How Slinkys Could Have Saved the World

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How Slinkys Could Have Saved the World

When I was a kid, I loved Slinkys. I still do. So I was intrigued to read about the inventor, Richard James.

It was the waning months of World War II and he was working on a power monitor meter for a naval battleship. One of the tension springs he was fitting accidentally fell to the ground. It bounced, righted itself, and then began to walk across the floor. With a little more tinkering, the Slinky was born.

It was that easy. Since then, more than 250 million have been sold around the world.

What wasn’t easy was the fame and fortune that grew out of the toy company James founded with just $500 in seed money.

He and his wife Betty traveled the world, garnishing celebrity treatment. They were wealthy many times over. But it was a classic story of emptiness and longing, despite the fortune and prestige.

James had an encounter with the Master, and fell under deep conviction. He was serious with his faith and began to turn his life - and his fortune - over to God. Eventually, he cleaned out his bank accounts and liquidated his stocks and bonds, giving much of it to Wycliffe Bible Translators in Bolivia.

He Walked Away

He surprised many when he announced that he was walking away from the company and moving to South America to serve the mission full time.

While in Bolivia, he was committed to living a life of poverty. Refusing to raise support, he trusted God for every nickel. When an uncle died, leaving him $40,000, James gave that away too.

The story is told that he still held on to a metal die of his famous invention, thinking that if things didn’t work out, he could manufacture and market the toy to a South American audience. Eventually, he threw the die into the sea, wanting no escape clause.

In a letter to a friend he wrote, “He has shown me both sides of having much of this world’s goods and having nothing. The more I am in this world, the more I can see that there is nothing - family, money, education, factories, position, reputation - that amounts to a piece of dust, outside of Christ. He is everything, all total. I want Him and only Him.”

At first, I was struck by the selflessness of this man, giving up everything. What devotion! But then I read the rest of the story. He was so enamored with his mission call, that he abandoned his wife and six children – a dark mark on any “righteous act.” I’ve seen first-hand such misguided fervency and there’s little honor in that.

He also left the company, its employees and supplies to his wife’s control, totally unconcerned with its fate.

I believe that your mission can often be found right where you are – serving at the ticket counter, at the construction site, or the data center.

What if He Had Stayed?

So my question is as simple – and complex -- as the Slinky design: what if Richard James had stuck with Slinky, using his business smarts, fortune and passion for Jesus? Could he have developed people – both at home and abroad? Could he have found ways to make a difference in Bolivia, South America and the globe?

And what if he had been as devoted to his family as he was to God?

No doubt he influenced some Bolivians, and I would never disparage those serving on the mission field. But in this case, he really only changed himself. If he had stayed at Slinky, he might have changed the world.

Image by Rachel Knickmeyer. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by David Rupert.