1_14_24 Go and Tell (Presentation)

Go and Tell - Part 3

In my last Go and Tell posting, I relayed the details of my journey to becoming a disciple of Jesus during my junior year at Grove City College and the impact that Proverbs 3:5-6 had in beginning that transformation.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.”
As a 20-year-old beginning the transition into adulthood, I discovered pretty quickly the value of trusting Jesus with my future. I began my college education with the goal of becoming a newspaper reporter. From my sophomore year at Austintown Fitch High School, where I took Mrs. Taylor’s journalism class, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
So five years later, as a college junior, when I was telling Jesus that I was going to acknowledge him in all of my ways, I knew that included talking to him about my career goals. “Is this still the path you have for me?” I asked. I remember early on praying frequently about what that might look like and how he might direct me as I acknowledged him.
Going into my senior year, I remember thinking that to land a job in the competitive world of journalism, I probably needed to get some hands-on experience at a regular newspaper beyond what I did at The Jambar at Youngstown State University and The Collegian at Grove City. The community of Grove City had a bi-weekly newspaper, The Allied News, so I walked uptown one day and into the newspaper office and asked if I could work there for no pay, just to get experience. The editor said yes, I could work there my entire senior year. Afterward I went to my college adviser, Dr. Hilda Kring, and told her of this plan and asked if there was a way for me to do that work as an internship and get college credit for it. She said yes.
How exciting this was to have a plan in place that would give me valuable experience and college credit at the same time. This development was a confidence booster in my young faith walk. Somehow I knew Jesus was directing this path. By the time I was approaching graduation, I had a full portfolio of work I had done: features, government meetings, spot news, press release rewrites and even obituaries, all of which I was required to submit to Dr. Kring, who met with me weekly to review my work.
Coming home on winter break between fall and spring semesters, I spent time researching small newspapers in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania and creating a resume. While home, I learned that the Salem News was looking for general assignment reporters, and though I still had a semester to go, I thought there might be value in going through the experience of an interview. Because winter break was not very long, rather than mailing a resume, I called to inquire about the job and explained my situation, and to my surprise, I landed an interview with Gayle Beck, the managing editor.
Armed with my portfolio, I walked in somewhat prepared to talk about how I was ready and excited to begin my career in journalism. What I wasn’t prepared for was getting a job offer that very day. Wait. I haven’t even graduated. I don’t have my degree yet. Driving from Salem, Ohio, to Grove City, Pa., isn’t all that feasible. I turned down the offer but was very encouraged when Ms. Beck said they’d keep my resume on file in case another opening occurred closer to my graduation.
Once again, how exciting this was, and once again, it was clear to me that God was directing my steps as I acknowledged him.
Back at college for my final semester, I still remember a phone call coming to our floor in the dorm. (Yes, one phone in the hallway for the entire floor.) “Hey Schoch. There’s a Gayle Beck on the phone for you,” someone from the floor yelled, knocking on the door. This was in mid-March, a couple of months before graduation. “We have another opening coming up,” she said. “And if you want the job, we’ll hold it for you.” With spring break coming up, my plan was to spend it applying for jobs, and while I don’t believe I said yes on the spot, it wasn’t long before I accepted the job, and then planned a spring break trip to Florida with college friends.
Once again, how exciting this was to already have a job two months before I graduated, and it was close to home. “Wow, Jesus, you are really good at this directing stuff. Thank you.” I don’t think I actually said that, but I’m thinking it right now as I remember details.
After a year-and-a-half at the Salem News, I saw where the Morning Journal in Lisbon was expanding, adding a Sunday paper and hiring additional staff. I applied for a position as the Sunday features writer and landed the job. During my seven plus years there, I worked in several positions, most of that time as the reporter covering the beat in my hometown of Salem, which in retrospect, was probably my favorite job of what turned out to be 27 years in the newspaper business.
It was also during that time when I had read a bunch of articles in New Wine magazine about Christians working in the media. That particular edition challenged those of us who were followers of Jesus and working in the media to somehow be a voice for the gospel. There was a stirring in me that I couldn’t ignore. And I prayed long and hard about it.
By this time I had married Connie Kleon Schoch, and I remember sharing with her this idea I had to ask my editor, Jay Thwaite, if I could start writing a weekly column about how faith in Jesus had changed my life. “They will never let you do that,” she said matter-of-factly. Right before we headed for a week’s vacation, I decided to approach him with my idea.
“Sure,” he said. “It’s on your own time, and as long as you keep up with your regular duties.”
That was too easy, I thought. “I’ll let you know when we get back from vacation,” I told him.
Two weeks later, I launched a four-and-a-half year run of writing “Out On A Limb,” which appeared every Thursday on the editorial page of the Morning Journal. Once again, Jesus was directing my path.
I could write volumes of how taking that step changed my life, grew my faith and opened doors, but the most profound example stems from a phone call I got at home one day from a stranger named Don Stevenson, pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in New Waterford.
The conversation went something like this. “I read your column in the Morning Journal, and we’d like to invite you to speak at our church for our Christmas gathering. We also have heard that you and your wife sing, so we’d like you to do that too.” I had never heard of the church – it was only a year old at the time – and if I had ever been to New Waterford, I hadn’t remembered it.
The invitation to speak wasn’t entirely unusual for me. After “Out On A Limb” began, numerous churches and groups invited me. But coming to Abundant Life was different. There was a freedom to worship. A freedom to grow. A freedom for this small but diverse collection of people to love one another deeply and thoroughly. It was real and it was tangible. And it wasn’t long – five months maybe – before this became our home church.
And, of course, most of you reading this know by now that this also is the church where, years later, I would become senior pastor, taking over for its pioneer, that stranger on the phone who issued an invitation because of a column he read in a daily newspaper.
I need to reiterate clearly and directly how God, in directing my path, richly used my friend and former boss, Jay Thwaite, to allow me to write about Jesus in a daily newspaper, perhaps affecting some people along the way, but none more than me. Another story about how God used Jay will come in a future piece as will details of my call to the pastorate.
For now, I remind you that I share this story as part of “Go and Tell,” the 2024 word I introduced in January to Abundant Life Fellowship. With that word is a passage from Luke 8 where Jesus frees a man possessed by demons, after which he instructs him to “return home and tell how much God has done for you.”
Once again, this is me doing that.