"Read it again, Daddy"
Four words that were to change my life forever. Here is the story:
As per my custom I was in my son Benjamin's bedroom reading bedtime stories. Night after night I had been reading to him from one of the world's all-time most famous books. When we reached the end he uttered those four fateful words. "Read it again, Daddy." Nothing has been the same since.
Let me take you back a few weeks to the beginning. For about 12 years I had been engaged in a Christian drama ministry called Company One. I was the playwright and director for the group which was centered in California's Napa Valley. We toured churches and Christian schools sharing our original scripts with our own unique style of performance.
I was also an elder of a small but vibrant church and one afternoon it was my privilege to help one of our elderly members. Her name was Mrs. Graves and we were moving her into a smaller apartment. She was downsizing and offered me the choice of several books from her library. Perusing the shelves one title caught my eye. A book I had heard about since forever but had never had the opportunity to read. "Aha!" thought I. "A great book to read to Benjamin, my seven year old son." I took the famous book home and we eagerly began to read. Well, it wasn't five minutes before my little trooper began to have some serious attention deficits. His eyes began to wander about the room and little fingers began to play with little toes. Not a good sign, Dad. What is the problem here? The story was great, the reading was passable and the characters were interesting to listen to, unless perhaps 300 year old English was a bit of a problem for a little seven year old. Aha! That was it!
The book had been written over 300 years ago and the language was Old English from the 17th century - the time of good old King James. Poor little Benjamin simply couldn't understand it. Solution? Simple enough. Having had a bit of training as a dramatic reader, I decided to try glancing ahead and see if I could convert Old English into new on the fly. Back to the beginning we went. This time I was translating Oulde Englysh into everyday English and - voila! The eyes lit up again and all interest in toes was lost. We read every night and soon finished Part I. On we went to Part II and it was not long before we came to the final joyous victory scene where husband and wife are reunited in heaven (a scene that still tends to bring tears to one's eyes). "That's the end, Benjamin," I said. And then came those classic words out of the mouth of a babe. "Read it again, Daddy!" And so I did.
This was my introduction to The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (now available in dramatized audio). A book that has stood the test of centuries and been the best-selling allegory ever written until the recent advent of a series of "spiritual" novels of a far different character. (Send a donation of any amount to cover postage to 12735 Allison Ranch Road Grass Valley, California 95949 and I'll send you a revealing booklet on the dangers of Harry Potter.)
So how can four words be so life changing? Here's where the story begins to get interesting. I began to think thusly: If my little man could be so enthralled by a modernization of this magnificent classic, surely other children would too. I would make it my mission to make this character-building classic available to today's boys and girls. Thus it was that, day by day, I began to type out my modernization of The Pilgrim's Progress (now available in dramatized audio). It was my simple intent to read it onto tape and give out copies to young friends of our family. No big plans or dreams. Ha! Little did I know what God had in mind.
At last the time came to record and I began looking into equipment and recording spaces. Long story to short is that we set up a small 8-track recording studio in what had been Benjamin's room. Then, during tryouts for an upcoming drama I found the perfect voice for the narrative portions of the book. Great! Now I only had to concern myself with the character voices. Then came an unsolicited letter from a man named Kirk Van Buren. He was a young Canadian who had just recently become a Christian. As part of his conversion he had surrendered his goal to become a professional actor. Then he somehow heard about my Christian drama work and was wondering if perhaps his talents could be used for God. Could they ever!
And so it proved. Kirk was remarkably talented and took on the voice of Christian, the lead character. Now I had the narration and the lead covered and I would take all of the other voices. But Kirk knew some people with talent, plus my drama team was willing to participate and before long my one-man-show had turned into 77 different actors portraying well over 100 characters. I finally ended up with a few choice parts such as Worldly-wise-man, Giant Despair and Atheist. This was all done back in the mid 80s when digital recording and editing was just beginning to appear. It was still beyond our budget so we taped onto analog tape and edited with a razor blade. Sort of nostalgic, actually.
Two years later we had a finished product. By now things had grown so much that we had commissioned some excellent period music by composer Jeff Wood. We had also recorded our own custom sound effects. By the time we were done we had created the most complete and realistic dramatization of Pilgrim's Progress ever (now available). But now what? Here we were with a finished production but with no way to duplicate or market it. We were maxed out on borrowing money for equipment, music, and just plain living expenses. We had put our drama ministry on the back burner for two years so there was not much income from that quarter. So far as we could tell, we were standing in a dead-end alley with six master tapes in our hands and no way to move forward.
To make matters worse, during the later stages of production we had been faced with frequent and time consuming equipment problems; almost as if we were under attack (which I believe we were). On one particular day, I was in San Francisco getting another technical problem solved. That is when God decided it was time to step in. He began by impressing an acquaintance to make a phone call. When I arrived home that night my wife, Linda, told me that a friend named B__ F____ had phoned to inquire about our ministry. Linda had given him a full report and the conversation ended with a mention of possible help (whatever that might mean). A few days later, unsolicited and seemingly from out of nowhere there came a check for $10,000! God had impressed B__ F___ to send enough money to get us back on our feet and over the hump. Totally amazing! It gives me chills to this day.
Within weeks the tapes began to go out and the letters began to come in. Letters about what a great blessing the recordings were to adults and children of all ages. Lives changed, new hope and courage imparted to the discouraged, to the report of at least one suicide prevented. The list of blessings went on and on and we began to realize that God had used a child's voice to speak those four empowering words - "Read it again, Daddy."