Here are excerpts of Kit Sublett’s interview with Randolph McMann of Whitecaps Media about Kit’s book, “The Diaries of Jim Rayburn.” The interview took place as the book was going to press in late 2008.
What is this book?
"The Diaries of Jim Rayburn" is just what the title says. Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, kept a diary most every day for his entire adult life. I have taken those diaries and selected the most significant entries, added some context, and put them in one volume for people to read. Jim’s journals are incredibly inspiring, interesting, and illuminating.
Who should read "The Diaries of Jim Rayburn"?
I think there are two main audiences. Of course, anyone with an interest in Young Life—as a donor or a committee member or a leader—will find it absolutely fascinating to see where Young Life came from. As I say in the Preface, there's not a part of Young Life that didn't have its genesis in Jim Rayburn's personal spiritual journey. All of that is captured in these pages.
The other group is just Christians in general. Rayburn is an all-too forgotten spiritual giant in Christianity. He ranks up there with Billy Graham (who generously allowed us to use a quote in the front of the book about his old friend), Bill Bright, Henrietta Mears, C.S. Lewis, and other greats of the 20th century. Christians of any stripe will be challenged, encouraged, and entertained by reading his journals.
How did this book come about?
You know, it's taken so long, it's a little hard to remember all the details.
And you call yourself a historian!
I know! I'm very good about remembering OTHER people's details, just not my own. But to answer your question, I believe it was some time in 2005, Jim Rayburn III, the son of Young Life's founder, first approached me about working with him and putting together his father's diaries for publication.
Why did he come to you?
You'd have to ask him! The fact that I've known the family for over 25 years and have a reputation for being interested in Young Life's history I'm sure had something to do with it.
Did you hesitate?
No! This was a dream come true. Jim Rayburn's always been one of my greatest heroes.
I remember many years ago -- probably in the early 1990s -- Jim III first told me that he was thinking about publishing the journals. He told me that he was in the process of transcribing them. I remember offering my help to him then -- at that point it was really just to help transcribe them, to put them in digital form -- but he said he had that taken care of. So, I just forgot about it. I never dreamed I would get to be so intimately involved.
Tell us about the journals.
Well, Jim Rayburn kept a daily diary pretty much every day for all of his adult life. The entries are short -- this was never a free-form sort of exercise, more of a daily record -- but they tell the whole story of Young Life's genesis and its first 30 years of history. One early reader called it "Young Life's DNA." I think that's a great description.
The book doesn't include all of his entries ...
No, that would be way too big. My job was to winnow them down to something more manageable and yet still tell the whole story.
You also provide lots of context and footnotes.
Oh, yeah. I saw that as a major part of my role. You see, when people write journals they aren't writing them for a mass audience. So, they take shortcuts -- they don't use full names, for instance. They say, "Tom H. came by this evening" for instance. Well, if you don't know who “Tom H.” is, that's not that helpful or interesting.
So who is “Tom H.”?
Tom Hamilton. He was the wealthy Los Angeles businessman who had built the Malibu Club resort in British Columbia. Rayburn was trying to buy the property from Hamilton to make it a Young Life camp. I deal with issues like that through running commentary throughout the book and footnotes.
The other reason for my commentary is to help the story flow along. There might be gaps of several months where significant things have happened but Rayburn's journals don't mention them.
Like certain world events -- the end of World War II comes to mind -- or family events or the hiring of key staff people. He rarely mentions personnel decisions in his diary, but those were important to the development of Young Life.
When did you actually begin work on the book, and how did you go about it?
The journals arrived on my doorstep on February 1, 2006.
The family sent you all the journals?
Oh, yeah. The first thing I did was to get a safe deposit box at my local bank and stored them there. I felt a lot better having them there than in my house! I would keep a few on hand that I was working on at any given time, then I would return those to the bank and "check out" some more.
You said there were transcriptions of the journals ...
There were, Jim III had gotten that done previously, but I ended up transcribing just over half of them myself.
Jim III’s transcriptions were very helpful. The only journal that wasn't sent to me was 1935. I assume it's been lost. Fortunately, Jim III had a transcription of it.
As I would read through the journals and decide what entries should be included, I would compare those entries with the transcription. I wanted to make sure that anything put in the book was just right.
It's significant to note that Jim III did not transcribe the journals himself, as I understand it. He got other people to do the actual entering. And sometimes those people didn't know the players and locations involved. So there were lots of misspellings and whatnot. For instance, there's an entry where Jim mentions speaking in "Deuton" -- or at least that's what the transcription said. Being a Texan, I felt certain it was "Denton," which is a town near Dallas. Sure enough, when I looked at the actual journal entry in 1940, you can see where the "n" Jim has written could be confused for a "u," hence the mistake.
And after a while, I realized that the accuracy of the book would be much better if I just went ahead and transcribed the journals themselves, which I did from 1952 through 1969.
That sounds like a lot of work.
Well, it was, and it was tedious. But even when I had my own transcription I would use the one that Jim III provided for me for comparison. I would compare the two versions -- my transcription and the one provided for me by Jim III -- and if I found a discrepancy I would consult the original. Sometimes I was right; other times, the original transcription was. More times than I want to admit, my own transcription was incorrect! It was probably 50-50. Having two "opinions" -- the two transcriptions -- proved very helpful.
The point is, with the two transcriptions and the original, I feel certain that every entry that made it into the final book is exactly what Jim wrote.
How did you go about deciding what should go in the book?
I have to say that the Rayburns and the backers were very patient with me. They totally trusted my judgement. My main goal was to have Jim Rayburn tell his own story in his own words.
My criteria for choosing what entries went in were several. I wanted to make sure that key events were covered. I wanted to make sure that key players were included. I wanted to make sure that some of Jim's personality came through. But I also wanted to make sure to keep the reader's interest and not get bogged down in trivial stuff -- the book had to tell a story.
Another small thing is that sometimes a story unfolds over several days. Where possible I tried to include each entry in that unfolding story.
There are lots of ellipsis points indicating you left stuff out.
Yeah. I did that when stuff wasn't important to telling the story at hand. For instance, he might say, "Got the oil changed in the car and got my hair cut." Sometimes I kept that stuff in, sometimes I didn't. Not everything he wrote was a spiritual gem!
Were there some interesting discoveries along the way?
Oh, yeah. Some funny, some sad. But I'll save those for people who want to have me come and speak to their leadership groups or committee meetings.
So you're available to do that?
Are you pleased with the outcome of the book?
I am. And I've gotten some very good early feedback on it. I think people are really getting a sense of what it took to start Young Life, what a spiritual giant Jim Rayburn was, and at the same time, that he was a normal, flawed being like the rest of us.
Are there lessons you want people to take away from this?
Oh, certainly. The primary one is what an important place prayer and studying God's Word need to play in the life of us as Christians. Rayburn was unique and a true spiritual giant, but much of his impact came because of how well he knew Jesus. And that only comes from spending time with the Lord. And that's on every page.
Copyright 2008 Whitecaps Media
The first and last journals of Jim Rayburn that were sent to Kit Sublett (only a transcription of the 1935 journal was made available).