Before I take you to Austin, a trip of some 800 miles from Pagosa Springs, I must tell you about an incident that has flashed through my mind. It occurred in 1962, when I was given an unusual opportunity by my employer to salvage a defunct computer system. My boss was Dr. John G. Carlson.
I remember the day John called me into his office. He said, “Peter, you are aware of all the efforts to automate our manufacturing information system. Everyone who has worked on it has quit, and we have a lot of expensive, unused equipment standing around. Make your recommendations.”
During the next few days I pondered the assignment. I had had very little experience with computers. As I walked through the production control department, I knew I could salvage much of what had been done and make it work. I just knew that I could! Enthusiasm and inspiration exploded in me, making me almost reckless in my plans for the system.
I presented my recommendations to my boss; but he listened with only lukewarm interest. “You’d better go back and justify your recommendations,” he said. After a half-hearted attempt to put more logic behind my enthusiasm and inspiration, I presented him with a revised system. There was little change in his demeanor. Several more times I was required to sort through my logic before he finally backed my proposal to upper management.
Several years after the system had become operational and had grown into the backbone of the company’s manufacturing control system, I asked John, “Why did you give me such a hard time at the beginning?”
“I wanted to make sure,” he said, “that you had the guts, perseverance, and conviction to stay with your recommendations until they were implemented.”
I spent almost eight years designing, improving, and perfecting a system that was born in a flash of enthusiasm and inspiration. I learned much about the capabilities of computers and how they can streamline the efficiency of large companies. But my greatest lesson was the knowledge I acquired about myself. I had been challenged to the limit and found out the kind of “stuff” I was made of. Every part of my being was challenged except my heart. The fact that my God-given ingenuity and tenacity made it easier to build deadly fire-control systems for atomic submarines did not enter my mind until a stranger remarked, “What a shame that your talents are not used for God.” Those words stuck!
As I look back on my career in the computer field, I can see the impact it had on shaping my personality. It made me more logical, more exacting, and more of a perfectionist. There was no room for error. To some extent, these qualities carried over into my personal life and relationships. I was most comfortable with those who spoke my language. Like an octopus, my work began to invade my private life. Potentially, every person who exalts his job above everything else faces such a dilemma.
The same substance in me that was once employed to design sophisticated computer systems is now deployed to find new solutions to help those living in states of confusion and fear. I have never lost sight for very long of my commitment to alleviate the terrible anguish of the mentally ill. Inspiration, enthusiasm, commitment, and now compassion have sustained me since my own hospitalization. I have been on my way to Austin from the moment I was discharged from Edgemont Hospital. I am half way there—only 800 miles and three and a half years to go!
Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is a small town of 2,000 (now closer to 10,000) people and is on the western slope of the Continental Divide. It is at an elevation of 7,000 feet and generally receives an abundance of snow during the winter. Its main industry is tourism. Many enjoy a brief respite here if they are able to divorce themselves from their hurried and frenzied lifestyle. Many come to visit the Hot Springs, the largest in the world according to the local chamber of commerce. The rugged peaks are breath taking. In the winter, thousands of ski enthusiasts ascend Wolf Creek Pass to enjoy their favorite sport. Lumbering, ranching, and construction are also important parts of the local economy. The day that hunting season is over in November, the community basically hibernates until the ski slopes open. After they close in early April, there is another brief lull in the local economy. Newcomers to the area who need to rely on the local economy to make their livelihood struggle very hard. Many do not survive a full year. The joke is that if you want to leave Pagosa Springs with a million, you have to come with two million.
I was confident that with the skills I had acquired, size and economy of a town did not matter. I felt that God could and would sustain us any place. If you are in a given situation or place in response to what you believe is God’s perfect will for your life, you have that extra measure of strength to persevere. I had that extra measure of strength. I felt that through the tourists we could efficiently broadcast our skills and testimony in many different directions. And this is what began to happen.
logical options. Both responded favorably and allowed us to teach. We taught the craft free of charge except for the cost of materials. We also looked for places to display the signs. Before long, a trickle of people began to come to our home to look at our display wall and to learn the craft. Invitations were extended to us to teach in Albuquerque, 200 miles south of Pagosa Springs. We made numerous trips there, and each time tried to improve our presentation. Encouragement came as we saw others adopt the craft and elaborate upon it with their own ideas.
When we moved into our house, which we originally leased, we immediately mounted our “Crafts for Christ” sign above the door. I installed a spotlight so that the sign could be seen day or night. We also placed “The Hiding Place” sign in the front yard for passers-by to see. Our street was a favorite route for real estate agents who sold property in the development in which we lived. The development encompasses 18,000 acres, and prospective buyers are solicited from many states within a thousand-mile radius.
We first approached the local community with our desire to share the craft we had learned. The high school and churches were our most
We went through a great deal of struggle making the signs in Pagosa Springs because the raw materials and tools were much harder to obtain. We experienced the greatest problems in securing a good sandblasting service. We finally found one. Getting there meant traveling over a 10,500-foot pass in all kinds of weather. It was scary! California drivers have much to learn about driving in snow. We have made the trip safely across Wolf Creek Pass (remember the song?) for a number of years. In the process I have been cured of some unreasonable fears of mountain roads. One of the best cures for our fears is for God to put something on the other side of a mountain that we really want to reach. All these seemingly insignificant things helped to heal many different areas within my soul, fears very real to me but invisible to the untrained eye.
In 1978 we sold over $10,000-worth of sandblasted inspirational signs, quite a step from our first five-dollar sale in October of 1976. Many who purchased our signs concurrently invited us to teach in their community, should we travel in their direction. We saw a string of invitations almost in a straight line, reaching all the way to Chattanooga, Tennessee. After confirming the invitations, we undertook our first major trip in July of 1978. We stayed in a few homes, but mostly in motels. It was an exhausting, expensive, but a very educational adventure. We had our first spontaneous opportunity to teach in a
state hospital at Ft. Supply, Oklahoma. To the best of our knowledge, the craft is still a part of its rehabilitation and therapy program.
From the sale of our home in California, we had twenty thousand dollars available to launch our new life and the Crafts for Christ ministry in Pagosa Springs. There were a few anxious moments as we watched our savings account dwindle through the printing of handbooks and newsletters, purchasing groceries, and paying our rent. I remember a dialogue with God concerning our income and expenses. I believe I heard the Lord say, “Peter, if you spend the money wisely that I have entrusted to you, you will have planted enough seeds for a harvest by the time you run out.” And that is what has happened. In February 1980, we had exhausted all our resources, and only then did we find unexpected checks in our mailbox. The amounts have continued to grow to match current needs.
Since the time I read Rees Howells Intercessor, I have been challenged and stirred to trust God in every situation. It is much easier said than done. Only when our own resources are exhausted can the real training program begin.
We began to see a need for further revisions of the Crafts for Christ handbook because the supply of our second printing had dwindled. We had no more resources for such a printing but felt challenged to prepare everything for the printer that he needed. Then we called the printer, who sent a man to review the draft and requirements. He estimated the job to cost six thousand dollars and said that printing could begin as soon as payment was guaranteed. We had fifteen dollars to our name at the time, with no immediate prospects for additional funds. Suffice to say for the purpose of this account, we received the necessary six thousand dollars from a number of unexpected sources.
The book was completed and delivered to us at the end of July 1980. It was an excellent tool to convey not only the technique of sign making but also the underlying sentiments that gave birth to Crafts for Christ. The book was like a song with a pleasant melody. I had learned to give logic and feeling their proper place in my life. My aim was to write a textbook that was not only informative but also enjoyable to read. It can now be downloaded from: www.stretcherbearers.com . It’s free!
I was convinced that God cannot bless our efforts until we have done our part. What that part is varies from person to person and project to project. I felt a great measure of relief when two thousand books were safely stored in the attic of our home; but this was the end of only one chapter. How could we get these books into the hands where they would accomplish the most good? We knew that those who came to our home for lessons would eventually purchase a portion of the books, but we also hoped for opportunities beyond that.
We never know when there will be a knock at our door. Probably more than half of those who visit us come unexpectedly, unannounced, and at the most peculiar times of day and night. We don’t mind at all. Seldom has there been a conflict with our schedule or the number of sleeping accommodations available. One Sunday morning, about the middle of August 1980, a gray truck with a camper shell timidly pulled into our driveway. Rebekah and I were having a leisurely cup of coffee in bed when we heard the familiar noise of tires crunching the gravel. I looked through the curtain as the driver pondered if anyone might be home on a Sunday morning. The truck was already backing out as I rushed to the door and waved the visitors in. We finally convinced them that they were heartily welcome and that it was quite normal for us to linger in our robes in the morning. They looked about and admired our craft, then finally relaxed enough to accept a chair and a cup of coffee. How much of my past life I shared at this time, I can’t remember, but I did something I usually don’t do. I inquired about the profession of our visitors. When the man said that he was a psychologist and Director of Research at Texas Tech, I opened my heart and poured it out.
Jerry and Mary Bensberg have been very special friends from their very first visit to our home. Before they left, Jerry said, “I believe in you, Peter, and what you are doing. Maybe I can open some doors for you.”
It is interesting how unexpected circumstances often help to rearrange our lives. We offered the Bensbergs the opportunity to learn how to make the signs, but they declined because of a tight schedule. We said, “Should you change your minds, please know that the invitation is always open.”
The next day they called. “Our transmission went out,” they reported, “and we will be stranded here for several days. May we come back?” When we talk about this incident today, Jerry says sheepishly, “The next time, I hope God does not have to use such an expensive way to get my attention.”
About two weeks after the Bensbergs were at our home, we received the following letter from them. I was elated! We were one big step closer to Austin.
This is the letter that went to Austin:
Here are rough drafts of letters being sent to Texas and Colorado. Hope they can generate some action. We got home safely Friday night. Best wishes to you and your family.
August 26, 1980
Exact dates escape me now. I believe it was the middle of January 1981 that we received a call from the Department of Mental Health and Retardation in Austin. They were not ready to give us the keys to the city but said in effect, “Should your travels bring you to Austin, we would be interested in looking at your program.” It so happened that we had invitations from Lubbock and Austin, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and were just then finalizing plans for a four-week trip. There were also some major hurdles facing us that made us wonder if the Lord was restraining us or whether the devil was trying to discourage us. For a while we were quite confused. I finally made the decision to go and said, “Lord, if this trip is not within your perfect will, hit us over the head with a two-by-four.” When everything started to fall into place like clockwork, I knew that the source of my indecision was not from God.
Ms. Nancy Barker. Chief of Volunteer Services
Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation
Box 12668, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711
Perhaps I told you about the two-acre mountaintop I am buying in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Mary and I had the opportunity to steal away last week to camp in this lovely setting and let the troubles of the world fade into the background. It was also our good luck to have the opportunity to meet a most interesting and intelligent gentleman by the name of Peter D. Laue. It is my belief that he has a number of skills, which could be used by the Department of M.H.M.R.
Peter was formerly an industrial engineer who apparently had a number of conflicts with his profession and life style, which led to his mental illness some eight years ago. During the course of his recovery, and attempts to set new goals and direction for his life, he became an expert in the craft of making signs, paintings, and plaques through the technique of sandblasting. He has found this craft most relaxing and meaningful to himself and feels that it has a therapeutic effect, which would be appropriate both for those with emotional problems and for the mentally retarded. Mary and I were impressed with the technique, particularly since it represented something that could be learned relatively quickly and would give us beautiful products with a minimum of cost and effort. We spent a delightful afternoon having him instruct us in the craft, and we now plan to develop our skills so that we can make gifts for friends and relatives.
There are several ways in which I think Mr. Laue could work with your department. First of all, this craft could be easily learned by your Volunteer Service Directors in the various state schools, hospitals, and M.H.M.R. centers. They, in turn, could teach the skill to volunteers who could work directly with the residents and patients. It would give the volunteers a vehicle to use as they are developing a relationship with the clients of the department. Because of the simplicity of the craft, it would be appropriate for many of your clients. Because it requires the ability to cut along defined lines, it would be for the upper-level retarded, primarily those in group home settings in the community.
Because of Mr. Laue’s personal experience with mental illness, it would be appropriate to use him in the department’s staff development program with new staff members. He could offer the personal side of going through his illness and explain what might have been of greater help to him during his hospitalization. As you well know, many of us professionals get so caught up in our jargon, our own stresses and strains, that we forget about the turmoil and needs of those we are supposed to serve. I would think that he could help “humanize” the staff training program.
Finally, during the course of his recovery, he had a conversion experience, which established a strong belief in God and a need to serve his fellow citizens in a more meaningful way. This led him to leave his career in industrial engineering. You can tell from the name of his company and the nature of many of his signs that he is witnessing to his belief. I indicated to him that state agencies such as yours must be careful to separate Church and State, and that you could not pay him to come and give his own personal witness. However, I would think that he would have something to offer the chaplains of the state hospitals in relating his own personal experiences and the role of his conversion experience in helping him overcome his illness. Perhaps local church groups, which work closely with the state hospitals, might like to have him speak or conduct a workshop in this area.
My purpose in writing is to make you acquainted with him and his work. I am enclosing a copy of a handbook which he had produced and which he uses in training others in the craft of sandblasting. I realize that many of the suggested ways in which he could be of service go beyond your responsibilities in the Department. However, if you agree with my ideas, perhaps you could share this letter and the handbook with appropriate people. You or others are welcome to contact him directly at 965 Cloud Cap Avenue, Pagosa Springs, Colorado 81147. I hope that all is going well with you and that I will have a chance to visit with you before long.
Gerard J. Bensberg, Ph.D.
Director of Research
We received a most marvelous reception in Austin. Every place we went, the doors opened as if we had a set of invisible keys. Even an interview with the Internal Revenue Service had pleasant results. We had applied for a tax-exempt status for our Crafts for Christ but seemed to be getting nowhere. Our case was being processed in Austin! After a personal interview with the assigned caseworker, we erased all doubts that Crafts for Christ qualified. Within a few months we received our tax-exempt status.
Austin certainly is not the culmination of a life-long dream. It is the gateway to more fulfillment, greater responsibilities, and more joy. There are other doors that have opened since our visit to the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. I have not walked through all of them. Before I pursue a proffered course of action, I determine if it will complete or defeat my dream of “setting the captives free.” A great deal of unsolicited advice continues to be offered. Following all of it is impossible. I am glad I have a mind that can sift and choose. I enjoy making decisions again. I am on my way to becoming whole.
For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.
II Timothy 1:7