In June of 1948 I had finished two years at UCLA and had no clear direction as to what I wanted to do, so I dropped out of school and worked for my father. We built greenhouses, and it seemed like we were always on the brink of bankruptcy.
The following summer I wanted to do something different, so I planned to visit my grandparents in Indiana. Working for my father, I rarely got paid so I planned to hitchhike. This would be feasible because I had a scattering of uncles spaced out across the country.
When my uncle Francis heard of my plans, he wrote suggesting my participation in a church program called Youth Caravan where a team of young people would work in various churches, a week apiece, for five weeks. I followed up on my uncle’s suggestion.
My journey began when my father dropped me off on the edge of the LA metro area. The next day I got a series of rides from a salesman selling wheel balancing weights to gas stations. We got to Albuquerque where he paid for a motel room for me. The next night I was in Amarillo with my uncle Francis.
A few days later a bus ride got me to the gathering place for the Youth Caravan. A week of training was followed by our team visiting four churches in Texas, plus one in New Orleans. When the Caravan was over, I resumed my journey to the hometown of my grandparents, a great-grandmother and a mix of cousins that I never got sorted out.
My return trip was quite uneventful until I spent a few days with my uncle Francis in Amarillo. One evening he put the question to me, “Have you decided to become a minister?” I could not answer “yes” because I had not specifically considered that decision in any organized, thoughtful way.
But I could not say “no” either. With the Youth Caravan I had spoken from the pulpits of five churches. With my team, I had helped organize and teach in vacation church schools, and taken part in many other activities. We had carried on serious conversations among ourselves and with many church members and ministers. My experiences in those weeks showed me that I could do the basic ministerial tasks and more than that, I felt a real calling to the ministry through the interactions with clergy, lay people and family members.
So, yes, I said “yes.”
Having experienced all these traveling mercies, I headed for home and returned to UCLA in the fall with a purpose and a goal. What started out as a mild adventure, gave me a deep connection to God in Jesus Christ that continues to give my life purpose, guidance, and joy.
[Photo captions : Wilbur, 1960, in his Presbyterian minister robes. Wilbur, more recently, with his son.