That summer, we lived in a tent in a campground near Eugene, Oregon, while my father was in California taking care of the arrangements for our move. Later, he and my older brother packed our possessions into our trailer and began their drive up to Oregon. They miraculously avoided a serious accident when they lost control of the car and trailer going down a long mountain decline.
Once we settled into our first home in Eugene, my brother and I got jobs working at a carwash to help support the family while my father unsuccessfully tried various ideas to make money. I finally got frustrated working in a dead-end job, so I went out and started applying for better work. A person I met at church helped me land an office job with an insurance company.
I started out in the supply room, but I was soon elevated to a commercial underwriter training position, where I helped determine the premiums for various business establishments around the state. I loved the job, so I decided to stay in Eugene two years and three houses later when my parents decided to move to Salem, Oregon. It was a very strange twentieth birthday. I put all my possessions into my first car during my lunch break and drove off to my first apartment while the rest of my family waved goodbye and drove off to Salem.
I dedicated myself to my employment and to helping our church’s local young single adult organization. I took evening classes to earn various insurance designations and continued to advance at work. I was very pleased when the district manager recommended me to the regional manager to become the youngest district sales manager in the company. However, my interview with the regional manager did not go well. He took one look at me and said, “You may be the best qualified, but you look too young. Wait five years and grow a mustache.” That type of age discrimination would never fly today, but it wasn’t even on anyone’s radar in those days. Well, five years seemed like an eternity to an ambitious twenty-one-year-old, so a week later, I told the district manager that I had decided to look for a job selling insurance. He immediately picked up the phone and called one of their insurance agencies in a town close by. Two weeks later, I was working at an insurance agency in Cottage Grove, Oregon.
Life was great! I wasn’t under the thumb of my domineering father; I had a nice job and lots of friends. One morning, I looked out the window of my apartment and noticed that the owner of the service station next door was selling his like-new 1972 lime-green Camaro. After a week of checking every day to see if it was still there, I realized that I was hooked, so I bought the car.
My church asked me to be the chairman of the young single’s organization for students attending the University of Oregon and in the surrounding area and to spearhead regional activities for all of Oregon south of Salem. I had a great time meeting with the local young adult leaders from Corvallis, Grants Pass and Medford to plan a successful multiday single adult conference. Locally, we had fun activities practically every week―tubing down the river, camping, performing service. One of the young ladies in our group bought a speed boat, so the summers were filled with waterskiing at the numerous surrounding lakes. I loved the feeling of freedom to be involved and active in so many fun and positive things.
This is when I wondered how one could tell the difference between inspiration from God and the random thoughts that pop into one’s head. So, I decided to try an experiment and follow every impression I had, from picking up a piece of trash on the ground to driving across town to visit someone. This way, I hoped to be able to learn from experience how to distinguish between the two. It was amazing. It was as if pure intelligence began to flow into my mind, and I was constantly having a sense of deja vu. I learned that God often uses our own senses to guide us if we seek love, light, truth, and goodness and are willing to follow the impressions we receive.
In late September, driving home from a single adult activity in my Camaro, the window down with the cool evening air fanning my face and my elbow resting on the door, I reflected on my awesome life. I was in the midst of reading a five-volume set of Christian history and reflected on the number of fainthearted believers who were not valiant in the face of persecution. I told myself, “What a shame. If I lived back then, I surely would have been faithful.” Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. “You hypocrite. You know that the Lord wants you to serve a mission, and here you are, driving your Camaro, expecting to go on a mission someday but not taking any action to make it happen.”
When I arrived back at my apartment, I sat on the couch pondering this situation. One of my roommates came in and, seeing my pensive state, asked me what was wrong. I said, “Nothing is wrong. I will be on my mission by February tenth.” He asked how this would be possible, considering that I had not saved any money to pay for a mission. I told him I did not know how, but I just knew that was what the Lord wanted me to do.
The next day, I told my boss that I wanted to go off salary and go on straight commission because that was the only way I could earn enough money to pay for my mission. The first month I only earned $63.70. One evening I only had the change in my pocket, so I contemplated skipping a church leadership meeting in order to try to sell an insurance policy that night to earn some much-needed money. However, I decided to do my duty and attend the meeting. As I walked past the church administrative offices, the finance clerk called out to me. He had a $300 check to reimburse me for expenses I had advanced for a young adult campout a few months earlier. I had completely forgotten about it. Over the next few months, I was able to help sell insurance to a lumber business, the school district, and the city. Between the commissions I earned on these policies and selling my car, I was able to pay for my two-year mission, with some help from my family.
The mission call came on a Monday. A group of singles always met at our apartment on Monday night, so I waited and opened the envelope in front of everyone to see when and where I was going. To my astonishment, I was to report to the language training mission on February 10, the exact date I had told my roommate a few months earlier that I was going to start serving a mission. After two months learning Spanish, I would then be sent to Ecuador to serve the remainder of my mission. This was confirmation that the call came from the Lord, and He is mindful of each of us. A new adventure was about to begin!