A River Lesson

(Note: MAI President John Maust recently wrote this article for his home church’s blog. It details an experience from his first full-time job after college.)


By John Maust

Seated in my little office at the Dunkirk News & Sun in central Indiana, I leaned back in relief and satisfaction.

I’d met the deadline and completed all the articles for that week’s newspaper, the biggest issue of the year, celebrating the town’s annual “Glass Days Festival.”

This was the mid-1970s–the prehistoric pre-laptop age–and I’d composed every article on an ancient typewriter, not bothering to make carbon copies in the rush to finish.

That same morning the sleepy-eyed driver from the printing company had picked up the typed articles, plus some valuable old photos depicting the early days of the glass industry in this small town of several thousand.  He’d placed everything in his worn, leather bag and driven to the printing company in nearby Portland, where the issue would be designed and printed.

It was no small thing to meet deadline for the weekly newspaper’s biggest and most important issue of the year.  Even I, a green 21-year-old editor, knew that, and it felt good.

A telephone call suddenly jarred my thoughts.  “John, we’re waiting for your articles and photos,” said an office worker from the printing company.

“But I sent them over with the driver this morning,” I said. “They must be there somewhere.”

“Not here,” the person responded.

“Well, please check,” I said, my pulse starting to spike.

The office worker called back an hour later.  “We discovered what happened,” she said. “The driver stopped for coffee on the way back from Dunkirk, and left his car unlocked.  Someone stole the leather pouch with your articles and photos from his car.”

This couldn’t be true.  But the caller assured me it was.  “Can’t you write the articles again?” she said.

But that was impossible.  This was Monday afternoon, and the 24-page issue needed to be composed and designed on Wednesday for printing on Thursday. Even working nonstop, I could never recreate all those articles, much less replace the valuable photos, by Wednesday.

My mind raced for possible solutions.  Maybe I really had made carbon copies and just forgot?  No such luck.

I explained the situation to my two co-workers, Dorothy, who did clerical work, and Barbara, who sold advertising.  They looked just as shocked, and offered me their sympathy, or maybe it was pity.  But neither could think of a solution.

“I’ll burn some candles for you tonight at church,” sighed Barbara, a devout Catholic.

“And I’ll pray for you,” added Dorothy, who attended the same church as me.

During these initial months in Dunkirk, God had used that little church and its pastor and members to help me grow as a Christian.

Totally out of my comfort zone with the huge responsibility of editing the town newspaper right out of college, I had grown in dependence on the Lord, seeking His help more than ever.

But even in the hardest days during my first weeks on the job, I’d never experienced a problem as big as this one.  This was shaping up as a monumental disaster.

Like Barbara and Dorothy, I knew that I needed to pray, and pray in complete helplessness before the Lord.  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night.

I did rummage around for the notes I’d used to write the 10-12 articles for the newspaper in case I could try to recreate them. But it was hopeless: I’d never finish in time for the newspaper to release during the Glass Days Festival.

The next morning when Barbara entered the office, she looked hopefully in my direction.  She didn’t even have to ask.  I just shook my head, no.   Dorothy was also sorry to hear that nothing had changed.

None of us could have imagined what was about to happen next.

The telephone rang, and I fully expected my boss at the printing company to ask if I’d rewritten all those articles yet.  Instead, the same office worker blurted, “John, we found the articles!”

Once again I couldn’t believe my ears, but this time I dearly wanted to.

“A fisherman found the leather bag floating in the Salamonie River, saw that it belonged to the printing company, and returned it to us,” she said.  “The articles are a little wet, but we can still read them, and most of the photos can be salvaged.”

That same afternoon a different driver brought the soggy articles and photos to the office, and I saw that it was true.

What were the odds?  Even today, I can hardly believe what happened.  Those articles being recovered and returned from the river seemed no less a miracle than when Jesus sent Peter to recover a coin from a fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax (Matthew 17:27).

God made that river give up those precious articles for the newspaper. But more important, He revealed His love and power to me, a young and growing Christian, in a way that I will never forget.

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