Whenever we think about today’s special guest, two words come to mind: faithful and fruitful. Bob Lonac served 33 years with Young Life and completed his mission as Senior Vice President in charge of the Western U.S., Soviet Union, Asia, and Australia. Bob would go on to spend over half a decade serving as the Chief Operating Officer of International Justice Mission before answering the Lord’s call to be CEO of CRISTA Ministries in Seattle. He has a new book out called “Live Large” that showcase real and relevant stories about how God is real and present in our lives today!
Special thanks to Northwest University for sponsoring the Passion Meets Purpose Podcast!
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Bob Lonac: What you put into your heart will transform you. It’s not what you put in your mind. You do need to think differently. Romans 12, you know, think differently in the culture, but get it into your heart. You will reveal yourself to other people. So whether you want to or not. And if you learn to see him to be yourself, you will be okay. Fact you will prosper. You will live large.
Sarah Taylor: His name is Bob Lonac and he has written a brand new book, Live Large!: 7 Lasting Lessons for Navigating Life’s Twists & Turns. And he’s going to share about a few of his in this week’s episode. One of the ones I ask him about is that he wrote in his book about having an out of body experience and being held by an angel.
So we’re going to get him to tell that. I want to hear his upbringing stories of Young Life, where he served for 33 years, in addition to working for International Justice Mission, and where I met him at CRISTA ministries, where he was the president for, I believe 13 years. Let’s get started with our conversation with Bob Lonac.
Let’s start with who you were as a little boy, because you actually begin there with your history in the book about how Bob could be, Bob could be a bunch of great things if he could just learn to stop goofing off in class.
Bob Lonac: Oh, totally. You know, one of my fondest memories is when I was in the fifth grade, I organized the class to push the book, their books off the table at the exactly the same time. And, you know, God gave me the gift of leadership. Right? So like, okay. He didn’t tell me that when you found out I did it, I had to stay after school. Right. I will not be a wise guy, 10,000 times. I don’t know, three or four months or something I was after school. That teacher was so mad.
Sarah Taylor: I still think that, so that, that was a, that was a little bit too harsh of a punishment. I mean, I get that. You’re not supposed to disrupt class, but I’ve known you for a few years. You’ve still got a little bit of that wise guy.
Bob Lonac: Oh, totally. You know, I think one of the lessons I keep trying to learn is Bob it’s, it’s actually wiser and smarter just to be quiet a little bit more. Don’t say everything you’re thinking.
Sarah Taylor: Talk to me a little bit more about those early childhood years in some of the, okay, so you had natural leadership. What other character traits are still there today?
Bob Lonac: Well, I’m a highly verbal person. So, you know, when you have to be a leader, you talk a lot. Those kind of things, a personality that, that, uh, sort of, you know, when I, when I, I love baseball, but I was a lousy athlete, so I ended up being the catcher cause see, catchers can kind of buy it, be a little overweight and they don’t have to run fast, don’t have to be a hitter, particularly. It’s nice if they are, but they run the show. They look at the thing from others’ points of view and that’s why I liked it, cause I could, I could play baseball with my brain a lot better than I could with my body. God makes you who you are to use you the way you want. I could think pretty good, and could talk pretty good, and was energetic. And that was sort of the way I got through school, even in college, you know, just doing stuff. And a lot of it was pranks. Funny stuff, but I was leading it.
Sarah Taylor: So when did young life come into the picture?
Bob Lonac: I was not raised in a Christian home. I never went to church in my life. Don’t ever remember talking to anybody about God or anything. Blue collar family, nobody went to college. One day, a young life leader came on the campus, Clayton valley high school in 1966 and said, Hey, we picked a few guys. And later I found out, you know, they picked sort of the wise guys that were wild, tried to get them to go to camp so they’d meet the Lord. You know, so me and four other guys went, went to Malibu 1962. Heard the gospel and gave her life to Christ. Went home, met every week, memorize the Bible, never went church for awhile because we didn’t know anything I think the guy, our pastor was smart enough to just start with a few basic things.
It’s been an incredible life changing experience, you know, to, um, I’ve been blessed with a lot of things yet I had to learn to over my life, and I’m still, I mean, I’m still learning to submit who you are and what you’ve been given, and to learn who you are, you know, your passion. Uh, everybody’s figuring that out. And sometimes it changes from time to time, but we’re, we’re meant to be lifelong learners and that’s been one of my big deals.
Sarah Taylor: So you went from being a part of young life, as you know, like a recruit, they targeted you. Uh, you, you came to say yes to God… by the way, before we talk a little more about young life, can you define the moment, like, you know, the gospel message was presented to you and how in your brain did you go from, this is a story to, this is the truth.
Bob Lonac: God uses different things. I think I was dragged into it. I don’t think I was a kind of guy that if you would’ve let him have time. My young life leader, for instance, on the night that they talked about Christ on the cross line, the five of us up outside of the cabin and one by one brought us in there. And of course he goes, what did you think about the top Christ dying for your sins stuff? I, I thought I was all right. And he said a bunch of other things, but then he looked me in the ice. And is there, this is how he said it. Is there any reason you would not want to invite Christ into your life now? I thought I couldn’t think of a reason that I wouldn’t. Right. A lot of people say, would you like to, and I might not respond to that, but he said, any reason? I said, no. He said, okay, just pray what I pray. And he prayed the sinner’s prayer and I prayed it there. It was. And of course I was going. I don’t feel anything different. In some of the people at the camp were crying and all that. I’m like, Hey, I went back to my young life leader. Should we try that again? I mean, did that work? You know, and then you go fast forward, right? So I’d never been to college. My young life leader got me to go to Westmont college because he thought I needed it. I didn’t know what college was. Nobody in my family had ever been to college. My greater family. My parents never talked to me about college. He say, wait, I can get you into Westmont, but you gotta take the SATs. I don’t know what the SATs. And I took the SATs and by God’s grace I did really good. That’s the only way I got in, you know. And then here’s how I started my young life career. It was 1967, and I’m not particularly proud of this, uh, you were, people were getting drafted in the army, right? And the Vietnam war was raging and my young life leader, same guy again said, Hey, if you come on the young life staff, I can get you out of the war. You you’ll become, you know, you have to study, but you could become a minister and they have a ministerial deferment. And I said, God, I hear your call. I didn’t want to go to war. And so I thought I’d do it for a couple of years. I did it for 33 years.
Sarah Taylor: 33 years. If you had to summarize those 33 years of that experience, how do you do that?
Bob Lonac: Well, it was a lot of fun. It fit fit me. Well, it worked well. You know, I w I worked with kids a lot. I had inner city experiences. I had cross cultural experiences. I did other parts of different parts of the, you know, ministry. And at the end of my career, I was supervised in Asia and Russia and Western United States. That was quite amazing. I thought I’d do it the rest of my life, and then God interrupted again, dragging me someplace else.
Sarah Taylor: Talk about that transition.
Bob Lonac: Like I said, I’ll be the rest of my life and then I just sort of woke up one day after my wife had been saying for two years, I think you’re done at young life. I’d go like, no, I’m not. So I woke up one day and said, okay, let’s go do something else. So I resigned. Young life treated me really well. It was fantastic. And then, uh, look for something new and had to wait a year. I got some offers quickly and I didn’t want to go right back to work, cause I I’m a million mile flier on United, which is not a reward. Okay. It’s a punishment. But uh, I had flat all over the world and everything, and so I didn’t want, I wanted a little break. And so I said no to a couple of things. And then like, I don’t hear anything for six months. Fast forward, right toward the end I’m starting to actually need a job. I interviewed for two jobs, one with the National Presbyterian church, big, huge, beautiful church, and one with International Justice Mission… of course, going to the big church, big plant, big, impressive place. International Justice Mission, little house, five people, three of three people on the board, all lawyers and cops. And they’re looking for a guy to run the place. It’s not much of a place. But a big idea and big people. And Kathleen sat in the lobby of both places. Soon as we left, I got a job offer from both places on the same, same day. I’m like, well, I’m going with National Presbyterian, I love that place. And this is no dope, no trash on them. You know, I thought this was the greatest thing in the world. And Kathleen says, no. Not a good idea. I’m like what? That little house over there. I love Gary Haugen. I love internet. I love what they’re doing, but man, that’s a little house over there. These guys are huge. No, no, your built for that, Bob, your built for that. And those people are amazing people, and they’ve got an amazing vision. You got to do that. Well, I’ve occasionally listened to her and in this case I did. Man. Unbelievable deal. If I do that, the rest of my life, I spent six years there and I’ll tell you, life changing in so many ways as a leader.
Sarah Taylor: You say, you say, yes. You listen to Kathleen, well done,and your first day, what?
Bob Lonac: Well you know , I had met Gary Haugen who is probably one of the finest leaders, people of character, integrity, of anybody I know. Nobody at that time had heard about human trafficking, sex trafficking, and he had a huge vision to change the way the church in America and around the world thought about God’s heart for justice. Well that’s big, I love that. And of course, like I said, you know, he gets Harvard, lawyer, smart guy, other people were there. It was just unbelievable, mind blowing people, but they had never run an organization. So I was the chief operating officer. So it means I report to Gary and then everybody else reported to me and I was supposed to start growing the organization by raising money, getting the churches here. Which actually I knew how to do. But I also had to travel around the world because we’re starting offices around the world. So I would go to places like Cambodia and India, a lot of different places. Very difficult work and nobody knew what it was. And we’d speak in churches and we’d do stuff and they go like, what? That’s God’s work. Not today. It’s amazing. You know, it’s like everywhere, but it wasn’t back then. This was 20 years ago. Man, I loved it. I love the people. I love the vision. I love the opportunity at fit my gifts. I thought I’d be there. The rest of my life. So you want to hear a story?
Sarah Taylor: I do. I asked your son, Ryan, I go, what stories should I try to tip Bob off to talking about? And he said, there’s a great story about one of my dad’s trips to India, where IJM was working to free slaves from a brick factory.
Bob Lonac: Micah 6:8, What does God require of you? That was the verse that we talked all the time. To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. Right? So what is justice? We spent a lot of time studying the Bible and even today, people misunderstand what that means. But the work of justice has always been the work of the church. Sometimes fall out and about his view, but it is God’s desire for everyone to have a chance in life through living under justice. In India has, uh, in today’s world there’s probably, I don’t know, there’s no way to know, but at least 50 million slaves today and, and these things, by the way, we think it’s so easy to accuse other countries. I’ve got a friend of mine who was in my young life club way early back, who runs an organization called saving innocence in Los Angeles, which is about young girls who are trafficked here in the United States. India has a problem with bonded slavery. It’s very simple. They have a lot of poor people, especially out in the middle of nowhere, and they don’t have money. So if they need 20 bucks, they borrowed 20 bucks. The owner then charges usary rates, and therin, they’re working for free to pay back a loan, and we would discover that people were born in these factories because their grandpa had borrowed money and it was illegal, but they have no resources. To prosecute this in a country with 3.2 billion people. And a lot of them are good people, policemen and everything, but they don’t even get gas for their car.
So we would always work alongside countries that wanted to help. And we do the research and do the undercover work. In this case, it was a brick factory, which is common place for bonded slavery. We did all the work, found some good people in the government, found some good police, and went out to the brick factory basically raided it. So the police did the work, we just were advisors. And, um, we had two buses and we figured we could get 60 people on each one had about 35 seats. And then we had a van for our staff because we need to document all this. Who were the people, how they get there. We have to go to court with all this. We had to have court rules. It’s not easy deal because the government actually didn’t want this to happen and would pay them like a year’s wages to get started, in life. Very time consuming, very common. So we go there. The owners, of course you could imagine you own a factory that the labor’s free. You make a lot of money. These are very powerful people. We got two bus loads. Did all the paperwork as they got on the bus. The owner of course, was not very happy. Unbeknownst to us, he called all the other factories around and got together a bunch of a mob basically to come and try and get all the people back. So we, we had just loaded up, we had a couple of staff on each of the bus, but mostly the, they were all the people, they were, those people were pretty happy. And all of a sudden, a mob shows up with some of the other factory people from other factories. And then all the leaders and then some other people, you know, there’s, there’s bad people, and they start yelling and screaming. Some of them got sticks and they start rocking our van and we’re like, what are we going to do here? We’re not armed. There’s a few policemen who are armed, but we’re like, what in the world are we going to do? Now, let me tell you something about women in leadership. Okay. So one of our staff who is become fairly well-known, but this is very early on now. She does not weigh more than 90 pounds and she is so little and all of a sudden she says, quiet, but yet powerful voice, she says Lord, you parted the red seas. Would you please part this mob so we can go. The mob opens up in front of us. Literally people just splitting like some something had like, I don’t know how to describe it, except for they just walked apart. We, of course we had the engines going, we just fired up the engine drove off now. What is that? But that actually is the stories are in the scriptures a lot. Uh, there are things like this happen. God is very active in today’s life. Sometimes in very quiet, calm ways. Never easy, or, or, um, to be taken lightly. And my book basically, see, is a bunch of these stories that would happen to me, and I imagine they happen to a lot of people, but these happen to me. They’re real stories told real ways because I believe that’s how God really gets involved. And that’s how we learn to have a relationship.
Sarah Taylor: We’ll be right back with our conversation, but first a heartfelt thank you to our sponsor Northwest University. Have you heard NU is all in on tech. They’ve got a brand new state-of-the-art technology studio and majors include UX design, data science, video production, audio production, and computer science.
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Sarah Taylor: The chapter that I read out loud to my husband was the one where you had a medical emergency from a 1% chance from an endoscopy. Right. You know how the doctor, the doctor has to give you the disclaimer, you know, like 1% and in all my years, I’ve never seen it happen. I just have to let you know for legal purposes. You’re like, cool. Let’s do it. And then sure enough, why don’t you start, I mean, share as much as you will please, about that story because when I read it to Joel I said, you know, I’ve heard of people seeing angels and having an out of body experience, but I don’t think I know anyone from my own personal life, the way I know you, and trust you. I don’t, I don’t think I’ve ever known a firsthand account before. So share it.
Bob Lonac: Yeah. Uh, you know, we were driving, uh, Kathleen and I, I had the operation, some acid reflux stuff, and it was a pre-cancer and it was not a big deal. And I thought it wasn’t a big deal and it’s fine. And I fell fine. So I’m driving down with Kathleen to go see the chairman of the board of CRISTA. He has a house down in Black Butte, then all of a sudden I like feel so good. And, uh, so we stopped at a rest site when use the restroom came back, said to Kathleen, why don’t you drive? She’s like, what? Nah, I’m kind of tired. As soon as she started driving, I fell asleep. 20 minutes later, woke up. We were just getting off the main highway on I-5, and there was a sort of Seven Eleven type place there. I said, Hey, I gotta go in there. I gotta use the restroom. I walked in the gas station, went into the restroom. Now the restroom in these buildings has a bolt, you know, deadbolt and it says open or closed, you know, on the outside or the inside. And I remember going in there and going bathroom, locked the door. And then the next thing I remember, I’m laying on the floor of the place where the groceries are. There’s a large amount of blood. All over the floor and all over me. Of course at the time, I’m not thinking very well, but I’m aware of two things. One is, there’s a lady who has one of the uniforms of the store and she’s like running around, trying to scoop up the blood. She says I’ve experienced this kind of thing. I know how to do this. I’m scooping up the blood. They’ll want the blood for a sample. I’m, I didn’t even know how to say that. I didn’t know. You know, I didn’t plan this, of course. I’m delirious myself or whatever. And then Sarah, I look over and I am being held in the arms of a beautiful young woman.
She’s got black hair. Kind of a pristine glow about her, white dress or something on. And I looked at her and I did notice she had no blood on her. And it’s blood. I mean, I, later, you know, I’ll tell you how much blood lost, but she said I’ve been sent to take care of you and tell you that everything is going to be all right. And I, you know, I’m just sort of taking this at this time. Like that’s a person, they always say that’s good. You know, my wife had been waiting in the car. They had gone out to look for her. Somehow. I think I said, she’s out there. She called 9 1 1. There happened to be a 9 1 1 car driving by, they were there in about 30 seconds. I experienced at that time, sort of looking down on my body and people say to me, like, I thought I was talking from up there or something, you know, and, but it was like, well, uh, you guys. Uh, what’s going on. I think something’s happening. And then by that time, the EMT is walk in and they’re like, oh my gosh, what the heck?
Now I had, I found out later I had, there’s a, I forget the technical word for it. It’s when you, when you lose enough blood to die. Now I had lost four pints of blood, according to their measure or whatever. And five, I think you have nine or 10 or something like that. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I was like on the verge of not doing very good at all, but the guys came in and I go, Hey guys, how are you? And this is not the way I operate during the rest of this story. I would say. Hey, do you guys know Jesus? And they’re going, like what? We got to get this guy to the hospital and I’m like, no, it’ll be all right. This lady told me it would be all right. They’re like what lady you’re talking about? Put me on the, on the ambulance, went to the doctor, the doctor who was there had already, was the kind of doctor that knows about this. They got me ready. They went, took me into the room to give me a blood transfusion. They always check one more time. They said, oh, you don’t need any blood. And then they took me in the ICU. They give you all these buzzers and everything, you know, you can’t even go to the bathroom, nothing and I’m feeling fine. And the second day I was walking around the ICU and I’m like, nobody else is walking around. And I met people and talk to people, but as sort of the long story. Short story of a long, long amazing deal, and I would ask everybody, Hey, you remember the other lady or the lady there with the, I said there was no other lady there. What are you talking. That’s my story. I’m sticking to it.
Sarah Taylor: Your wife never saw the angel as you described her. How did that change? How you see heaven and angels and miracles having experienced that?
Bob Lonac: Yeah. And these are the chapters again, God’s ways are not our ways. Okay. So how do you know reality? How do you know what’s going on? How do you know what you see? Jesus said, let, let him, who has eyes to see, let him see. Ears to hear, let him hear. So there is a supernatural side to life. Most of our culture today tries to continue poopoo it. That being connected with God is the way we were created to be. Having a relationship with him. I really, I thought about writing another book when I got this down at Christianity’s not really a religion. Jesus came to show us the way. And in early days, that was what the church was called, the way. The way is to walk with God, and the ways in which we do that are sometimes counter-intuitive. Jesus said, I’ve come that you might have life to have it more abundantly.
We debated that the book’s title Live Large, cause that’s like our family motto, but it’s my take on how do we of live more abundantly life? I’ve come to live life more abundantly. Our idea of abundance isn’t it naturally what we tend to think. Like, I think there’s a prosperity gospel thing, you know? It’s like, oh yeah, you’ll get a lot of money if you follow Jesus. I don’t think so. But you’ll have an abundant life.
Sarah Taylor: Okay. As we wrap up our time together, let’s talk about how originally you thought retirement was going to be a lot of fly fishing. You actually got to do that in a really fun way that you write about. I love how Kathleen just enters every one of these chapters where she’s like, answer the door, answer the door, and you went and opened it up and it was your birthday…
Bob Lonac: That’s a true story, a metaphorical story. My four sons came to the door, one of my most memorable events, you know. I’m not planning. I’m going like, Hey, who’s with who’s ringing, really at the door. One of my sons is in California when I was at, so they all show up and say, Dad, we’re going fly fishing together. Now two of them don’t even know how to fish. Don’t care about fishing and whatever, but we’re going to fly fishing together. My kids and my grandkids again, probably cause I had a pretty tough upbringing, had been a major focus for me. Not that I’ve really known how to do it very much, but I’m still learning a lot. And so my 20 kids and grandkids, and their wives, soon to be 21, I’m going to be a great grandfather… They all were keep kept bugging me. You know, dad, you got to write these stories down. You gotta tell these stories and you got to tell them the way you tell them honest, transparent, open. And I said, yeah, I don’t think so.
I’m not a writer. And then of course I retired. I think people, Sarah, uh, see me as sort of a self-confident person, you know, out, get out you’re out there kind of person. And I’m not really liked that. I’m really kind of insecure. I’m thinking would Sarah Taylor have me on her broadcast? This is God’s way , I think, unfortunately, maybe for some of your listeners, I had to wait, I’m 75, to learn all these lessons are lifelong lessons. That’s why I wrote the book because I want to tell people about them. And I start a newsletter, which is just a quick little deal on the thought on this. One of the thoughts is like, just be you. That I think it’s a very important thought. Be you. Learn to be everything God made you, and you will be okay. Just don’t be phony. Put into your heart, what you want to be. What you put into your heart will transform you. It’s not what you put into your mind. You do need to think differently. You know, I was 12, you know, think differently than the culture, but get it into your heart. You will reveal yourself to other people, whether you want to or not. And if you learn to see him to be yourself, you will be okay. Fact you will prosper. You will live large,
Sarah Taylor: Always a pleasure in so many more stories from Bob in his book, Live Large!: 7 Lasting Lessons for Navigating Life’s Twists & Turns. Dr. Henry Cloud, who wrote the popular boundaries book, he endorsed the book and says real life stories that prove how present and active God is in our lives. You can get his book at boblonac.com as well as a e-copy, if you want it now, don’t want to wait for that paper back to arrive in your mail. Bob also has specific videos about each chapter, as well as the consulting business, Bob Lonac Consults. It’s all on his website. I mean, if this is what you do during retirement, my goodness. He’s like launching a whole new career. So thankful for his time.
Thank you to Northwest University for sponsoring the Passion Meets Purpose podcast. We’ll see you next week.