-lecture minutes in this basement chamber rather lightly waiting for Mr. Tracy to show up, and then greeted his appearance with big smiles on our faces.
The Golf Course
One play area that was close by was the golf course. It was a great place to sled when there was a little snow, and there was that special spot into the wooded area at the edge of the course and next to the road where Steve and I made our camping spot during summertime weather. It was across the road and down a ways from Steve’s house and a good quarter mile from mine. Only one thing has remained in my mind from those special nights we had camping there—a shared bag of frosted animal cookies.
The Apple Machine
My low self esteem that haunted me from grade to grade brought on a tendency to find friendship with younger kids. I remember sleeping overnight in Terry’s backyard and watching Sputnik travel across the sky. Or a similar overnight at another Larry’s further up the road and watching shooting stars. I don’t recall seeing any since then, but then I haven’t spent much adult time laying in a sleeping bag watching the night sky activity either.
I believe it was in the tenth grade when I took the younger Mike up the road to the high school on a Saturday. With nothing particular on my mind, mischief seemed to work its way into my thinking. The school was open. I’m sure it must have been me that led the way into this empty building—a place where the two of us could undoubtedly find some fun.
The apple machine was right at the end of the hall, and must have been calling out to me as a great spot for some “fun.” Having no change in our pockets, or just unwilling to part with what we may have had, we soon found that we could thrust the bottoms of our feet firmly against the machine and thus release an apple to fall down the shoot into our awaiting hands. Then, what to do with a dumb apple? Rolling them down the long hall seemed to be a great idea, probably to me anyway.
With an amount of memory loss to the details to the abrupt ending to this great game, my next memory is of Mike’s dad (who just happened to be the superintendent of schools for all of Lake Oswego) explaining this horrible crime to my father. Though Dad was I’m sure very straight faced during this adult-to-adult conversation, when Mike and his father were gone, the smile on Dad’s face strongly communicated to me that, “Kids will be kids.”
In my struggling years through high school with an ending grade pint average of 2.3, there was one area in which I got an A+. Food. An older sister of a classmate of mine, Alice, was graduating the year I was going in (the tenth grade) and needed someone to take her place as Chairman of the Concessions Committee. Since I had a habit during high school football games while in the ninth grade (my last year in junior high) of hanging around the concessions stand, and being a friend of Alice, Alice’s sister asked me if I would be interested. With a vagueness as to the exact transition, working with Mr. Post, I got the job. For the next three years I was in charge of buying the needed food supplies for the concessions booth at the various sport events. Then I added a table in the school hall with various candy choices for the hungry classmates on their way home from a hard day at school.
And . . . I bought the candy (wholesale, of course) at four cents a bar that were meant to be sold for five cents. But, being a money hungry guy that I was, I didn’t settle for the mere twenty-five percent profit, but went, and very successfully so, up to a hundred and fifty percent profit—ten cents. My fellow concessions committee people and I also sold pop and popcorn. But I think it was the candy bars that brought me a large profit for all three years. Where my predecessor had actually lost money over her time as chairman, I was publicly awarded at an assembly for making the school money during my chairmanship.
Though I played football all threes years of high school, and enjoyed it, the Concessions Committee is what made me feel really good about myself.
My life wasn’t all just seeking out a way to find more trouble. There was this love within me of drawing that goes back at least as far as the fifth grade in Mister Pots’ class. I know that a very early influence upon me was Dad and my uncle Ted who both liked to sketch. I have a drawing I made from the fifth grade of a character from the TV show Wagon Train. (Interestingly Mister Pots would also be my art teacher in the ninth grade.)
I took mechanical drawing class in my sophomore and junior years in high school, but it was free hand drawing that I loved the most. I simply would look at a picture and then just copy it. In drawing a face, for example, I just worked on it and worked on it. When there was a place in my work that didn’t look exactly like the original, I just erased it and made it look better until it was perfect.
Like any artist, my mind was drawn to the face of a woman. In my barely post-high school years, it was Chally’s school picture that became my master project. Though I was infatuated over her, she didn’t seem overly interested in me. Thus my mind was compelled to find release for this one way relationship in my drawing pad. Night after night I remember sitting at my bedroom built-in desk slaving away to make this drawing of her picture a masterpiece. It was my greatest artistic accomplishment. And I still have it today tucked into that drawing pad somewhere in storage.
Ninth Grade History
Then there was that special art project in my ninth grade year (at Lake Oswego Junior High). I had an upcoming project in my history class of doing a report on a topic of our choice in the area of Oregon history. Now, history was always my least favorite class. So doing this report was a dreaded assignment. But my artistic side was thinking of a cover for this report. It was in a very beginning woodworking class where the cover came into being.
With a quarter inch piece of plywood, I cut two pieces into 9″x12″ pieces and traced onto it, with carbon paper, a copy of the Oregon seal. Then I wood burned it, cleaned it up, varnished it, and hinged it to two strips of equally treated wood. I had made the best cover, I was sure, that anyone could have made.
The only problem in my artistic zeal was not ever getting around to doing the report. So, I guess, the moral of that story is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. In my case, I passed my cover on to my sister who, I believe, used it in her history class.
Confirmation (March ’61)
All this time I continued going to church and Sunday school. It was never a chore, but something I enjoyed doing. I earned a coin collecting holder for memorizing the books of the Old Testament. I remember them, and can recite them perfectly still today, better than I can those in the New Testament that I’ve learned over my adult years. An affirmation that when you learn something as a child, it sticks with you better than when learned as an adult.
I went with my friend David to a Baptist church Vacation Bible School in downtown Oswego and was excited over all the ways I could earn points by attendance and learning verses (maybe even just for behaving). I’m sure I must have earned some, but no particular memories of prizes. I do still have, though, a small wooden cross on a base that I made along the way that was a visual reminder of God’s love for me.It was in March of 1961 that I completed the Confirmation class at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. The only memory I still have of those weeks of learning is a class discussion on different swear words that were not good to say. But I have the photo of me and my classmates to prove that I did pass. My friend Dick, from Mr. Tracy’s class and the trip to the furnace room, was part of that group.
When a guy is into his latter teen years, the word mischief seems to get replaced with terms like “breaking the law” or doing something that is just plain wrong. There were a few instances, and maybe even more, that I would rather not remember that you can just trust me would fall into one of those two categories. But never getting caught, for the most part, just left that mindset within me that they couldn’t be all that bad. I knew that God didn’t want me doing it. But then those guilty thoughts from Him left me alone some of the time—enough to always allow one more infraction.
In the summer of ’61 and’62 Mom had to come up with some idea to get me out of the house. So she ran an ad in the paper for a high school boy willing to do yard work or “what have you.” (I don’t think I had anything to do with this idea.) The ad was run, and the calls started coming in. It must have been Mom who did the transporting, at least at the beginning. A $1.50 an hour, though, was going to bring in some big money that would be all mine. I was just busy sometimes more than I preferred. I mostly mowed lawns, but also washed a car, sanded a house, and a few other odd jobs. I even bumped up my wage the second year up to $1.75.
I remember one lawn mowing job where I got reprimanded by the owner for overlapping my rows too much. I think he figured that I was just doing it to take more time and more of his precious money. But the truth was that it was just my artistic side making extra sure that I got every blade of grass.
With all this money coming in, my trips by the Honda (motorcycle) dealer resulted in me buying a Honda 50. Then, sometime before graduation, I bought a 250. Then came a 360 Honda Scrambler during my early married years. But the accidents all came with the 50.
I fell over a cliff into Salmon River while with some friends near Mt. Hood, ran into the duals of a dump truck that I failed to see and got flipped onto my backside, and ran into a washboard-type divider heading into Oswego across from the golf course that caused an accident that busted the handle bars (but no bones). I think that was the end of the Honda 50.
I could have been killed from any of those accidents, but God still had some life and plans yet ahead for me.
I graduated from high school in 1963 and spent the next three months learning what real work was like. My dear father, with his Union Pacific Railroad influence, got me a job on the Section Gang. The job had only two parts: working harder than I could even imagine, and killing time as a group in between jobs. The work part was digging with a pick into very well packed gravel around worn out railroad ties, positioning the new ties (which were very heavy), and hammering the new tie plates down to hold the new tie into place. Was I ever glad to have to inform my boss, after about two and a half months, that I was going to have to quit as a result of my family taking an end-of-the-summer vacation. Wherever that vacation was, it was a relief from the back breaking work. But $2.85 an hour was a very sweet reward for the two plus months I had to endure it.
Oregon State University is what awaited me at the end of our vacation. I wanted to go to college. My responsibility in my continuing education and living two hours away from home was paying half of the tuition. Weatherford Hall was my new home for the next nine months. And a major? I barely knew what the word meant. But very soon, with the pressure upon me, my decision was to make it Architectural Drawing. Though I made the decision to hunt down a Lutheran church and go every Sunday, it didn’t seem to help me in the needed discipline required to make the “grade” in college.
The summer following my disappointing conclusion to this schooling adventure, it was back to Union Pacific for another three months of work. This time it was the Maintenance of Way building changing oil and repairing tires of railroad equipment. It wasn’t as hard as the Section Gang, but not fun either.
Multnomah Junior College was my next attempt at a further education with the major of choice being Engineering. But since I really had no idea what I was doing, the first glimpse of real help came while at Portland State University the following year. By some leading, other than my own I’m sure, I ended up taking an aptitude test which pointed me in the direction of hospital/social work. So, still being oblivious as to what I was doing, I chose a major in Psychology. I think I must have hoped that somebody knew something I didn’t.
About this time, I believe with the help of some younger friends, I got a job at L’abbaye’s Restaurant. I wasn’t a cook, not even a waiter, but a lowly back room dishwasher. Rick was a major friend during this exciting time in my life. He was a fellow dishwasher and . . . a co-conniver in the continuation of my life struggle in making good choices. Okay, we did a few things that the boss wouldn’t have approved of, but nothing too horribly wrong.
It was during this new career as a dishwasher that I met Liz. Finally a girl comes into my life that sees the greatness in me. I was living at The Gables fourplex with a friend. Our first dates were with at least one other couple and sometimes at Liz’s house. She had a great family and we had fun—just the two of us or with a group. I remember a big birthday party for me in Liz’s basement when I turned the big twenty-one.
Life was good, and seemingly getting better and better. But my lingering low self esteem led me to look to this new possibility of alcohol in order to help me feel a little more bold during the otherwise scary life moments. And it worked. I had discovered a new friend.
But the exciting year of 1966 held in store a rough and very life-changing ride for me. The first sharp turn in my fragile life came when Liz made the announcement that she wanted us to be just friends. I was loving life, having fun as an adult, and then, Wham! I get hit on my blind side and slipped into depression. “Friends” wasn’t going to cut it with me. My situation seemed beyond hope.
In the hour that followed this very unacceptable announcement I went to my church, sat in my regular Sunday spot, and asked God for help. I was at a loss. Life for me was in the dumps. My education at Portland State even was heading into a seemingly dead end.
Then it happened. Beyond what I could ever have hoped for or even imagined. The girl of my fourth grade dreams is sitting a few rows ahead of me in my psychology class. It had to be her. I was brave enough to ask her if her name was Janet. With her answer of yes, a few dates followed and left me with a double thumbs up spirit. That is, for a few months. Then this hope too was dashed to pieces when she announced at school that she would be leaving to some foreign country to do some volunteer work. Abandoned to my directionless college education attempt, I was once more left with a feeling of no hope.
Meier and Frank’s Cafe
This brings us to about December of 1966. My friend Carl’s sister, Mary, wanted to introduce me to a girl she knew. Seeing only the hope here of a possibility, I agreed, and Mary and I headed for Meier & Frank and the basement cafeteria. With her waitress dress on and a smile on her face, Audrey came over to take our order. With a burger and milkshake into me and having Audrey occasionally visit our end of the counter to check on our needs, the next thing I remember is Audrey’s and my first date at Sarah’s house. Sarah was a cook at L’abbaye’s. I remember dancing with Audrey, something I was definitely not confident in. There was likely a little alcohol involved to build up my confidence.
The months to follow involved many trips from Wilsonville to Portland to see this new love of my life. Mom had found an ad in the paper for Dammasch (Mental) Hospital in Wilsonville which was hiring psychiatric aids. (She must have gotten tired of her unemployed son not getting anywhere in life.) I took the job and liked it. I was helping people and felt sorry for ones who were very mentally ill. And a benny to this $280 a month job was that I could live there at a staff dorm for $28 a month. With all this money coming in, I decided to buy a new car. A red Volkswagen Beetle was to be my first new car. And, besides my rent, eating in the hospital cafeteria, and my new car monthly payment, I was able to put $20 a month into a savings account. And there was, of course, the gas required for these Wilsonville to Portland trips.
My relationship with Audrey was only getting more and more serious over 1967. It was at a drive-in movie (I can’t remember what the movie was) that I made the announcement that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Though it was a rather untypical marriage proposal, Audrey was in agreement.
The Pastor’s Office
It was in the first month or two of 1968 that we took the brave step to Audrey’s pastor’s office to ask him to marry us. That was the day that changed my life forever. It all began with the pastor’s question to me.
“Have you been born again?”
My relationship with God to that day had been limited to a rather uneven and vague amount of closeness. There was no victory over sin and an ever remaining low level of self-worth. And heaven was no more than a remote hope.
With my answer to his question of, “No,” Pastor Issensee explained to me verses from the Bible that must have pierced my heart. I could have faked interest and smiled as he talked, but I was sincerely interested in the verses and his explanation of them. Then with his question of whether I would like to ask Jesus to forgive all my sin and come into my life, my answer was, Yes.
I don’t remember the prayer I prayed, whether it was repeating the pastor’s words or ones of my own, but it was from my heart. Little did I know as we left that office, the changes that had taken place in my life by faith during those moments with the pastor. I was equally unaware of the changes that were still before me in the years to come. The changes were, in the noticeable part, not to come that day, or even that week. But God had major changes for me over the early years of my married life.
It wasn’t Pastor Issensee who was to marry us, however. He had had a mission calling to go do work in Austria. So it was Gil Allman who led the ceremony making Audrey and I husband and wife.
It was March 17, 1968 when Audrey and I sped out of the parking lot of Burlingame Baptist Church in my little red Volkswagen as a newly married couple on our way to a life together (and beginning at Disneyland). I was a married man, and Audrey was my little bride. Now I had finally begun the real life.
It was that night of March 17 that a problem bothered me in the back of my mind. I wanted to go to my church and Audrey wanted to go to hers. There had to be a solution to this yet unspoken dilemma. With few words shared, we got down on our knees that first night by our bed as a married couple and I prayed that God would lead us to the right church. The answer came in a short amount of time. The church was to be Audrey’s church. It was not me just giving in to Audrey’s wishes, though, but a clear sense that it was God who wanted us at Burlingame.
A Job Change
When the honeymoon was over and real life came into focus, I realized that my fantastic income at Dammasch ($1.62/hr) was not going to be all that wonderful in my new married status. With a few months past in our married life together, I came across a job opening at the new Safeway in Raleigh Hills as a bag boy. I took the job. It was summer time and I remember sweating profusely on those trips in and out, over and over. I must have been happy when summer was over and the cooler weather came.
It was very early in the morning on that eventful day in our little one bedroom apartment in Tigard when Audrey let out a scream that definitely woke me up. She was in labor with our first born. I remember flying through the Terwilliger curves on our way to Emmanuel Hospital and Audrey exhorting me that I didn’t need to go that fast.
Well, she was right. For the time I spent in the waiting room waiting for her to go into the delivery room, we could have just walked and been there on time. Audrey was moaning, and I could hear only too well other expectant mothers moaning and screaming as well. But playing cards with my Aunt Gummy made the passing of time a little less painful (for me, anyway).
With about twenty four hours past and my nerves shot, Audrey was finally moved into the delivery room. Now we’re about done, I must have thought. Then, behind those closed doors, came her screaming, and very loud. I was waiting near the doors to the delivery room and gave thoughts about barging in and telling them that we changed our minds and that I was taking her back home. But, very early in the morning, my relief came when mother and baby were wheeled through those doors.
But it was supposed to be a boy, and his name was to be Jason. Now came the task of coming up with a girls name so she would be more than just “Bush Baby.” I believe it must have been while we were still in the hospital that the perfect name finally came. Jennifer was our very own baby girl. We were a family now, and we had our own home at the King’s Choice Apartments in Tigard.
After several months into my job bagging groceries, I was hit with the bad news. I was being placed on call. “On call!” I thought. “I can’t be on call. I’ve got a little baby at home.” Unlike the trend of today when a guy finds himself unemployed, I headed straight to the Employment Office. On my first visit I was told of a company called Boss Manufacturing, a warehouse for a glove manufacturer. At the hourly wage of $3.00 an hour, the decision was easy. For about nine months I worked there as a receiving clerk getting the hang, pretty well, of what I was doing. (It was during this time, I remember, at the age of twenty-one, that Audrey got her driver’s license.)
Drinking to Escape
But those early months of being married were not all peaches and cream. The lure to depend a little bit on alcohol never seemed to leave me. It was a necessary part of all parties and even small get togethers. This change into married life didn’t erase all my self-conscious feelings. Alcohol was needed to make them go away.
It was September of 1969 when I got a call from my friend Jim (a bit of a mentor) from my many months working at Dammasch. He told me of potential job openings where he was working, at the Fred Meyer warehouse. I wasted no time in driving to Swan Island and hunting down the boss, Mr. Simms. I believe it was at my second or third visit that he told me to go to the main office and take the application test. On my next visit to the warehouse, Mr. Simms told me, “I can see from your test that you know how to read and write. You’re hired.” At $3.60 an hour, and that was just the starting wage, I was elated. It was a graveyard shift, but, hey, I could do it.
For many months it was lifting heavy cases and bags of dog food. It seemed very unfair that my quota of 180 cases an hour was the same as the guy in the Jello aisle lifting small lightweight boxes. I was killing myself while he had time to visit and still meet the quota. For me, my physical limit of about 150 cases an hour was enough to do permanent damage to my worn out tired body. But my wages going up to $4.00 an hour and being finally off probation (where they could fire me for any old reason) made the pain worthwhile.
During those first months of work and getting off all worn out, the natural thing to do was to go up to the tavern with the boys and have a few to erase from my thinking the heavy load of working for a living. It was only a few hours, I must have thought. No big deal.
Then God entered my thinking, and the thought of drinking began to leave me with a bit of a guilt trip. I finally decided to quit the few beers and switch over to Cokes. It felt kind of weird to drink Coke in a tavern, but I was with my friends and that’s all that seemed to matter.
Then the guilt returned. My family. They’re all at home without me. Home was where I needed to be when my work was done. It was God again entering into my thoughts. This listening to God was sort of new to me, but I made the decision. No more spending those hours with the boys at the Doodlebug that needed to be spent at home with my family.
The Horrible Sundays
Sunday after Sunday it was the same thing week after week. I felt fine going into church. Fine during the message. But when the alter call came to come forward at the close of the service, my heart started beating faster and faster. I hated that part.
Then, it was a Saturday evening and we were watching the movie The Robe on TV. With great acting and a strong New Testament era plot, I was riveted to it. Then the end came. The hero is crucified for his faith in Christ. And, what really got to me, the heroine said that if her man was willing to die for his faith, then so was she.
The thought went through my mind—sort of a “God” thought, “If she was willing to die for her faith, then I was willing to go forward tomorrow for mine.” I had determined it in my mind, I was going forward, period. But why did half of Audrey’s entire huge family have to show up that Sunday? And they were planning for us all to sit in the balcony too! No way was I going to walk all the way down the stairs and then up that long aisle. I was feeling brave, but not that brave. I told Audrey that we were sitting in our regular (downstairs) spot, and that was that.
Then came the invitation and my walk up the aisle. I took the hand of the pastor. I had done it. But then came the question of why I had come forward. I could only answer that I didn’t know. It was during the close to the service, back in the upper fireside room (right behind us) that Earl counseled me and concluded that I had not been baptized as a believer.
With that “difficult” part of the end of the services no longer bothering me, now I was to be baptized (by immersion). I remember Pastor Laycock having a little difficulty getting me back up out of the water that Sunday. The next memory I have of that day, and very clear in my mind, was Pete coming up to me in my pew, with my hair still wet, and asking me if I would be interested in teaching Sunday School. With my long time pattern of finding my greatest confidence in being with younger kids, this seemed like it would fit in real well.
But everything was not exactly as it was supposed to be in this new relationship of mine with my Savior. Swearing was a bit of a problem. At least it became evident to me as a problem one day at work. I was in the “paper” aisle busy at my hard work when it hit me. I wanted to stop swearing. God wanted me to stop swearing. Taking God’s Name in vane had never been a problem as a result of my mother’s teaching at a young age, I’m sure. But there were all the rest of those possible crude words. In the midst of my work, I stopped what I was doing, and prayed.
“God, if I swear, I will confess it to you as sin.” Then after a brief pause, “If I even think a swear word, I will confess it to you.”
I took the decision seriously, and God blessed it seriously. In the months and years ahead my swearing dropped to minuscule. I thought, and even shared, often over those first years what God had done—that I could count on one hand the number of my violations. In the decades that followed swearing was not even a temptation.
It was very early in my life with Jesus as my Savior that I began, probably from an invitation, attending the 7:00 AM Men’s Prayer Breakfast. I believe it was Irwin who made the great pancakes. Gene was there, and Guy, and others who are less clear in my memory. But beside the great breakfast, it was worth getting up that early on a Saturday morning to be in the presence—even fellowship—of older men who were close to God.
First came the eating, then some sharing of Scripture and prayer requests, and then the men took turns praying. I had never prayed aloud before, and for a good amount of Saturdays my resistance prevailed. But then I finally ventured into joining the others in prayer. The pancakes were slowly falling into second place as my motivation for giving up that morning sleep on my day off.
A Long Night
Hunting was never exactly a passion for me. I went hunting with my dad as a teenager because it sounded cool to do. I never got a trophy, though, to bring home. And the words from my mother that I could never kill a helpless little deer, were probably snuggled into my subconscious somewhere. Beyond the fun times I had with Dad and Frank and Chuck, there was that elk hunting trip, in the early years of my married life, that Dad and a friend of his and I went on in the Elsie area . . . that God would use for His own purpose.
I had had minimal discipling up to this point. Jesus was in my life, but my understanding beyond that was pretty much just what I got from the Sunday sermon. Even my Sunday School teaching of forth grade boys had minimal impact on my spiritual growth. I was still pretty much a spiritual baby myself, just not one that God was content leaving in infancy.
So, the three of us took off in this hunt into the woods in search for that prize elk. The plan was that we would split up and each go in different directions. That seems like a strange plan to me now, but that’s what we did. And, interestingly, within a relatively short time, I spotted an elk. But our permits said Bulls only, and I wasn’t quite sure whether this was a bull or a cow. Within a very few seconds, though, it didn’t matter. He or she disappeared into the woods. It was just as well. I probably couldn’t have pulled the trigger.
The plan was that we would meet back at the man’s house at 5:00. That was still a long ways away. There was plenty of time to hunt up just the right target. But the time ticked on with no target in sight. So I made my best guess as to the correct direction to the house and slowly worked my way along. Five o’clock was now getting closer and closer. The house wasn’t where I thought it was. I considered that I may be lost. The only sense of direction that I now had was the sound of the cars on the highway. I would make that my sole compass and let nothing get me off track. Up and down ravine I persisted with darkness getting closer and closer. But the sound of those cars was still off into that growing darkness.
When I finally determined that I needed help, I fired off three shots as my plea for a rescue. But none came, and darkness had now become blackness, and the cold was getting colder. My sweatshirt was damp, no flashlight, and I could barely tell up from down. I sat down on a log. Maybe there was still a chance that I would be found. But I heard no sound of people, only that of the still distant traffic.
With 5:00 now long passed, the thoughts came that I would maybe not make it. I prayed for my family that God would watch over them. And me, well, I would wake up in heaven. The thought brought peace to me in my isolated condition. I would be with God. I knew it. I had God’s peace, and promises in His Word, that I was going to be with Him when I died. I almost had a smile on my face. God wanted me to know that, with Jesus in my life, heaven was already decided.
But almost as fast as that Bible truth sunk in, I began to believe that I would make it. It wouldn’t be a comfortable night, and I would get cold, but I would see my family again. I pulled my arms into the sleeves and against my warm chest to help keep warm and waited for time to pass. And it took its sweet time in passing, hour . . . after . . . hour.
Then came that first glimpse of daylight and the noise of those cars to keep my direction focused. With a short wait for good light I was highway bound. But just to put the frosting on the cake, it started snowing. When the sound of traffic was getting very close and daylight as my new friend, I finally made it to the sight of those cars. One of them turned out to be my dad’s friend in search of me. When the two of us got back to the house, Dad told me that that was the closest he had come to crying in a very long time.
A short time later, at a church Thanksgiving get together, I shared my thankfulness for God’s good ending to that night in the woods.
The external sin areas of my life were getting behind me. Drinking had been dealt with. Swearing was gone. I had given up my habit of smoking years ago. The only remaining outward sin was that of a temper. That one was a little more difficult to get under control. But, with more years than I would have preferred, that area at least diminished more and more. To say that it’s now completely gone would not be 100% accurate.
Sunday School Changes
In my Sunday School teaching over several years, I left the third and fourth grade department for the first and second. Audrey was working there as attendance taker. So the two of us were now working in the same department. But then I ended up moving back to the third and fourth, and then to fifth and sixth. I found, unfortunately, some elements of frustration in teaching children about people whose names I could sometimes barely even pronounce. Then I got the thought, maybe seven years into my teaching. I would veer away slightly from the written curriculum for the last few minutes of the class time and teach the kids about what happens when you ask Jesus to come into your life. The idea really got my adrenalin going. I was teaching them what God had taught me over the preceding years. I was taking God and heaven to a level where we could all get excited. Teaching had progressed from being a bit of a chore to being fun.
After living in Tigard and moving from a one bedroom apartment to a two bedroom, when Jason finally arrived, my Fred Meyer income was indicating that we were ready for our first home. And what better area than in Lake Grove on Kennycroft Place. A great little neighborhood, and good memories that came along with it. But, with a few years past in our very first home, along came Christa, and a three bedroom seemed less than perfect. The house payments, also, were seeming easier and easier. A bigger house would take care of everything.
It must have been the latter weeks of 1976 that I met this Ron fellow who was visiting Burlingame. He was a Portland cop and a man with a passion for the bus ministry, a ministry of simply inviting kids to come to church and then giving them a ride on our bus to Sunday School. This man was a man I wanted to be around and learn from. But I was already involved on a church board, the financial secretary, and still teaching Sunday School. But the call was strong, and Ron’s burden to reach out to kids who had no church was more than I could resist.
The Decision—January 1977
By the first Sunday of 1977 I had relieved myself of the board job and the position of financial secretary. That just meant that I would have to get back from picking up kids in time to teach my Sunday School class. A little bit of a rush, but I figured I could do it.
The bus ministry consisted of the driver, the captain, and the runner. Burlingame already had a bus or two, and Roger was one of the first drivers. With a bit of Ron’s excitement beginning to spread, church young people and teenagers began coming out of the woodwork to be involved in a fun ministry that was reaching souls for God’s Kingdom.
Saturdays were the day that I began to live for. Going from door to door asking if there were any children who wanted to come to Sunday School was a ministry that really rang my bell. The more that kids came, the more they asked friends if they could come too. Many times a new rider would climb onto the bus without their parents ever having met me and not knowing what this church was even teaching their precious little child.
March ’77 Balloons
The bus ministry had promotion Sundays, like in March of ’77 where the kids were each given a helium filled balloon with the church address and Gospel message attached. After Sunday School the balloons were released and the bright colors disappeared up into the clouds. Then the message of salvation eventually drifted down from the heavens when the balloons finally popped. If the balloon and message were found, there was a prize to be had. (I believe, one for the finder and the sender.) The children that day were shown a “different” way of getting out God’s Good News.
With my Fred Meyer income now bursting in my pockets, I led the way in the decision in buying a bigger home. The location? As long as it was somewhere close to Ron’s house. Raleigh Hills was to be it—Boundary Street, a block off Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. A large home with a finished basement and a large lot. I knew this was going to be perfect.
So now our family is settled. I’m thirty-two, Audrey is twenty-nine, Jennifer is nine, Jason is six, and Christa is two. I’ve been a believer for nine years and a warehouseman for eight. God has been good to me. I have more than I could have ever dreamed of.
Though it escalated greatly in my “Bus Ministry” years, having a desire to help other people find Jesus as I had began a few years before. There were some children who came to Sunday School with a dear old lady who had a burden to see them find Jesus. But what about their parents? Witnessing of God’s plan of salvation was not something I found exactly natural from the start. Fear lingered over me always. But the working of God’s Spirit upon my heart to reach out to those poor lost souls won out. And because I was an extreme beginner, my plan was to visit a home, take a couple of the Four Laws of salvation booklets out of my pocket and hand one to my witnessing subject, and then begin reading from the other one, one sentence at a time. I don’t remember seeing a conversion in those early years, but my part was done. Now it was time for the Holy Spirit to do His part.
With the bus ministry growing week by week, there were gobs of opportunities to keep my witnessing fire going. A very ample amount of parents was all I needed to make my plan work. I simply asked them, on a Saturday visit or over the phone, if they would like to learn what we were teaching their children in Sunday School. Now my bravery had only grown from Beginner to Beginner First Class. So I needed to keep a large stock of Four Laws booklets on hand. Many homes heard for the first time the Good News of Jesus. Some of those placed their faith in the Savior.
There was the one visit on Audrey’s birthday (with Audrey) to a lady who was very anxious for somebody to explain to her about heaven and how to get there. Another decision came after Sunday School at a stop at a park where the children, and a father, heard the Old Testament story of Achan through a scroll-type picture story that I had made. At the opportunity to ask Jesus to be their Savior, the father’s hand was one of the ones to be raised. And there was the living room presentation where the mother prayed to ask Jesus into her life and the father opted to not.
I must have prayed for these new members of God’s family for some time. But then time got away from me, and the praying stopped. Though I have had no further contact with any of them, God convicted me two or three years ago to resume praying for them, thirty plus years after their decisions. And I’m not about to stop praying this time any time soon.
Praying with Audrey
It was in Audrey’s and my Young Married Sunday School class in the lower fireside room (amidst some other not-so-young marrieds) that, some how, I became convicted to spend time, at bed time every night, praying with Audrey. That is a pattern—a commitment—that we have not given up on over the decades sense.
March in March For Jesus
Within a year from my meeting Ron and my involvement in the Bus Ministry, the number of buses grew from the church’s one or two buses to an additional four rented ones. Our “old fashioned” idea of following the kids when they moved resulted in us picking up kids into northwest Portland and the east side, and south as far as Tualatin.
It was March of my second year into this new ministry that the idea came of a March in March for Jesus promotion. We were to have a large picnic at Gabriel Park after Sunday School with the special guest of Rusty Nails (our local clown celebrity). The turnout was great, and the number of riders on the Sundays to follow continued to grow.
I was having almost more fun than I could handle. Twice the attendance passed 200 riders. When it was only around 140 on a given Sunday, I would get depressed.
Then Ron’s time at Burlingame came to a close. This advanced me to be the director of all the Bus Ministry—a scary but fun change.
An Empty Bus
It was about five years into my time into this soul reaching ministry that a rather amazing thing happened. And if it was “amazing,” it had to have come from God. Jennifer, at about thirteen years old, was a bus captain of one of the routes. She was struggling with a low attendance on her bus. One Saturday we were visiting her route, and she blurted out, “I can’t get kids to come on my bus!”
With a short amount of time giving thought to this dilemma, I said, “Let’s pray about it.”
Well, after the prayer, which was offered up right there in the car parked a couple of blocks from Multnomah Boulevard, we came to Multnomah and a large apartment building. My suggestion to Jennifer was that we talk with the manager and ask if there were any children there. The manager gave us a rather gloomy response. Most of the tenants were Laotian and didn’t speak English. Well, we went ahead with what we had. (I believe that would be a definition of faith.) The one or two visits resulted in two or three kids on Sunday. That was, after all, two or three more than the Sunday before.
The next Saturday, though, was a day for Jennifer and I to have our faith stretched. After our visit to the kids that had come the previous Sunday, the miracle happened. I remember being surrounded by a bus load of Laotian kids wanting to sign up to ride the bus to Sunday School. Jennifer had more than she could ever have asked for. And at just being a beginning teenager, she was learning the power of prayer and the love of God that reached out to all nationalities. From a bus struggling to maintain a low number of kids, this young bus captain was now faced with a bus crammed full with excited smiling faces.
A Laotian Ministry
With the now weekly bus full of Laotian children, the parents as well were showing interest. They showed great hospitality to Jennifer and I on our Saturday visits, and we were having fun together and becoming good friends. “Sa bai di!” was our cheery greeting at each visit. (“Hello”—about the only word we knew.) The only problem was that of all the adults only a young college student spoke English. The transition to this next big step is not completely clear, but the young man became the translator for my adult Sunday School class to the Laotian parents. It became one of the largest adult Sunday School classes in the church. I believe it was the Gospel of Luke that I taught from. (And, of course, I had to hurry to class after unloading my bus to get there for my students.)
How much the parents retained from the lessons is unknown, but God knows. I’m sure that it made an impact on their children to see Mom and Dad learning the Bible along with them. And I had gotten free New Testaments for them in the Laotian language at a downtown Navigators center.
There was a trip to a Billy Graham crusade where Jennifer was one of the counselors. I believe there were a half dozen Laotian children that we took with us. At the invitation at the end of Billy’s message, all but two of the children went forward with Jennifer. It was Mary and her little brother who remained on the bench. I asked Mary why she didn’t go forward with the others. She answered that she had already asked Jesus into her heart. Mary is number one on my list of salvation decisions that I am now praying for every day.
While the bus ministry was growing and being a big part of my weekends, Jason and I began our series of hikes. First it was Burnt Lake when he was only nine. It was a week of camping by a lake and relying on Dad’s cooking for survival. The hike began after work and ended with flashlights in the increasing darkness. But it was a great time and was to be followed by many more hikes. There was the one to Cast Lake, two more on the north end of the Pacific Crest Trail (in grizzly bear country), and one with friends around Mount Hood. We saw scenery from the many viewpoints that only a very small percentage of people have ever seen.
When Jason was wearing down from a long hike, my regular response was, “Only one more mile.” It was only on the second Crest Trail hike that we had to give up after a few days of increasingly wet weather. A long detour hike to a campground got us a ride to the highway, and then a ride to Audrey’s Auntie Vi’s at Everett, Washington for the night.
A Broadening Ministry
Some abrupt news came into only a short time in Jennifer’s and my time working with the Laotians. Because of their rather un-American practices (like butchering a cow in the middle of their living room), they were all evicted. A good portion of them moved to the near in southeast side. That was just one more reason that the bus ministry boundaries had a tendency to spread. And the spreading was not universally accepted by all the church members. I even gave a “sermon” one Sunday evening in defense of my strategy. One Baptist church I talked with in the neighborhood of the Laotian move even said that they were not interested in picking up children in their neighborhood. That only fueled my passion to keep this ministry going no matter how far away they moved.
Enter Sonshine News. With the inevitable move of a family beyond our reasonable reach, or maybe one already moved, I had to continue a ministry somehow to these kids. It may have been during my working in the frozen food department of Fred Meyer in Sellwood that brought me past The Bee, a printing company. I took a trip upstairs to their business room and learned that I could make a tabloid size newspaper and mail it to children everywhere—as far as mail went. It also came to me that a non-prophet organization would get cheaper mailing rates and the ability for donors to my cause to declare their gifts to me on their income taxes. I went to work getting a 501(c)3 tax status. It all seems to be a bit of a blur in my memory, probably because my mind was traveling at warp speed. But the title of Sonshine News on my newspaper was only a short time away.
With empty layout sheets in hand, I headed to my den—my publishing office—and put stories and clip art together. Then it was back to The Bee for them to transform my rough drafts into copy for me to arrange on the layout sheets. My artistic lean was moving in a whole new direction. Then it was back to The Bee again for the final printing.
The next step was the preparation for mailing. My brand new computer and printer took in all the addresses I could find. I sorted the papers by zip code, bundled them, and was off to the main Portland post office. Now I could send the Good News of Jesus as far as I wanted.
The Birthday Club
The first issue was soon to be in the hands of children. The idea that just popped into my head to further promote this ministry was the somewhat controversial idea among my corporation board members of the additional ministry of a birthday club where the members, the subscribers to the newspaper, would receive a gift on their birthday. (My mind must have been getting tired from this almost daily increase in ideas.) The birthday club needs would, of course, demand more money and, therefor, more giving from the minimal amount of donors.
It was another “God” moment in my life on my way home from work one day. I saw a man walking along carrying a bag or briefcase. A voice in my head called out to me, “That poor helpless man needs a ride!” At that moment all my past experiences of not giving in to hitchhikers was stripped from my thinking. I felt sorry for him. I wanted to help him. I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to. With no little voice telling me otherwise, I pulled over and offered him a lift. It was then, traveling along I-205, that he informed me that he was a religious writer for the Oregonian. Then came my time to insert into the conversation that I was publishing a Christian newspaper for children. His eyes lit up, and he wanted to know more. The result of this God inspired hitchhiker help was in him coming into my basement den, taking a photo of me at work, and publishing an article on the work and ministry of Sonshine News. (And I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker since.)
Needs At Home
There were, unfortunately, only a half dozen issues printed over the few years. The tax status and corporation status of Sonshine News remain to this day (now under the name of Good News From God). The ending of the issues came, the most part, from needs at home that were not being dealt with as well as were needed. Family life was getting more and more complicated, and my mind was not broad enough to cover both needs. Something had to go, and I made the difficult decision to cut the strings on my newspaper that I dearly loved.
Bus Ministry Changes
The bus ministry didn’t just keep growing and growing during this time. My lack of sensitivity to the teachers and their needs as a result of the influx of kids into their departments was a problem that didn’t get my clear enough attention. And the church members’ involvement in this God blessing ministry had great room for improvement as well.
The first big “change” came when Pastor Steve called me into his office and suggested that we donate the Tualatin route to the new Tualatin church Burlingame had started. With a saddened heart from loosing all those kids we had worked so hard in getting, I reluctantly agreed. During the time that followed, however, it frustrated me that what we had invested so much work in, they got with no effort at all.
Next came Pastor Chuck’s announcement in a business meeting some time later that the bus ministry was not an effective ministry because it wasn’t reaching adults. Again I was unable at the time to speak any defense. But many times since, I stated that I was doing my part in reaching children (and some adults). It was the rest of the church that wasn’t mature enough to reach out to the parents of these eager children in their Sunday School classes.
With the bus ministry, therefore, shrinking, the rental buses were eventually all given up. Before I knew what hit me, we were down to two trips with the church van. Then came the final blow from Pastor Brad that there were seatbelt violations by doubling up two kids in one seat. The result: I used my van, and then finally my car.
Burlingame was seeing a huge decline in Sunday School attendance. Children left at home were getting a distorted view of the Christian life. And bus workers no longer needed were loosing their God-given vision of reaching out to the lost. With thirty-two years (all totaled) invested into the bus ministry (only quitting as a result of a big move from the greater Portland area), every year was a treasure to me, and every child an investment for eternity.
A Ministry Lost
It was in the latter 80’s that things at home reached the absolute bottom. I was serving at church as an elder among men that the church held up as spiritual leaders. I felt guilty being among men I viewed as spiritual giants. When I could hold it in no longer, I made the announcement that I was resigning from the Elder Board as a result of believing that I was not meeting the Bible qualifications for the job. The bus ministry was now all I had left.
A Ministry Added
My Sunday routine after Sunday School, during the latter years of the bus ministry, was to take the kids home and then return to church in time for the last ten or fifteen minutes of the service. But then it hit me one such day on my way back to church.
“I can’t go in there and be with all those smiling people. They couldn’t have the problems I have to deal with. I can’t stand seeing their peaceful faces when my home life is so messed up.”
It was Jason’s needs that wouldn’t let me be with the other people at church. I felt a failure, and I just wanted to be by myself during those few minutes after taking the bus kids back home. Sunday after Sunday the routine was the same. I would sit in the church parking lot with my weekly “Sunday depression” only growing worse.
When I was at my lowest, sitting in there in the van about quarter to twelve one Sunday, God’s voice came to me ever so clear.
“Those people in church could have problems as big as yours. Maybe they have family members too that don’t know the life Jesus holds out to them. Maybe they need someone to care for them and pray for their needs.”
Without wasting a minute, I was in church and casually asking, “Is there anyone in your family who doesn’t know the Lord that I could be praying for?” With only one exception I can think of in asking that question to many dozens of people over the years to follow, the answer was always, Yes. Then would come the name of a family member that needed my prayers. Though their faces didn’t show it, my church friends were weighed down with family needs just like me.
Over the many years that have followed that commitment, I have only added names to my list to pray for. Not one has been dropped. The words of Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens” became personal to me. Feeling sorry for myself was not the answer. In stead, it was living out the “body” life that Jesus’ church is meant to have.
In the midst of things being less than perfect at home, God gave me a new ministry. One that I could carry out wherever I was and whatever I was doing. I just needed to remember two things: 1) The needs in those other people’s lives hurt them as much as mine hurt me, and 2) Don’t stop praying till God tells me to, no matter how long my list.
It was about 1989 that we decided to downsize homes. With Jennifer and Jason no longer living with us, and our property tax only going up and up, a smaller home was what we decided on. For a year or so we rented a very small house off Pamona Street in southwest Portland. During this time, Christa brought home a little kitten. One that we had not specifically asked for. But that kitten over the next twenty-one years became part of our family. And, more than a family member, Mister Cat, a.k.a. Puddy, became our special greeter to all those entering our home.
Within a year, we moved to our smaller home on Dolph Street. Christa was beginning high school. I was solidly onto the day shift work of driving a forklift. Jason’s whereabouts was unknown. Drugs had stolen our son from us. And what was worse, drugs had stolen life from Jason.
Audrey and I made the commitment one day that Tuesdays would be a day of fasting for Jason. Much of my Tuesdays was spent praying and reading in my Bible. Only God could provide the answer to the problem in our lives. We were willing to sacrifice a day of food to show our dependence upon Him to work in Jason’s heart.
As the years passed, so did the praying and fasting. Our communication with Jason was sparse. Worrying was inevitable. Life continued, with Jason’s grandparents getting older. There was so much he was missing out on.
A Memorable Year
1994 was full of memories. Christa’s graduation from high school resulted in the gift of a ski trip to Big Mountain, Montana. Audrey and I didn’t ski, but I figured that I would just work on my computer while Jennifer and Christa had fun skiing.
For a day or two that’s just the way it worked out. Then came the package lesson offer that, with the girl’s encouragement, I’m sure, I decided to take. That one decision changed my whole skiing career. Day after day it was me who dragged in after my children had long since been worn out. I was hooked on ski lift number six. (A slight need here for a clarification to what I call skiing: Traveling on a slightly downhill slope at just a bit faster than a snow turtle.) I was with my family, though, and I was having real fun.
But 1994 also brought a double batch of bad news. Dad had a stroke. The only good news here was that it was a conventional stroke that, after a brief amount of time, had a reasonable recovery. Mom, on the other hand, had a TIA variety which is the kind that does not have the abrupt onset like Dad’s, but is progressive. While Dad appeared to be slowly improving, Mom’s memory and behavior was digressing.
It was about 1997 when Dad went to Meridian Park Hospital with appendix pain. After the needed surgery and Dad recovering, I was burdened to try to share the Gospel with him right there in the hospital. After as good a job as I could manage, I asked him if he would like to pray with me and ask Jesus to forgive his sin. He agreed, and we prayed. I knew he had been baptized in a Baptist church as a teenager which told me that he was already a believer, but I didn’t want to take a chance.
Then came a miracle. Jason called, and he and I headed for the hospital with a stop by McDonald’s to buy three chocolate milkshakes. It was a great experience the three of us together—three generations of chocolate milkshake drinkers.
At work, things were getting real good. The news came that when my age plus my time in the union totaled eighty-four years I could retire. That worked out to be April 30, 1999 at the young age of 53. Working then as a receiving clerk, I was definitely counting the days. I even began collecting calendars from the different trucking companies that delivered product, then circled my date, and hung them up on our garage wall.
But that day I had longed for had a horrible beginning. A phone call from Audrey that Dad had fallen led to a call I made to Mom that in turn led to me calling 911. I then raced out the warehouse door without a word to anyone and headed to Mom and Dad’s. The ambulance was already there. Upon walking in I discovered Dad on the living room floor. The 911 person told me that they had tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. My father was gone. And it all had to happen on Mom’s birthday. I lost a loving father and a great example I will always cherish.
By 2000 my daily Bible reading had been a pattern for many years. But now it was going to get bumped up a few notches. I had learned of a Bible reading program that had a series of daily questions to ask yourself as you read. I decided to do it. The questions were:
1) Is there any example for me to follow?
2) Is there any command for me to obey?
3) Is there any promise for me to claim.
4) Is there any error for me to avoid?
5) Is there any new thought about God Himself?
6) Is there any sin for me to forsake?
7) My primary application:
I used this pattern in my morning Bible reading. I decided that it was to be a “through the Bible” plan. I would do it on the computer day after day. Then, when I had finished the Bible from cover to cover, I would print it all out and put it in books to use going through my Bible reading in the years to follow. (After fifteen years, I am still working on trip through number three.)
Then came the decision in January 1, 2009 to take on an additional journaling approach, this time in an evening Bible reading. This too would be a read through the entire Bible program. I started in the New Testament and cut and pasted the whole Bible, one book at a time over years, into my word processing program. Then in my reading I could make footnotes or other notes as I read. Then I printed the Bible books into book form to use in the second and following readings. (As of 2015 I am over half way through my first time in the Bible this way, but I think it would have been a lot easier to just use my Bible and make the marks in it. But now I have six books for morning reading and will, some day soon, have about the same for evening.)
My retirement that was supposed to be a time of spending more time with Mom and Dad got an abrupt adjustment at Dad’s passing to just Mom. I had been helping her with her medications and making sure she took them. I started a Bible study with her at the dining room table going through one of the Gospels. At one point in our study together, I explained God’s salvation to her and asked if she would like to pray with me and ask Jesus to forgive her sin. She said, Yes, but that she would just pray in her heart. We prayed together, and I trusted God for what I couldn’t hear or know.
We had fun times together, Mom and I, but it was becoming increasingly evident that she couldn’t remain by herself. The decision was made to place Mom in an assisted living facility where she could get the care she needed. There were family parties with her and birthday celebrations at her new residence. Mom seemed to be enjoying life.
Then came the day when Mom fell in the shower and got a mean bump on the head. The doctor at the hospital said firmly that she must go to a foster home where she could get around the clock attention. One of the aids at the assisted living place had a sister that ran a foster home. That is where we decided to move Mom.
Though her mind was slowly slipping downhill, Mom appeared to be happy. With one great granddaughter for her to enjoy, there came a second one to put a smile on Mom’s face. There was a family trip to Cannon Beach and one to the Tulip Festival.
Then the bad news came that Mom had died in her sleep. I had now lost both parents that were looked up to over their lives together as two great people and, to many people, as great friends.
To make 2004 an even sadder year, Audrey’s mom lost her battle with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It had been difficult months for Audrey as more and more time had been needed in Helen’s care. I had lost a very dear mother-in-law and a great lady.
It was back during that first year of retirement that a new phase of ministry was thrust at me. It was a Sunday morning at church that a church supported missionary from Italy came to share about his ministry and a need that was soon to be upon him. He talked about a soccer festival that was planned for the coming September and that volunteers were needed. They would all be part of a team in reaching Italians for Jesus. Then some Burlingame men shared as well their testimonies of experiences working the previous year in Italy.
I had never before had any interest in visiting Europe. Warm places by a beach, yes, but not Europe. But there was that call—that need to help people find Jesus. Right there in the pew my personal calling turned to a decision. I would do it.
When September arrived, it was the entire Rossi family, Bill Hoffman, son-in-law Phil, and myself at PDX awaiting the adventure before us. Delta Ministries provided the training and the beginning lessons in learning Italian. The total group was about a hundred people from various parts of the country. All I had to offer was my very minimal language skill, my love for the Savior, and 100 5×8 copies of my salvation testimony translated into Italian.
The festival consisted of nine consecutive soccer matches between nine different Italian teams and a group of retired Brazilian soccer players who were part of a Christian organization called Athletes for Christ. For the nine nights the games were played, the Brazilians would spend time after the game sharing the Gospel with the Italian players. And before the fans could get out of the stadium, the Americans would offer them a copy of their salvation testimony.
Young Ben Rossi and I volunteered to do a night watch of the stadium and various equipment the first night after the game along with some of the Italians. (Those night watches over the years to come would leave many fun memories with Italian men along with growing friendships.)
The two-week ministry couldn’t have been more fun. The food wasn’t too bad either. Plus, we went on sightseeing trips that the Italians insisted that we take in order to see the sights of their country that they were so proud of.
On the way home I could only think of my burning desire to return to this fascinating land, and the thought that if I could hand out my testimony in Italy, I could do it at home as well.
Probably not too long after I unpacked my suitcases, I went to work on the computer making a bit more appealing version of my (English) testimony. It would be in color and have a double fold like a birthday card. When you unfolded it you would see God’s plan of salvation all spelled out. I had a bunch made, and then looked for opportunities to hand them out. I now had that same ministry of sharing my salvation testimony right here in America.
Trip #2, 3, . . .
Then I got better news than I could have ever hoped for. There was to be another Italy opportunity in 2001. My heart was longing for more than the food or scenery. I had a burden to see Italian people come to know Jesus. This trip would be working up north with a man I had already met, Giuseppe Palermo. I would go. I served alongside Giuseppe and our varying small teams three years in a row (2001, 2002, and 2003). Then it was back to Naples (Napoli) for an every other year ministry. Nine trips to date with #10 coming, Lord willing, in September (2015). A slight internal bleeding issue sent me to Napoli General in 2011 for a few nights and three units of Italian blood. But now having genuine Italian blood in me as a result compels me all the more to want to go back.
It was a life changing drive home from the airport from that 2011 (shortened) Italy trip. Besides my health need that was only partly over, Audrey gave me the news that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Now my health needs seemed much smaller.
Over the next year, Audrey had several frightening and very painful MS spasms. We made trips to her local neurologist, the emergency room, and trips into Portland to OHSU. There were several medication changes and even reactions to the medications. But with the last spasm being May 2012, we are now trusting the Lord for a spasm free future.
From about Italy trip number four onward things at home were getting very quiet—quiet in a bad way. Year after year passed with no word from Jason. Hearing about downtown Portland deaths in the skid row area on the eleven o’clock news sent fear through Audrey’s and my thinking about Jason. Where was he? Was he in danger? What was his health? But those questions were only followed by more prayer and the determination to not give up. All we had was our faith—faith that God would do His work in Jason’s life.
Praying For You
Years ticked by not knowing where Jason was or what he was doing. But an element of faith that I was learning was to trust God, pray, and follow Him wherever He leads. One such voice of leading was from a church meeting with a group named, I believe, Praying For You. There was a challenge given to ask a person’s neighbors if there was anything in their life that they could be praying for. I thought it was a great way to have a witness for the Lord. But my chicken side said, “Not in my neighborhood, that would be too scary.” I decided that the nearby church neighborhood would be perfect.
Week after week I knocked on unknown doors. Some responses to my question were, “No, thank you,” but at other doors I met people who were to become friends. Some shared deep family needs, while others related lighter weight requests. The important thing was that I was sincerely communicating the love of Jesus. And when I committed to pray for people, I returned every month or two to check on the progress. It wasn’t an appeal to get people to come to Burlingame Baptist Church, but just that they would learn a little bit more of the love of Jesus.
It was at a prayer breakfast at Burlingame that Bill, sitting next to me, had on this blue sport coat and a name tag hanging from his neck. He was a chaplain volunteer at Meridian Park Hospital. I was very intrigued by this and asked him if I could tag along with him some time. His response was that that was not the way it was done. I would have to go through chaplain training and become a chaplain volunteer myself before I could do patient visiting.
Interestingly, it was only a month or two away from the time of that training. I went to the hospital and got the training. By May of 2009 I was a Meridian Park Hospital Chaplain Volunteer. Saturday after Saturday I enjoyed spending time with Bill and then visiting patients.
Shortly after beginning this new ministry, I noticed a few Our Daily Bread devotionals around, but I don’t recall how they got there. I saw this as a great ministry to the patients and wanted to make sure they were available to any patient that wanted them. I put in an order for two hundred. They were delivered to my house, and then I whisked them off to the hospital where I made them very available to the chaplain volunteers to hand out. With the success of the two hundred, I increased my order to two-fifty. For many patients it is a welcomed gift that may just bring them to knowing Jesus as their Savior. To others they are a welcomed means of finally getting back into that daily routine of connecting with God.
Our Move – ’09
But a few months into this new ministry, there came an abrupt change. I had to make a decision. We had pretty much settled in to this life on Dolph Street. It was a quiet little neighborhood. Almost twenty years had passed with us in our humble home. Then it happened. Audrey made the announcement that had apparently been stewing in her mind for some time.
“I want to get out of Portland.”
Those words must have seemed confusing to me at first. But when it all sunk in, I flew up my ladder to my attic den and got to work on the computer to see what I could find. The days, and even months, flew by with potential new homes for us to view. We drove to house after house from Saint Helens to Roseburg and from Sweet Home to Elsie. Some were okay and others great. But the search continued, along with prayers, for that perfect house that was to be our home. For thirteen months we looked and prayed. Then came that day in August with our neighbor real estate friend Bobbie that we had four houses to look at. With three houses already viewed, it was beginning to have the look of another wasted day. Then came number four.
The view from the large circular driveway of this six acre home to across the road into the vast hundreds of acres backed by the Salem west hills had a very big impact on my thinking about this house possibility on Greenwood Road. Then I caught sight of the huge 40′ x 60′ outbuilding. I was sold. The trip inside the house was more me just following Audrey on her tour of a house that met her main requirement, “one level.” It had a pasture and a wooded area way in the back and buildings I still hadn’t even been in.
We told Bobbie that we wanted it, and within a few weeks we were renting a U-Haul and looking for helpers. My mind was filled with potential plans for some changes to this new home. But the house was now ours. God had blessed our looking and praying for the perfect home.
Now instead of being twenty minutes from the hospital, I was close to an hour away. But the decision on what to do was easy to make. I just couldn’t give up my joy in visiting at the hospital. I would continue the work there and spend time in the Portland area visiting family and Portland friends. I would just carry on this Saturday ministry mindset for an extra few hours and make my trip to Tualatin just part of my Saturday ministry.
My routine in the hospital visits was to offer my service to do anything I could for the patient. For many I was able to pray and then hand them a Daily Bread devotional booklet. The responses on a given Saturday were from no interest at all to being emotionally grateful for my visit. I have loved every Saturday over the years, and each of the weekly ten to fifteen visits. My underlying goal was to communicate to each patient that they were special enough for me to want to spend time with them and show sincere interest in what was on their hearts.
An extra amount of enjoyment for me during these visits was when a patient said that I could pray for them. Then I would ask if there was anything special that I could pray about. Often the request then would reveal a deep need or fear or even a concern at home that weighed on their heart. I knew then that I was having a meaningful ministry to the person that very possibly could have been overlooked.
As much, though, as Audrey and I continually thanked God for His goodness to us in giving us the home of our dreams, there remained that emptiness from having no idea as to Jason’s whereabouts. Thankful for one, and left aching for the other.
Then came the call that changed everything. Jason had written a letter to his cousin Nancy. He was in prison in Pendleton. With a bit of a blur here in memory, the next thing I knew, I was driving the 265 mile, four hour trip, to Pendleton. Seeing that Jason grin in that upstairs cafeteria-type room shouted loudly, “The years of silence, Dad, are all behind us now.”
Those full day trips were happy trips though. We were going to see our son. Those times visiting with Jason brought more and more fun with every visit. Then came the news that Jason would be transferred to Salem. That brought the visits from every other month to monthly and the mileage to near zero. He had moved from working in the laundry to working in the motor pool; from folding clothes to welding; from a mindless chore to the job of his dreams. God’s grace was at work. He had opened the door wide for Jason to be working at what he loved doing. He was now making things for the prison; their resident welder. And he was working on a personal project that he was eager for us to see.
Jason’s Release – February 2012
Then the time for release was upon him, and he was told that he was not going to be able to take the “motorcycle” he had made home with him. But he made an appeal to the warden and, to his defense, reminded the warden of all the signs and equipment that he had made for the use of the prison. His appeal worked, and his pride and joy was loaded into the back of our car for the trip home.
Though I had talked with his counselor and had a plan for Jason’s probation county to be changed from Multnomah to Polk, Jason had decided to return to Multnomah county and Portland. Though we were very discouraged over his return to the very area we associated with the problems he had had, he was an adult, and his choice was made. All we could do now was to continue to pray.
The answer to this prayer came in only a week or two when his probation officer called us with the news that Jason’s reporting county was being changed to Polk. Our hearts were overjoyed. God had poured out His grace one more time. I picked Jason up near Burnside, and the two of us headed for Rickreall. With twenty-three years past, Jason was finally back home.
Home at last
It was not the old Jason of ’89 that left our lives with evident communication barriers between us that was now once again making our home his home. This was a Jason we had gotten to know well over the many preceding months of visiting. Yes, he was now an adult, but he was an adult who wanted the wrong choices he had made over too many years to remain in his past. And . . . I now had a man around the house to help me with little projects.
We were now settled into our country home. The perfect church came just a few weeks after we had moved in. Audrey’s dad was living with us a great deal of the time and went to church with us. The first few Sundays we attended a church in downtown Salem. Then Audrey was out driving in our neighborhood and spotted a cute little nondenominational church just up our road that was built in 1882. With a potluck dinner across the street from this church at the grange hall the following Sunday, the decision was made. We would give it a try. In the weeks to follow, it was an easy decision to make Oak Grove Church our church home.
All settled into our new home, the idea came to me of building a website. With hours spent in front of the computer, and help from Dan, Jesse and Dave, the pages became the website, Good News From God. Then, with that ongoing burden for the Italian people, Nunzia, a new acquaintance from Italy, along with Dan’s Italian knowledge, the Jesus Lessons were translated into Italian. And then, from an inquiry about Spanish material, the lessons have been translated into Spanish. But the work of marketing the lessons still has much room to grow.
We found the perfect home and the church where God wanted us. But there were all those neighbors around us. I decided to go to the library and, with the help of a reverse directory, get the names and addresses of people all around our house. They all needed to know Jesus too. I would start praying for their salvation every night.
Then that practice of going door to door back in Portland returned to my thinking. Could I do that here in my new neighborhood? It did sound a little scary. But the day did come when I made that first visit, and then more followed. They came at a very slow pace and with large gaps between them (partly from a busy schedule). But the burden for my neighbors still remains. I still want to see them come to know Jesus.
With Helen gone, Audrey’s dad always seemed more than willing to spend time with us. He helped me mow the lawn, and just enjoyed the country life and being with family.
It was on our 2010 trip to Maui, about a week into it that we got the heart breaking news from Audrey’s brother, Richard, that Ralph had passed away while in the hospital recovering from a surgery. We ended our vacation, and headed home. I was so thankful for the time we had Ralph with us, and thankful too for the many days Richard had to spend with his dad.
It was a bit of a jolt to me in our church annual business meeting in 2012 when Bill nominated me to be the church’s first elder. He based this decision on my experience as a hospital chaplain volunteer. Before I knew what was going on, I had the job. No particular job description was stated, but visiting church members was definitely implied.
The first couple of years the visits were few. Visiting people was definitely where my heart was, but between the lack of church needs and my other ministry involvements, I only made a half dozen or so visits over those first years. Over the past year, however, I have really gotten into it. The needs of the individual members has also increased with the number of visits over the past year near twenty.
Visiting people has always been a great joy for me. From the first bus ministry visits sharing the Gospel, to the Praying For You visits in the neighborhood, to visiting the patients at Meridian Park and the many Saturday visits to family and friends afterward, and now the church member visits, I know it is God’s leading in my life. Whether I share the Gospel, or pray, or just ask how I can be praying for them, I love every visit. With family members, strangers, neighbors and church members, my desire is, in some way, to share Jesus.
A Bible Study
It started with a phone call from Vern, one of the Oak Grove Church attenders. He wanted to get together at his office and talk about church. I was game for the idea. Then it was a ways into our discussion that Gerry’s name came up, which led to my thinking of asking Gerry if he would like to be in a Bible study with me. I hadn’t thought about having a Bible study with anyone before that moment. Now I was rather excited about the idea of leading a Bible study through the seven Jesus Lessons from Good News From God.
I gave Gerry a call and he said he would like to be in a Bible study. Gerry even brought up the idea of asking other men if they would like to be in it. At my request, Gerry made calls to the church men. The result ended up with Gordon joining our study.
For several weeks we met at Gerry’s house with Gerry’s wife, Caroline, becoming increasingly interested and ultimately, at my strong invitation, becoming a regular part of the group. While, I trust, the others have been learning Bible truths and a fuller perspective of the Christian life, I have been learning more of the how-tos of good Bible study leading.
It was May of 2013 that I began sending weekly Bible verses, in photos I had taken, to the Italians every Monday through the Facebook friends I had. The number of Italian friends has grown now to over 350. I get responses back on most of the verses from Likes to comments, and some have shared the verses with their friends.
I also started about the same time sending the picture verses to American friends via Facebook and email. I have about 300 American friends that get the verses as well. Along with the verses, I also post on Facebook (most of the time) a monthly blog and a website page link.
I left Burlingame and the bus ministry back in 2009. But the now 50 mile distance between those kids and me has not removed them from my mind, heart, or prayers. My Saturday trips to the hospital now include times of visiting my now young adult friends. My desire is to help them experience all the spiritual growth God has for them (and now their families, as well).
A New Life
So now it is nearing summer of 2015. Almost six years have passed with us being in our little country home in Rickreall. My days are filled with either family, ministry, or the many fun little chores in keeping our acreage looking the way we want. My retirement days are enjoyable days of doing what I like and, much of the time, doing what God has gifted me to do. The God who was only a name in the Bible while I was growing up has become my day-by-day companion. He has been the source of my daily joy, hope, and just plain fun. When my life is in an upswing, He is right beside me. When things are not going as well as I would like, Jesus is the One I trust for the never ending joy and peace that only He can give.
My unsuccessful search for faith in myself as a child has been replaced with a very confident faith in the One who now lives in me and is my day-by-day Friend and Savior.