I write this with the hope that it will encourage you to consider your own experience and the ways in which God can use everyday challenges to make life better for you. He wants to use the tough spots to draw us closer to Himself, but that often depends on choices we make.
I was the unexpected second-born of twins. Despite the fact that ours was a Christian home, there was a certain way in which I grew up on the edge of our family dynamic rather than being in the main stream with my parents and siblings. Looking back - - I sort of needed to earn the right to be part of the family. Fortunately, God used that to draw me to Himself.
Early on I had some sense of finding my personal identity and worth from Him. Birth order and other childhood experiences have potential to either enrich or handicap us, and often it depends on what we look for in those memories and how we chose to respond to them as an adult.
After graduation from high school in ’58 I was in business with my father and brother. We bought and sold aircraft parts and did forest spraying with aircraft. Some deep and painful tensions arose between my father and me.
I learned a lot of important life principles from Father. He imparted to my twin Karl and me an attitude toward life and flying that included the deliberate and thoughtful balancing of risk and safety. He modeled diligence and excellence; a strong work ethic; and living with integrity. He saw to it that we were in church regularly with Mother even if he was too tired to go himself. He gave us opportunity to fly advanced aircraft earlier in our flying career than most did. I’m so grateful for all of that and more.
However, Father’s approach to life was strongly influenced by the Great Depression. There was a winter back then when he couldn’t afford shoes, and he had several such memories. He determined that his family would never suffer need. Toward that end our typical work schedule, even after I was married, was a 70-hour week. We started at 7:30 a.m. and often worked until 9:00 p.m. with a short time off for lunch and supper. Getting off by noon on Saturday was a big deal.
I always wanted to be involved in church activities. We had fund-raising projects in the summer such as raising tomatoes or pumpkins, and I often had responsibility there. And I wanted to attend mid-week services and go to my friends’ weddings. I enjoyed hard work and lots of it but I needed more than that out of life. I was married at 19 and “Dad” when I was 20, and wanted to spend time with my family.
More than anything, I longed to somehow be connected to God in everything I did. The God who had become such a big part of my personal identity. Yes, I wasn’t always a good boy in my teens but there was still this sense of “God and me.”
I felt that we should be giving more through the business and getting involved with those in missionary aviation. We should use our truck to move a tent for a Christian ministry. All of that was simply central to who I felt myself to be as a child of God and a citizen of His kingdom. It didn’t harmonize well though, with Father’s drive as he navigated the path toward having “enough.” He said that I wanted to give everything away.
Father and I had an increasingly tense relationship as we attempted to work together. He was quite “old school” in his use of control to try to achieve what he sincerely felt were worthy goals for his family. I was a growing Christian and really wanted to do the right thing, but the more he insisted on his way, the more empowered I became to follow what I believed was the right thing for me in my walk with God.
The pilgrimage took a major turn in August 1967 when I loaded my family (now Elaine and our two and 8/9 children) into our station wagon and a borrowed pickup truck and headed out. It was a journey into the vast unknown. We knew that I was to attend Eastern Mennonite College but I had no job and we had little sense of the future except the confidence that God had a plan.
The years that followed were filled with countless God-encounters. Karl and his family moved to VA at the same time and together we started K&K Aircraft and Avotek Suppliers while in college. We conducted business in a decidedly Christian way. Over and over God confirmed His leading and provision. We were vulnerable so often yet we never had real need. More than once Elaine and I didn’t have rent money the day before it was due, but we were never late.
I still loved and respected Father, and would go back and help him with projects. Several years I took the spring term off to do forest spraying with DC-3 aircraft, to help
both him and my family’s budget.
Because of the bias that I brought regarding the integration of “Christian” and “business,” I expected that our Business Administration/Management courses at EMC would regularly address what it meant to be Christian in settings such as Personnel Management, Business Policy and Problems, finances, and more. I was utterly disappointed to see that we could go through class after class without ever raising the subject.
This fact, along with the way in which Karl and I were experiencing God in our businesses while in college, further incited me to passionately seek to define Christian entrepreneurship in a practical way. I wanted God to be part of everything I did. Or said another way, I wanted everything I did to be an expression of His rule in my life and to serve His eternal purpose of making Himself known to the ends of the earth.
We came to Ohio in 1974 to pastor a church. Experiences in church leadership and missions relationships over the next two decades further clarified for me what it meant to walk with God and to declare Him Lord even through difficult circumstances. Clearly, the relationship that He and I had developed in my formative years served me well.
Father was never able to “release” me to my sense of God’s calling on my life. Even when I was 40 and serving as a pastor, he thought he knew what was best for me and it meant helping him achieve his goals. While that hurt in a certain way, it also drove me further toward the one who is the greatest Father of all. (I’m grateful that through all of that I was able to impart to my sons, honor for him. They didn’t know of the tensions I experienced with him until later.)
In 1982 I was able to start Preferred Airparts with my sons. It became the setting in which I could implement the principles of Christian entrepreneurship that I had envisioned for many years. Events following a “tragic” fire in November 1982, which turned our fledgling business into ashes, further developed my sense of “God with us.”
As I look back over the years it is obvious that God has used what might be considered the undesirable realities of life to separate me unto Himself and to enrich me personally. I have never done anything big-time but have been emboldened to step into the unknown many times in launching businesses, ministry efforts and other adventures along the way. It is true, that my deepest satisfactions have come out of my relationship with God – which was fostered by His “being there” in my times of need.
Much of what I have written for this site is shaped by my core beliefs that walking with God is good and that the best things in life come through the most difficult things in life. It is the crucible, that is, when the heat is on and pressure is turned up, that provides unique opportunity for us to be shaped into the likeness of Jesus. The reward of that is more indescribable than the pain that led to it.
I hope that John2031.com is encouraging to you regardless of whether you are in aviation, business, missions, pastoral work, homemaking or some other area of service to our Lord. I pray that you are able to reach toward God, and find Him, in the challenges of your life. And if you are one who is still trying to figure out what that means, contact me and we’ll chat.