Because our church was growing, newspaper display ads seemed the obvious next step, until the editor mentioned the cost. It suddenly occurred to me that not even award-winning advertising would bring the whole town to church.
A still, small voice chirped into my confusion: “Why not write a weekly column, so you can reach people wherever they are?”
“But I’ve never done that before,” I protested.
“So you’ve never failed at it, have you?” came the reply.
When I phoned the editor back, his response was simple: “Make each one 250 words and there’ll be no charge!”
So my weekly column was born. Something of a surprise, despite my being doubly-blessed: with an ideal face for radio; and a wonderful voice for writing.
As its syndication has increased I’ve met many editors, whose ability to juggle breaking news, investigations, scoops and advertising space requirements, with the range of regular and special features, truly amazes me.
I also enjoy their sense of perspective and their skill within the world of words. There was old Herman, whose dry wit was legendary.
A photographer’s picture of a school crossing where a worker had inverted a lettering stencil; leaving “SLOM” on the road instead of “SLOW;” received Herman’s laconic caption: “Waking Wotorists Monder!”
Herman had also once captured the mob-mentality of protests. By cropping every marcher except one at the edge of the crowd, his front-page photo of a lone demonstrator flanked by police was headed: “Need directions? Ask a policeman!”
But one week he also trapped me by placing a buxom cartoon figure, complete with a horned Wagnerian helmet, with my column. Seeking to encourage readers to see their challenges through, I’d mentioned sopranos who bring operas to a close, and urged them not to start wanting to hear “the fat lady sing” if life was getting tough.
The next week a scathing letter was published from a lady reader, accusing me of demeaning all women. Herman’s terse comment to me: “She’s more ‘venomist’ than feminist. Probably so narrow-minded she can see through a keyhole with both eyes - at the same time!”
Frank’s quiet warmth is a very strong memory for me. He had ink in his veins, and never paraded his working with Australia’s newspaper giants, like the late Sir Keith Murdoch - father of media magnate Rupert.
When we met he’d stepped back to edit a free weekly householder tabloid with a large regional daily; mentoring young tyros who dreamed of breaking Watergate-sized scoops. He was committed to helping them see fresh angles on local events and let people tell their own stories, for he knew the damage that misplaced zeal or aggressive questioning could do.
He welcomed my articles, seeing them as pitched at people who would never know which church they avoided, and he appreciated my avoiding what he termed “bible-powered belligerence.” And in those days before e-mail’s instantaneous contact, each week I dropped in my work; double-spaced on five-by-eight copy paper; and we’d enjoy a few minutes’ brief conversation.
I never thought too much about these conversations, but some years after he retired his wife Patricia phoned me. Frank was in the last stages of cancer and wanted to see me.
I visited several times, as Frank told his story and asked me his questions, and as we prayed together. His career had shown him so much that could never be published, so he did not need to be told about the reality of sin. He’d read my columns and he wanted to be sure of the grace and forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers.
It was a privilege to lead him into that grace, and to see his inner peace grow during his last few weeks with us, despite the relentless ravages of his illness.
Media people attended his funeral from far and near, and I shared with them how Frank had accepted God’s offer of eternal life in Christ. I knew that God’s grace had reached through their professional facades and objectivity, for after I closed the service several of them opened up to me about their personal issues.
I’d love to report of mass conversions in Australian media, but they never happened. However, some high-profile personalities have sensed a touch of hope, and God is preparing someone else to feed that hope further into their future.
Writing: it’s fun; it’s hard work; and thankfully it’s a tool that God can use to affect people we might never expect to reach.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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