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The roots of a Christian magazine

They go way back to a printing press in Iowa

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If I’ve heard the question just once, I’ve probably heard it a hundred times: “What made you think of WORLD in the first place?”

It’s as if people imagine a time and a place where God tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Joel, when I look at how news journalism is being practiced these days—both in America and around the world—I see a big gap. Here is how I want you to fill it.”

Indeed, God could have done something like that. Such specificity would have been pretty handy along the winding path of WORLD’s 36-year history. It would have helped us address such issues as personnel selection, frequency of publication (see CEO Kevin Martin’s column in our May 7 issue), quality of printing, use of photography, setting the cost to customer, role of the board of directors, expansion into digital publishing, etc.

It’s pretty hard to be so totally involved in the technical side of things and not develop an interest in the ideas being expressed.

But He didn’t. God never handed me a corporate startup blueprint or instruction manual. No dazzling cloud formations or skywriting airplanes. Instead, God typically has less sensational tools for teaching us.

I think God may have started planting the seed for a Christian news magazine way back when my dad sat me down—maybe with my four brothers and three sisters—to introduce us to the wonders of a 3x5 Kelsey printing press and the idiosyncrasies of the California job case. Somehow, things clicked. I saw that folks paid attention to the printed page—and perhaps especially so when they could witness firsthand the process by which that page was being printed. The 3x5 Kelsey press soon gave way to a 5x8 companion, and that was replaced within a year by an 8x10 Gordon.

The ink, you see, was getting in our blood. We didn’t mean to move from tiny business cards to church bulletins, and then from school newsletters to college yearbooks. Most pointedly, we never intended to get involved in helping create and refine the editorial content of the dozens of printed pieces we helped produce.

But it’s pretty hard, we discovered, to be so totally involved in the technical side of things and not develop an interest in the ideas being expressed. I still remember conferring with my dad about how unlikely it was that a country print shop in Iowa would be trusted to handle some of the ideological tensions that showed up now and then among three of our biggest customers. At that time we were doing significant monthly mailings for Far Eastern Gospel Crusade, for the Tokyo Bible Center (with its somewhat feisty leader, Timothy Pietsch), and for the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (with Australian physician and activist Dr. Fred Schwarz).

All were known as high-profile organizations. Even so, we somehow managed to operate in close proximity and get our work done.

In all the hurly-burly of such a culture, I still remember a drop-in visit from a homeless-style fellow who wanted us to print him a letterhead. From the beginning, Dad had established a basic rule meant to keep us from competing with other local printers. The rule was simple: Everything we printed needed to include some brief portion of Scripture. But when we told this fellow of the policy, he was nonplussed.

“I don’t know any Bible verses,” he said. So we handed him a Bible, and he sat for most of an hour, leafing through its pages. Finally, he scribbled a note and handed it to me. I’ve never forgotten his choice: “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).

I still find reason to believe that was not altogether bad preparation for launching a Christian news magazine.

Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.


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