The Unexpected Role Model
I loved to come into my California office on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, I had small children at home and I found it hard to write and meet some of my freelance deadlines. So I would often slip off to the office for a few afternoon hours. To give you the right timeframe, it was in the mid-80s and I rode a Honda Scooter back and forth from home to the office.
On one of these Sunday afternoons, when I came into the building, I noticed the lights were on at the director's office and since everything else was still, I walked past to see what was happening. A friend of the director, Jamie Buckingham, was sitting at the keyboard. He looked up and greeted me and said, "I'm a jungle pilot today flying planes in the Amazon." The writer of such bestsellers as Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz, Jamie was a prolific writer and yet a couple of times a year, he wrote some material that never held his by-line and he didn't earn a dime. As a pure ghostwriting ministry, Jamie wrote all of the public material from our director.
When readers would rave to me about the director's engaging storytelling, I would always smile and say, "Yes the writing is terrific." I knew the director didn't write any of it but the words came from Jamie's pen.
Many readers of these entries might not remember Jamie Buckingham but millions of people are still reading his writing and his ghostwriting. He was a favorite columnist for Charisma magazine and died of liver cancer in 1992. I learned a great deal from his life and his teaching about writing--through his words and through his actions.
Here's a story that few people remember about Jamie but I write it to encourage you about second chances. Dean Merrill wrote this story about Jamie in a little book from Zondervan published in 1981 called Another Chance, How God Overrides Our Big Mistakes (long out of print but you can get as an inexpensive used book). On page 59, Merrill includes an excerpt from Buckingham's Where Eagles Soar, "Well-known author and speaker Jamie Buckingham describes how God painfully confronted him with a sin--not once but twice. He was a successful pastor in his mid-thirties at the time, but only after this canyon of embarrassment did his wider ministry as a writer emerge."
In October 1965, a group of 20 deacons in a large Baptist church in South Carolina confronted him with stern faces. They forced his resignation and he writes about calling his wife and asking her to come get him at the church. "She found me, the shepherd of the flock, crouched in a fetal position in a basement hallway, huddled against the landing of the stairs. 'It would be better for you, for this church if I were dead,' I sobbed." She comforted. She smoothed. She never asked for details. There was no need."..."There was a desperate reaching out for friends, only to find they had all deserted. I was like a leper. Unclean. I wrote letters--more than 90 of them--to pastoral and denominational friends. Only one man dared respond and that was with a curt, 'I received your letter and shall be praying for you.'"
The Buckinghams returned to his home state of Florida and led a small but growing church. "But as Vance Havner once remarked. It doesn't do any good to change labels on an empty bottle.Nothing inside me had changed. I was still the magnificent manipulator, the master of control, the defender of my position. I was still pushing people around. I was far more politician than a man of God."...:"Soon echoes from the past began drifting down to Florida...I continued to fight, to brave the growing onslaught of fact that kept building against me. It took 15 months of a stormy relationship before the Florida church cast me into the waves to calm the sea--just like Jonah."..."I had no choice but once again to slink home and huddle with my wife and children while the fire of God continued its purging work. Often, I have discovered, we can not hear God when we are busy. Hearing comes only when we have taken--or are forced to take--times of quietness."
In his idleness, Jamie picked up a copy of Guideposts and learned about their first contest for writers. He submitted a first-person 1,500 word story about a young man who prepared to go to South America as a missionary pilot. "Since I had nothing else to do. I wrote the story and sent it in. On October 1, 1967, "I was stretched out on the bed in the back room of our little rented house when the phone rang. It was the Western Union telegraph office. Jackie took the call and copied the message on a scrap of paper. It was from Leonard LeSourd, editor of Guideposts, stating I was one of the 20 winners--out of more than 2,000 submissions."
At that workshop, Jamie learned more about how to write the stories of others and met the publisher who was looking for someone to write Run Baby Run for Nicky Cruz. His career as a ghostwriter and co-author was born.
It was my privilege for those few years to see Jamie on a regular basis and watch him work. He even taught a several day writer's workshop for our staff during the early days of my own writing life. It was way before I co-authored any books with anyone. In many ways looking back, Jamie served as the unexpected role model for this part of my writing life.