STORIES FROM OLD JOE
1963-64 — AT BOEING, MY FIRST JOB, PRAYING ABOUT HOW TO SPEND MY LIFE
A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. — Proverbs 16:9
In 1963, my senior year at the University of Washington, I was doing a lot of the former.
I had a part-time job at Boeing as a draftsman. Boeing ran a small drafting center right next to the University District. The pay was decent and you were guaranteed 16 hours a week. In reality the center existed as a recruiting tool so Boeing would have first dibs at hiring you as an engineer when you graduated. I didn’t enjoy the work much, but, it was money, and it looked like it would pave the way for a job as an engineer right there in Seattle. I had already decided that I better get a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering, and I knew that Boeing would pay for most of it.
That spring, because of my involvement with both Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ, the Seattle directors of both outfits met with me individually and challenged me to consider joining their full-time staff when I graduated. I decided “no” on both of them because I felt like I’d better give engineering a try since I had spent four years getting the degree.
So around July first, I went to work for Boeing as an engineer without a lot of thought, or interviewing elsewhere, or prayer. It just seemed natural. I didn’t have to move anywhere, I could see whether or not I liked engineering and they would pay for my next degree. It proved to be the toughest year and three months of my employed life.
Our group of ten engineers worked on the Minuteman missile testing at Cape Canaveral (www.boeing.com/boeing/history/boeing/minuteman.page). The task seemed somewhat ill-defined, and it was as though four or five people could have done this task instead of ten. Not having enough to do, I spent a lot of time trying to look busy. I got really good at it, but sure didn’t like it. Boeing didn’t seem to notice. I really thought I’d picked a loser of a job.
But, the upside of that year was definitely the many coffee break/conversations with God I had. I told him many times that I would really rather spend the rest of my working years doing something significant. Anything but this. But that I would be willing do this if he really wanted me to. I remember memorizing the poem, Invictus, by Henley on some of those breaks. The poem’s last line reads “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” I got the whole thing memorized, and then I realized that even though I knew what he was trying to say, in one sense it was really not what I believed at all. I believed that God acted in that capacity, not me. If I gave myself seriously to following him, he would be the captain of my soul.
So at Christmas that year, a friend named Lou Nickols and I got together. He also had graduated in engineering that previous June. He had been working for Standard Oil in a small town in the middle of nowhere outside of Bakersfield, California. He was going nuts too. So he suggested that we both try to get into Stanford and get an MBA. It sounded good to me. (But I do remember asking him what an MBA was.)
In January I looked into it and discovered that the last opportunity to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) was this coming Saturday. I signed up, took it, filled out all the application forms and essays, and waited. During this waiting period, I prayed a lot. I had in mind that if I was not accepted I would enroll at Dallas Theological Seminary, and maybe become a pastor. I took a few days off and my dad and brother and I drove to Palo Alto to interview personally at Stanford because the registrar’s office said that it would be helpful. I had a discouraging meeting with the registrar; they had 1100 applications for 220 spots. They had already made decisions on 190 of those, but that they had another 300 applications to go through for the remaining 30 spots. I drove home thinking my chances were less than good. Ten days later the letter from Stanford arrived, and, to my surprise, I was in!
So I got to Stanford in September of 1964 . . . loved the place. Fell in love with Cherry. Met my good friend Craig. Got involved in Young Life as a volunteer. Got married. Graduated in 1966. Was accepted into a special program which Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena offered. Every other year they would hire four guys with engineering undergraduate degrees and MBA’s from good schools and train them to be administrative assistant to division heads. I opted out of the program half way through, and became a systems engineer in charge of a number of subsystems on a spacecraft which was to fly by Mars in 1969. I really liked the challenges of the job, and did well. And, incidentally, I continued to volunteer with Young Life.
But Cherry and I didn’t want to raise our new little boy in the smog of southern California. So we moved back to the San Francisco Bay area in 1968, where I got a job as a product marketing manager for ATI, a division of Itek Corporation. Did a lot of travelling around the country and a little around the world. Was responsible for selling our equipment to the Navy and Air Force. It was a good job and I was decent at it. And I continued my volunteer involvement with Young Life. Kids were meeting Christ in my club, and it was very exciting.
One night, I had left my Young Life club and caught the “red-eye” to Washington DC to do my business in the Pentagon the next day. I often did that. I would schedule all my trips around my club. Of course, my boss didn’t know that, but I was mostly my own boss, anyway. That night on the airplane I couldn’t sleep much because I kept thinking about the Young Life club I had just left. It occured to me that I was tremendously more excited about the Young Life club and sharing with kids about Jesus than I was about what I was going to do in the Pentagon the next morning.
So I went home, asked Cherry what she would think about us making a career change and me being full-time with Young Life. She said something like . . . hey . . . I’m with you. If that is what God is calling us to, then let’s do it.
So on January first in 1971 I joined the full-time staff of Young Life. I loved the challenge and the rewards of this difficult new task. But, more than that, I seemed to be made for it.
Starting nine years later, I had a number of speaking assignments for a month during the summers at Young Life’s Malibu Club. Malibu is a beautiful camp at the juncture of two inlets in British Columbia, Canada.. It is easily one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and here I was, telling 230 new kids each week about Jesus. At the end of the week many, many kids would stand up and declare their intention to follow him.
It was at Malibu in the middle of one of those speaking assignments, that I found myself walking down the boardwalk, looking out at the spectacular Jarvis Inlet and thanking God for the privilege of being here and doing what I got to do. It didn’t seem like work. It seemed like an incredible privilege. And then I remembered those prayers during my coffee breaks at Boeing sixteen or seventeen years earlier. I had prayed that I would get to do something significant with my life. And here I was in this beautiful place telling a whole bunch of great kids about God’s life-changing love for them. I was overwhelmed with gratefulness at how God had answered those prayers. And I have thought about it many times since.
Switch to twenty years later. 2000. My very first trip to Russia. I was in my room in a dorm at a camp outside Moscow reviewing a talk I was about to give. I was the main speaker at a leadership conference for 160 Young Life leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. I was sharing some of the basics of relational evangelism with kids.
Again I remembered those prayers at Boeing. And I loved it that instead of my job having to do with pointing missiles at Russians, here I was helping to point the next generation of Russians to Jesus. Quite the difference. God is so creative in his guidance and his answers to prayer.