Like Those Who Dream, Chapters 20 and 21
-Roy Lessin, Meeting in the Meadow
Christian ministry includes everything in our lives that is done as “unto Jesus.” It can be a small thing or a big thing. It can be done before others, or it can be done privately. It can happen in a church building, on the job, or at home. It can cover anything from preaching or teaching, to ironing clothes or baking a cake.
“Let ‘Er Flow”
It didn’t take our family of four long to pack our things and move from my dad’s house in Whittier to our new location in Azusa, about thirty minutes away. Our transportation was a 1957 green Chevy that I bought for $100. It was many times past its prime and had holes in the floorboard that allowed you to see the road below.
We would be living at a place called the “G.O. House”. The G.O. stood for Gospel Outreach. It was a long, green, ranch style house that sat on a large lot located between a busy boulevard and a drive-in movie theater. It included a nice kitchen on one end, two bedrooms and a bath on the other end, and a huge living room in the middle. The backyard was tree lined and private.
The house had been purchased by Don and Dean. The garage space was used to keep a small printing press. The inside of the house was primarily used to hold Friday night meetings where believers from the area would gather to fellowship, pray, and minister to personal needs. At times, different speakers were invited to share on Friday nights.
When Don hired me to work with him at Fellowship Press he had limited cash flow and was not able to pay me a livable wage. To make up the difference he offered us the G.O. house at a very low rent, one that would fit our budget. Char and I kept up the grounds at the G.O. House and became the host and hostess whenever people came for home meetings.
My time at Fellowship Press was fast paced, pressure packed, and highly enjoyable. The print shop was a large square shaped building divided into three sections. The front section included an entry way and a main counter. In the corner was a small table that held an assortment of wedding book announcement samples. The middle section included two printing presses, a light table, a couple of desks, and a darkroom. The paper cutter and a storage area were in the back section of the building. I loved going to work each day, learning things about the printing business, helping to keep the shop going and growing, and building a closer relationship with Don Leetch.
Don’s main work was in the middle of the shop, running the printing press. At first, my main work was up front, waiting on customers, taking in jobs, and writing up wedding announcement orders. When Don had time, he taught me how to prepare jobs for the printing press—which included learning to use the dark room, develop and prepare film, and burn plates for press runs.
Don had a great way of teaching. It was called the “Let ‘er flow” method. It wasn’t super technical, but it was highly practical. Don’s philosophy was to get the job done in the best and quickest way possible. The printing business was all about getting the work out the door and meeting deadlines. It seemed as though everything that came in was a rush job. As I got into the swing of things and started being more productive, I could hear Don yell out from the back of the shop, “Let ‘er flow!”…It was a great way of releasing pressure, like steam from a pressure cooker. The pressure eased somewhat when Dean returned from language school in Mexico.
About the time Dean came back, my 1957 Chevy gave out and I had to put it to rest in a local auto salvage lot. For the next six months I was without a car. My only transportation was a bicycle. It was a ten mile roundtrip bike-ride to work each day. Char and I had decided before we were married that we would not borrow money from people, keep from spending money we didn’t have, and stay away from debt.
When our car broke down we didn’t have the money or the income to buy a car or make payments. We weren’t sure how we would do grocery shopping and the other practical things a car provided, but we believed the Lord would work it out. One day we got a phone call from a young Christian woman we had met at church. She said that the Lord had put us on her heart and she wanted to help us with our transportation needs. For the next six months, whenever she went shopping, she would give Char a call and pick her up if Char needed to go. The greatest blessing to come out of that time was the friendship that developed between them.
I was at Fellowship Press about seventeen months when I heard of a Christian conference to be held at Campus Crusade for Christ’s main headquarters in Arrowhead Springs, California. I was interested in the conference and was able to work out the necessary transportation to attend. During the conference I was relaxing in the main lounge area when, to my surprise and delight, I saw T.A. Hegre, the president of Bethany Fellowship Bible College. We greeted each other warmly and had a nice long visit. Before I left the conference, Mr. Hegre told me about the work Bethany Missions was doing in Puerto Rico, which included a large and prosperous Bible Bookstore.
“How about joining us and becoming a part of the ministry in Puerto Rico,” he said.
I didn’t know how to respond, but it sparked an interest and I told him I would prayerfully consider it.
When I got back home I told Char about the conference and my time with T.A. Hegre. As we discussed the offer to go to Puerto Rico and work with Bethany Missions we both warmed to the idea and began to seriously consider it. We realized there would be a price to pay and didn’t take it lightly. I started reading all I could find on Puerto Rico and stirred the information into the pot of prayerful consideration. As the pot brewed, the decision to go became clearer and we both sensed this was God’s next step for us. Once our hearts were settled, I talked with Don and Dean and told of them I would soon be leaving the print shop to join Bethany Missions.
Chapter 21: Return to the Mission Field
God’s sweetest fellowship is for our loneliest journey;
His richest supply is for our neediest hour;
His closest embrace is for our deepest pain;
His brightest light is for our darkest day.
Our family was on the move again. We said goodbye to the G.O. House, to Don and Dean, to Fellowship Press and to our friends and loved ones in the LA area. This time it looked like our desire to be fulltime on the mission field was finally going to happen. It was a big step for us, but we sensed it was the right move at the right time.
Becoming a part of Bethany Missions meant that we would need to turn over everything we had to the mission. This meant all our pots and pans, linens, dishes, and anything else we owned. The reason for this policy was because Bethany Missions operated communally. Missionaries lived on the property that was owned by the mission. Missionaries were given private sleeping quarters, but everything else was equally shared by the missionary staff. This helped the mission to be self-supporting and operate at a lower cost because all resources could be pooled together. For meals, everyone ate in the dining area. The meals were prepared by a kitchen staff, laundry was done by a staff member assigned to the laundry. The mission owned a number of vehicles, and if a missionary needed a car he or she would put in a car request and check out the car for a certain amount of time. Char and I had no problem turning in our possessions to the mission. We felt that we would be with Bethany Missions for the long haul and had no plans of returning to the States.
Our route to Puerto Rico included a stopover in New York City to visit some friends who were working with Teen Challenge in the inner-city. Even though I was born in New York and made many visits there while growing up in Los Angeles, it was the first time for Char to be in the city. We rode the subway, toured Manhattan, took in the Broadway Musical Fiddler on the Roof, saw the Statue of Liberty, and even drove upstate to see the country around West Point.
In addition to our sightseeing experiences, we were able to see New York through the eyes of those who worked at Teen Challenge, a perspective most tourists never witnessed. It was a reminder of the power of God to change lives that were once held captive by the power of drugs, the fear of gangs, and the torments of Satan.
Once we arrived in Puerto Rico we were picked up by a Bethany staff member and taken to Liberia Betania in San Juan. Liberia Betania was the name of Bethany’s Bookstore and included all the property and buildings associated with the mission. Char and I and our two children were housed in rooms near a central courtyard that included a basketball hoop and play area. Liberia Betania was located in a busy area of the city but the fenced-in grounds of the property provided some quiet and lots of privacy.
The leaders of the work at Liberia Betania were Rolf and Mary Garborg, dear friends of ours and former schoolmates at Bethany Fellowship Bible College. Rolf was one of my roommates and Mary was Char’s first cousin. We loved being with them and the others on staff. There were many sightseeing adventures as we discovered the Island for the first time…including the beaches, rainforest, market places, luxurious hotels, and quaint shopping spots in Old San Juan.
Rolf was a great mentor for me. He taught me many of the ins and outs of marketing, sales, and distribution of Christian books. There was a small warehouse attached to the back of Liberia Betania that served as a distribution center for several Spanish publishers in the States. Rolf’s thinking was to bring the bookstore to the Island instead of waiting for the Island to come to the bookstore.
Being a distributor gave Bethany Bookstore the opportunity to connect with other bookstores, churches, and ministries throughout the island. Rolf and I took many trips together placing Christian books such as Cross and the Switchblade and Run Baby Run in book racks at the airport, in shopping malls, and at Ramey Air Force Base (the perk of visiting the base was being able to play golf on their course with beautiful ocean views). Another way we sold Christian books was by setting up book tables at various church conferences, meetings, and women’s events. One of Char’s jobs was working in the warehouse doing inventory and shipping out orders that came in from around the island each week.
Bethany had a one year trial period to help new missionaries determine if Bethany Missions was for them. Although we had hoped that would be the case, the longer we stayed, the more uncertain we became.
Char and I were both certain the Lord had directed our decision to go to Puerto Rico, but it was hard for us to understand why it was short-term. It wasn’t until we returned to the States that we began to understand that God did not send us there to adjust to a new life-style, but to receive a new vision for Christian literature and the power of His working through the printed page.
(Join us next week as we continue this journey of Roy's memoir, Like Those Who Dream. The book is available through DaySpring and Christian retailers everywhere.)
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©2022, Roy Lessin, Meeting in the Meadow. ©2021 DaySpring, used with permission. All rights reserved.