After receiving my degree from Adrian College – a United Methodist school in Southeastern Michigan – I accepted a position in the up-and-coming semiconductor industry as a second-shift manufacturing engineer. Findlay, Ohio, had a multi-denominational seminary run by the Church of God with faculty from various churches in town, and since I had my days free I enrolled as a student. I had no aspirations of going into the ministry; I just wanted to increase my theological knowledge as a means to deepen my faith. I had been very active in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship in college, including participation in a month-long resident leadership course my senior year, and this seemed to be a good continuation of those studies. John Charles Cooper, a former student of Paul Tillich and a well-known author (Religion After 40, etc.) took me on as a graduate student.
Two years into my studies – about half way to my Masters of Divinity – I was called into the Plant Manager’s office and assigned as Resident Engineer to a facility that we were contracting with in California’s Silicon Valley. This was a huge career opportunity, especially for an engineer as young as I was. I jumped at the chance, dropped out of seminary, and went off to California without looking back. Things continued to go very well and I was given gradually increasing responsibility. I was on the fast track.
After about a year in California, things in the semiconductor industry started going downhill. RCA was very hard hit, and the California facility was closed and I moved back to Ohio. Things continued getting worse, and layoffs began. I was part of a 14-man engineering group, and one by one we were reduced in size. I felt safe, as I was a “fast tracker.” There was, however, a twist. While I was working in California, I changed bosses. My new boss didn’t know me that well, and he had gotten along without me in Findlay while I was on assignment on the West Coast. After six layoffs in our group, I heard my name over the paging system to report to the Plant Manager’s office, and I knew what that meant. All of a sudden I didn’t have a job. Complicating the situation was the fact that I was getting married in four weeks, and my wife had given her notice on her job so that she could move to Ohio after the wedding.
What I didn’t know at the time was that God was prepping me for the direction that He was going to lead me. I had a lot to learn – contrary to my belief that I was “hot stuff.” In His infinite wisdom, He knew exactly what I needed and exactly what I didn’t need. He also knew that I needed some intensive self-examination, and He had just the way to make that happen.
Back to my thoughts at the time. I struggled with what I wanted to do with my life – stay in semiconductors or find a new profession that was more recession-proof. This went on for about three months until I felt a call to the professional ministry. This was not a job opportunity – it was truly a call to the ministry. I knew it was going to be a rough road ahead, my wife supporting me while I finished seminary. I also knew that I would have to live with at least two more years of schooling. Income was not an issue – my wife was very supportive of following the call and living on a pastor’s salary rather than an engineer’s salary. I contacted Methodist Theological Seminary in Ohio and was accepted as a student. I believed that my life direction had been set, and I began making preparations to move to Worthington.
At this point, strange things began to happen. First, the married-student housing didn’t have a vacancy. I was told that this never happened – they always had empty units. Undeterred, I began looking for cheap housing in the area until something opened up at the seminary. Second, I was not able to secure a fellowship. I had two years of coursework with a 4.0 GPA, so this should not have been an issue. Again, I was told there were almost always fellowships available. I now started to question whether this was a legitimate calling. Was God testing my resolve to do His will, or was he trying to tell me something else?
For the next week I kept praying for guidance, but was not feeling led in either direction. Finally, I decided to take some guidance from Gideon. Remembering the story of him throwing out a fleece to seek God’s guidance, I decided to follow suit. Before bed that night, I prayed, “God, please show me what you would have me do. Let me know if I should continue my call to the ministry or if I should take my life in another direction.”
Within an hour of waking, my telephone rang. It was an engineering manager at a semiconductor company asking if I would be willing to come in for an interview – one of their engineers, a former colleague at RCA, had recommended me for a position that had just become vacant. This was my first contact with someone in the semiconductor industry in more than three months, and it came immediately after my “throwing out a fleece.” I did not believe that this was a coincidence – I knew in my heart that this was God’s answer to my request for guidance. The professional ministry was not to be my destiny.
At this point, however, I felt the peace of God flow over me. The decision was made, and I knew that the direction that I was going was God’s will. While I was hoping to move to the professional ministry and was excited that I would be serving God in a very public way, I now knew that that was not where God wanted me to be. I didn’t know where God would lead me from this point, but what I did know was that I would be doing what He wanted me to do.
Come back next Friday for Part II of John's Story