Changing the World

We Cannot Remain Silent

Apathy is what allows atrocities to happen.

I honestly don’t know how else to start this blog post, but as more reports came out over the past several days about the detention centers and the conditions innocent children are living in, I have been at a loss for words. I have felt completely helpless. Yes, I can tweet 24 hours straight, but what could I actually do to help these children right now? Detention centers turned away donations and children have been moved (to, as far as I know, unknown locations). I don’t have all the answers, but I can use my voice and my dollars to do something.

This isn’t about a political position. Right now I honestly don’t care where you stand on immigration. I would hope that no matter your feelings on immigration and asylum seekers, that you would be horrified by how these innocent children have been treated. Children have died. At the hands of our government. Nothing is worth that cost.

And when people have tried to legally seek asylum, they have been turned away. This happened to Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria Martinez only a few days ago. Because they were turned away, they then had to cross the Rio Grande, only to be swept away. The photo of their bodies crushes you. My prayer is that anyone who sees this photo will be moved to action.

So here’s a list of places to donate and ways you can help. Also, if you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, please take some time to read up and educate yourself. Some links are below.

How to Help: Organizations to Donate To

World Relief: Our expertise gained in aid and development work gives us the ability to not only meet the immediate needs of the vulnerable, but implement programs that lead to sustainable growth and development—transforming once vulnerable regions into thriving communities.

Preemptive Love: Help Asylum Seekers at the Border. They fled some of the world’s worst violence. Their future is uncertain. Stand in the gap.

RAICES: Your support helps us continue our mission to help separated families, detained families, unaccompanied minors, and others who are seeking asylum in the United States.

Also, contact your Representatives and Senators. While we all try to figure out policy, we can do things now to provide support and relief.

There are several other lists out there and wanted to include those as well:

Resources to Learn More

Changing the World

What The Hate U Give Teaches Us About Replacing Otherness with Imago Dei

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas made its debut in 2017 and has become a pivotal novel for the times we’re in. And for very good reason. It’s a book that will hit you in the gut, all the while being inspired by the strength of the characters. Now it’s on the big screen, taking the viewer into a story that has become all to common, as names become Twitter hashtags and fill our news feeds. If you aren’t familiar with the book, here’s the description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night?

And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

The title of the book comes from hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur and his iconic THUG LIFE tattoo. Contrary to popular (or better yet, uneducated) belief, the tattoo had a deeper meaning. The first part stood for THE HATE U GIVE and Tupac revealed it was a statement against the oppression shown to Black Americans that starts from a young age.

I highly recommend this movie and book (heads up, there’s language), as it has quite a bit to teach us about seeing Imago Dei in everyone. Here’s a few I wanted to share:

Let Us Listen.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19-20

Oh church, we have to be willing to stop and listen. Too often I hear “well I haven’t seen that” or “I don’t think this really happens,” etc., etc. If we don’t take the time to stop and listen to people (or only listen to one side), how can we truly learn? How can we seek out those who are hurting and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them? Be a brother or sister in Christ to them? How can we show the world this incredible joy and love we know and have, if we turn away from people? If we refuse to listen to what they have to say? There’s a scene in the book and movie (minor spoiler), where one of Starr’s closest friends stops being her friend. She no longer responds to text messages, she unfollows her on Tumblr and when Starr calls her out on it, she quickly puts it back on Starr (saying she doesn’t know who she is anymore) and walks out. In the book we see Starr’s other friend, Maya, come clean: “She’s lying…that’s not why she unfollowed you. She said she didn’t wanna see that…on her dashboard. All the ‘black stuff’, she called it. The petitions. The Black Panther pictures. That post on those four little girls who were killed in that church…”

We must listen, even when it makes us uncomfortable. Listening to a person’s pain is more important than our comfort.

Don’t be Colorblind.
God created every single shade we all are. So see a person’s color, celebrate it, and be willing to hear how their lives might be different from yours because of it. One of the significant lines from Starr is when she tells her boyfriend Chris, who is white, “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.”

Humans aren’t Issues, They’re People. People made in God’s Image.
Whether we’re talking about racism in America, immigration, refugees, or any other social issue, when we see and or use terms like “them/they” or only see the issue, we cut out and ignore the humanity every person on this planet carries. When someone’s life is only an issue, it’s easy to ignore.

Church, this isn’t Jesus.

When we move from seeing people as fellow human beings and instead see them as categories or issues we don’t agree with/understand or “them,” we lose. We lose the chance to show love. We lose the chance to be a witness. We lose the chance to be light in an increasingly dark world. How can we make an impact if we instantly categorize people who don’t fit in our worldview or share our life experiences? We also lose the chance to meet incredible people and friends.

We can’t let political affiliations become the Christians standard. Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. As believers, we cannot live and die by a political party. We live & die by the Gospel. Otherwise we lose sight of our most important calling – to love people. That’s the Gospel.

I learned that from Jesus. He constantly walked and ministered to “the others” the religious considered dirty and ones to avoid. Whether that was the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), the Samaritan woman (John 4), the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), or countless others who encountered Jesus.

It is our duty to open our ears and hearts and hear their cry. It is our duty to show the world the Light we follow. It is that Light Who will break chains, change hearts, and make a lasting impact that will echo throughout eternity.

It isn’t easy, it isn’t comfortable and it forces people to take a hard look at where their heart is, BUT when we do, we see each other as God wants us to.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3

Changing the World, Travel Adventures

Under Our Skin Forum | A Recap

Last week I was in Tampa, FL (who quickly reminded me that I’m cool without humidity) for the Under Our Skin Forum. Based off of Benjamin Watson’s book of the same name and put on by Tyndale (excellent job friends!), it was a night with big names, but all together for a bigger purpose. As you can imagine, it’s a hard topic, but everyone shared openly and honestly and what an encouraging night.

I left the night filled with hope. These past weeks (months really) have grieved my soul, but while it won’t be an easy road and battle, our hope is in Jesus and His power to change lives. And that gives me hope. To keep fighting for justice and to keep shinning light in the darkness.

The Church, this is our time. We can make an impact on culture and show the way unity looks. We don’t have to pick sides and corners, as Benjamin pointed out, we can be in the middle. We can live in the tension of both sides. Things don’t have to be either/or in what grieves us, what we support, etc. We can support things on each side. More importantly, it needs to be that way.

There were so many excellent points, wisdom and thoughts shared. I’m thankful for Twitter, so I could stalk what other people posted since I didn’t take notes. Here’s a few quotes:

“In so many ways it seems like the American Church has slowly white-washed the Gospel. Case in point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a nativity scene around Christmas where Mary isn’t a Caucasian woman with silky brown hair. There are going to be an incredible number of Jesus-worshipping, faith-filled individuals who are going to be SHOCKED when they step into the Kingdom of Heaven and realize the man seated at the right hand of God the Father is a homeless middle eastern refugee. The one we worship is a man of color. The Gospel is a rich narrative of color, race, social class, ages, and demographics invited into the same story and redeemed fully at the same cross. Our commissioning is to bring Heaven to Earth in our time here, and we can’t effectively do that if we don’t understand that Heaven is a deeply colorful, language-saturated, diverse and beautiful place where we all stand before the same King as equal creatures made in His image and unified in His grace.” Mo Isom

“If one member suffers, every single members suffers…we see our country right now, we see the pain going on, whether that’s particular demographic, a particular place. If you wake up with a splitting headache or if you’ve ever slammed your finger in a door, the first thing your body does, your physical body, is it rallies to that point of pain. It doesn’t pontificate, it doesn’t rationalize, it doesn’t say, I’m waiting for more facts. It simply says, I’m going to respond. When we weep with those who weep, I think that’s a sign of a highly functioning body. We’re spending too much time rationalizing. It’s Jesus weeping at the tomb.” Ben Sciacca

“Lord help me chose the harder right, not the easier wrong.” West Point Cadet Prayer

“The game plan for racism is in Bible- James 2:14. We need to break the huddle and run the play.” James Brown

“Just do what the Lord says to do, it’s simple, but it’s not always easy.” Tony Dungy

“Christ in you can destroy both the myth of superiority & the myth of inferiority.” Benjamin Watson

There’s so much more and the video is available to watch, if you want to find out more. Just go here.

Also, here’s a list of the panel, if you want to follow them.
Benjamin Watson
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
James Brown
Website | Facebook | Twitter
J. Kevin Butcher
WebsiteTwitter
Tony Dungy
Website | Facebook | Twitter
Charlie Strong
Warrick Dunn
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Mo Isom
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Ben Sciacca
Website | Twitter
Danny Wuerffel
Website | Twitter | Instagram
Sage Steele (Moderator)
Twitter | Instagram

Coach!

With Benjamin Watson (and yes, I’m still sad he doesn’t play for the Saints)
If y’all don’t know Mo Isom, change that quickly!
Unity is possible internet! Warrick Dunn played for the Falcons (and Bucs) and is part owner of the Falcons. Did I mention my loyalties lie with the Saints? OF COURSE I DID. 🙂
Changing the World

Why I Won’t Remain Silent About Racial Reconciliation

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin

I believe we are called, as believers, to reach out and fight for the marginalized and against injustice. Not only from around the world, but also those in our own society and culture. I know it can be touchy, it makes many defensive and is a hard topic, but we absolutely need to continue to educate ourselves on these topics and examine our hearts and continue to be the voice (and peace) of Jesus. When we stay silent, I believe we lose some of our witness and miss out on seeing God work in incredible ways.

It will come as no surprise that I’ve been burdened by what is happening in America right now. It’s a dark time for many people.

A couple months back there was a video that went viral and I decided to post it on Facebook (when it’s something closely connected to political views, I always pray before posting. It’s far too easy to post in anger and I don’t ever want to do that). It’s disturbing for lots of reasons, including this one quote that received a standing ovation and the Nazi salute: “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us.” (You can see the full video here), but I was surprised by some of the reactions. Instead of denouncing the video (which most people did), there was the “well this has been around forever, so…” as if that was enough reason not to call it out and stand against it. There were also comments that I was spreading hate by posting the video. I was genuinely confused as to how calling out hate was instead inciting hate.

Another recent news story was that of the hung jury from the Walter Scott Case. The trial for the officer who was caught on tape shooting an unarmed man running away ended in a hung jury. Sometimes I don’t even have the words, so I’ll steal them from this article written by Steven Hale of the Washington Post.

“Still, this case had video footage of a police officer calmly raising his gun, carefully taking aim and firing multiple rounds into the back of a fleeing, unarmed man and then handcuffing him as he lay on the ground. Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager claimed that he was in “total fear” during a struggle between the two men and that Scott had grabbed his Taser. But he was captured on video placing his Taser next to Scott’s lifeless body after the shooting.

One must wonder: What detail could be added to make Slager look more guilty of Scott’s murder — or at the very least, of manslaughter, an option that was available to the jury?”

My parents were in town visiting for Thanksgiving and we had many conversations about this (We also watched 13th, which I highly recommend). I asked my Dad about his experiences when he was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and how did he not lose hope? (He had to sit in the back of the bus, use “Colored Only” entrances and all the things you hear about. This isn’t something from the distant past. This is my Dad, only one generation before me). As MLK Jr. once said, it’s not the blatant racists who impede progress of moving forward, but instead those who are indifferent. My Dad shared about continuing to fight for what’s right and now that he is a Christian, also praying for the hearts of people and justice. It’s both.

I do not understand the justification, the brush off and the complete denial that our racial history doesn’t have deep impacts on our society today. I don’t get a lot of things about this, but most especially the silence. If we’re not talking about it in a loving manner, then the opposite side is only going to get louder. (Also, please read Just Mercy. Please.)

“Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.” Reinhold Niebuhr

But as always, the Lord is good and He gave me a word.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God doesn’t ask us to sit back and be silent about the things that matter. He did not make me timid (I don’t have to rely on my own strength. Yes and amen. “He makes us strong, brave, and unafraid”*) He gave me power (The Greek word dunamis means “miraculous power, might, strength”*), He gave me self-discipline (so I don’t become a loud unhelpful voice) and most importantly He gave me love, which covers all things.

And that is what I’ll continue to move forward in. The Gospel is true and God promises His Word won’t return empty, so I hold onto that and keep on fighting for justice. As Walter Brueggemann once said, Justice is “the re-ordering of social life and social power so that the weak may live a life of dignity, security, and well-being.”

Ann Voskamp (in a podcast with Jamie Ivey that y’all should definitely listen to it here) said something that stuck with me as she was talking about the Church and her new book, The Broken Way. She said that “we are the Esther generation.” An oh how we are – we are called for such a time as this. To care for the orphans, the widows, the refugee, our brothers and sisters who fear for their lives.

We can and need to be the light in this darkness.

“And [God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:19‬

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ll end with this:

*From Liz Curtis Higgs’ 31 Verses To Write On Your Heart, page 43.

Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 2

Hello everyone! Today Amy Green joins us for my Diversity Series. I’m really enjoying the discussions that are happening and voices that are sharing. This isn’t the most comfortable of topics, but as I’ve said before, it’s too important to stay quiet about. I hope you’ll read it and as always, share your thoughts on it!

Diversity in Traditional CBA Publishing
by Amy Green

The question isn’t really ever phrased, “Is there enough diversity in Christian fiction?” It’s “Why is there a lack of diversity in Christian fiction?” Indie publishing has given us inspirational fiction from authors of color, as well as novels with characters from a wide ethnic and cultural range, but traditional publishing doesn’t seem to be there yet.

There are a few possible explanations. As the fiction publicist of Bethany House, I start with the fact that we only publish about two new-to-us authors a year and maybe one true debut author—with the slots so few, it’s not surprising that authors of color are finding it hard to break in to traditional publishing. Everyone is finding it hard to break in.

Beyond that, it’s speculation on a complex question.

Maybe agents aren’t encouraging authors to write protagonists from diverse backgrounds, knowing it isn’t as safe as the tried-and-true.

Maybe established authors aren’t mentoring authors of color because they don’t run in the same writing circles.

Maybe Caucasian writers don’t feel they have the authentic experience to write from the point of view of someone of a different ethnicity.

Maybe the few times a traditional publisher did go out on a limb and publish a book with non-white protagonists, they got burned with low sales.

Maybe most of the people headed to the inspirational shelves of a bookstore just don’t want to read diverse fiction.

Maybe authors of color gravitate toward certain genres that don’t do as well in CBA.

It’s a tricky question that leads to a series of other tricky questions, but we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about them. Because while there is no simple solution, change almost always starts with a conversation like the one we’re having right now. With that in mind, I’ll do my best to add a few thoughts to the discussion.

From time to time, one of our acquisition editors speaks to college students in writing or publishing programs and has them go through an exercise called “Fantasy Publishing.”

To play, you look at descriptions of the pros and cons of manuscripts that might come across your desk, along with the advance money you’d need to pay. Given a certain budget, you pick the projects you want to publish…and then listen to the editor’s verdict on how each of them turned out. None of the books listed were real projects, but all of them could be.

Included in the list are potential blockbusters, obscure literary works, run-of-the-mill fiction…and two novels relating to the topic of diversity. One is a well-written romantic suspense novel with an interracial romance. Another is a chick lit style novel written by an African American author. Both have race as a factor that might make the books a harder sell.

In the “Results” page, both potentially-controversial books sell a good amount for their genre. The comment beside one of them expresses the hope that many editors have about good books in an unpredictable industry: “It’s hard to keep a truly well-written book down.”

Occasionally, in real life as in Fantasy Publishing, strong stories that aren’t the market’s “usual” will break out with unexpected success, and this is what every editor would love to see happen. This is why you see them contracting the occasional “risky” project.

But often, more cautious sales projections are accurate, predictions about what CBA readers will buy and what they won’t are confirmed, and even stories that editors know are well-written don’t succeed like they’d hoped. I say this not as a way to dodge blame, but just to give you a bigger picture of what’s going on with the books CBA publishers choose to contract.

When I think specifically about why established authors don’t often include a diverse cast in their main characters, I remember the nervous chatter in writing circles when a CBA author whose protagonist was of a different ethnic group was slammed by critics, mostly in the secular world, not for telling a bad story but for venturing into what they felt she didn’t have a right to portray. I can’t help but wonder if authors think, “I don’t have the authority or knowledge to write authentically about people who belong to minority groups.” “What if I get it wrong and it feels like a stereotype?” “Maybe this isn’t my story to tell.” Those, I think, are legitimate concerns, and some genres and stories (Amish or Regency, for example) simply don’t lend themselves to diversity.

Of course, it’s also been fun reading the comments on Jamie’s original post where people share books and series that feature people of color, as well as non-white authors who are traditionally published. At Bethany House, I personally think our most striking cover of 2016 was Angela Hunt’s Delilah, featuring a heroine of mixed race. And Jill Williamson’s new fantasy series, The Kinsman Chronicles, has one white character in the entire saga—for me, the complex cultures she created contribute to the fresh, original feel of the series because it doesn’t take place in the traditional European setting.

When I asked her to talk about this subject with me, Jill admitted that it’s probably easier to write characters of different races and backgrounds in a completely invented world. She said, “I think it’s important for CBA authors to write the stories God puts on their hearts, to write honest stories. Diversity is a huge trend in ABA, and most editors and agents will caution authors against writing to trends. At the same time, CBA authors can write about anything general market authors write about. We just tend to write it differently. The challenge often comes with the treatment. Authors who are going to write about any kind of minority that they are not a part of—racial, disabilities, and others—had better do their research so that the treatment is honest and respectful in how it’s handled.”

That’s where we are right now. I can’t tell the story of where we’re going, except to say this: I’m hearing more and more people who notice a gap and want to do something about it, people who are starting conversations just like this one.

Before I close out, I want to address another line of speculation, one that relates to you. Yes, you, the person reading this post.

Maybe you’re an author whose books haven’t included much diversity, and you have good reasons that haven’t been addressed. Maybe you’re a reader who doesn’t like the comment that publishers shy away from portraying people of color on covers because they have had lower sales. Maybe, like me, you’re a publishing employee who knows the complex backstory behind which projects reach contract stage and which ones don’t.

Maybe reading this series of posts makes you slightly uncomfortable, because you are not racist, and somehow, even talking about this makes you feel like someone’s accusing you of that.

Here’s the thing: we can’t respond well to this issue (or any issue) from a posture of defensiveness.

When you hear that the Christian fiction community might have fallen short in this area, don’t jump to blame someone. I know that was my first reaction, and it’s not helpful.

Just listen. Hear stories that are different from your own, whether it’s by reading the comments on these posts, seeking out novels by minority authors, or following Christians who speak about race and faith on social media. Ask questions of yourself—not how other people or systems out of your control need to change, but what small things you can do to change. And pray for God to bring reconciliation through his church in all areas, but specifically in the area of racial division.

I know that got really big really fast. But I’m convinced we’re not just talking here about why authors of color tend to feel out of place in the inspirational writing community or why covers portray mostly one ethnicity. It’s bigger than that. It’s harder than that.

As racial tensions mount in our country, this feels especially important for Christians to talk about. Let’s not leave it to the pastors and theologians. Don’t get me wrong, their work is critical…but I want to bring in the storytellers and fiction readers too.

You can’t change everything. Neither can I (although sometimes I’d like to). But you can listen to understand, read to learn, love others more, and enter into potentially uncomfortable conversations with grace and humility.

Thank you so much Amy for sharing! I would love to hear what you think about this post and our discussion as a whole. Did you find yourself getting defensive when this was first brought up? Are you more open to discuss these issues? Please share any and all thoughts!

Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 1

Can we take a moment (or two) and talk about diversity?

Du du du…..I said Diversity. I know.

But before y’all run out of here faster than how I eat my Del Taco, I want to be real. I want to have a place where we can talk about things that need to be talked about. Where it might get uncomfortable, but we’re willing to stick it through because it will be worth it.

While I know that diversity, rather lack thereof, is an issue across the board of not only books and publishing, but other industries as well, this series will be focusing specifically on traditionally published Christian fiction. I’m know I’m not the only one who has thoughts about the lack of diversity in Christian fiction and I think you’d be hardpressed to find someone who would say that there’s plenty of diversity in Christian fiction. Because there isn’t. We all know this is an issue, but where to even start right?

While we know the questions, the answers aren’t always so easy.

Before I continue with some of the key questions I want to discuss (I’m excited to share from others as well) and why I’m blogging about it, I think it’s important to include some key disclaimers – especially if you have come across my blog for the first time and don’t know me.

  • I love Christian fiction (I read it, I work in it and I blog about it)
  • I will continue reading it.
  • I don’t believe there is one person at fault. It isn’t only the publisher’s fault or the editor’s fault or the author’s fault or the reader’s fault. But we need to be in this together.

So why am I bringing this up? Well first up, I like reading books about different people (my people, my friends’ people, all the people). I’m mixed and I love all the cultures I come from (French, Black, Mexican and Spanish, if you were curious), so it’s discouraging and frustrating that there aren’t many books that feature people of color. Why is that? Of course I haven’t read every book published, but I’ve been reading and blogging about Christian fiction for years now and I can count the number of books on one hand. And honestly, I can’t think of a published person of color in this market (again, traditionally published authors. Please share if you know of any!)

The truth is, there aren’t many. It’s okay to say that out loud (especially since this isn’t only an issue in CBA). It’s important to recognize that most of the novels released in Christian fiction feature Caucasian characters. (And just in case you missed it – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these stories. I love them, I read them, and I celebrate their message).

But can we get a brotha up in here? Y’all know what I’m saying? I’m a fan of Asians too. And Mexicans. And anyone else for that matter. And if I read more stories of interracial couples, y’all, I WILL PASS OUT (of excitement!).

How did we get here though? How do we move forward? Are there more stories out there? Do white authors not feel comfortable writing these types of stories? Are there not people of color writing Christian fiction? Does the audience not want these stories? Do they not sale? If not, then why? Because if that’s the case, what does say about readers? Does reading about other people groups make us too uncomfortable? Do people not care?

In different surveys I’ve researched about CBA readership, I haven’t found a survey that asked about race. So while there is plenty of research on the ages, gender, preferred genres, physical or ebooks preferences and what state CBA readers live, we have no information about the racial background of the readers. Why wouldn’t this demographic be helpful? What does this mean, I wonder, if anything? (As before, please share if you have something different!)

I think what finally pushed me to bring my questions and thoughts to the internet was a book cover discussion. You know how I mentioned the novels I could think of that featured people of color? Even though the stories had these characters, the covers didn’t represent that (except one had a Black model on the cover, so yay!). One you could only see the dress, another featured a male lead (who was white) and in a series following ancient Middle Eastern women (an Egyptian, Israelite and Canaanite), each model was 100% White. I was speechless. Please hear this, I have no doubt the stories are wonderful Biblical fiction and yes, the models were great, but I had zero clue it was Biblical fiction until I read the back cover. It could have been a story of Irish and English women based on the models. And the many reactions around the web praised the covers and I didn’t understand why no one else seemed to notice. My first reaction was sadness because I thought man, that was the chance to celebrate a beautiful culture! But instead I thought, well maybe they based it off what would sale. Am I wrong? Is my reaction way off? Maybe. But I can’t discount it.

I posted about this series and so many of y’all provided fabulous feedback. I want to share some initial thoughts and questions that came up:

There was a lot of discussion about staying away from stereotypes. Is “olive” the only way to describe a black person? (Editor note: All you gotta say is the brotha looked like Denzel and people.will.know! ;)) Does the token black kid always have to be from juvie and be “rescued”? Why is there such a lack of main characters who aren’t white?

These things may not have even crossed your mind, but how important is it to recognize how this might hurt our fellow believers and sisters (and brothers) in Christ?

I believe story can truly change people. In a climate that desperately needs to have understanding, empathy, engagement and more love, I believe the Church needs to be leading the way. And not reluctantly, but bravely and boldly leading the march towards reconciliation. The heart of the Gospel is reconciliation. The world needs to see that Jesus does that. That is who He is. A reconciler and a redeemer. Call me a dreamer (I’m not the only one), but I believe with all my heart, fiction can help carve that path. Is Aslan still not spoken of in awe and reverence? Has Redeeming Love not touched the hearts of millions and drawn people to God’s unrelenting love?

So yes, I’m sticking to that truth and I’m believing we can bring together the Church and thus change the world….one diverse novel at a time.

I don’t have all the answers – or really any at the moment – but I do know I want to talk about it. So let’s. I hope to have other voices join in and will share those as they come. Please, share your thoughts and don’t be scared. Let’s make a difference together! You can comment below or join in on Facebook!

Changing the World, Difference Makers

Mocha Club | Difference Makers Feature

Eight years later and I still remember every detail of my trip to Africa. I was in Zambia (and a couple of days in Botswana) and it was life changing, to say the least.

Circa July 2007

There’s something about that place, there’s so much hope and joy. Around the same time as my trip, I connected with Mocha Club through one of the sponsored artist concerts and have been a supporter ever since. Today, I’m chatting with Fallon Klug, Manager of Community Administration, who I got to meet just last week at the Dave Barnes/Matt Wertz concert in Austin! It was so much fun!

Mocha Club is a community of people giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to fund development projects in Africa. We work in five main project areas: Clean Water, Education, Economic Freedom, Orphan Care, and Healthcare.

Our vision is to provide a way for people who don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to make a difference in Africa. Our community-based website allows members to start a team and invite friends to join them in giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to support their chosen project. We know that today’s tech-savvy generation can have a huge impact by using the viral nature of the web. So we decided to equip Mocha Club members themselves to grow awareness and support for Africa by inviting friends.

We’re aware of people’s general lack of trust that their money is being effective, and we address that by providing regular updates. We update our Mocha Club members regularly on how their money is helping the people of Africa through videos and blogs of the specific projects they are supporting.

Photo courtesy of Mocha Club

1. How did you get involved with this organization and what is your specific role?
I actually first heard about Mocha Club back when I was in college in 2007. (Go Dutchmen!) I was a fangirl at a Matt Wertz and Dave Barnes concert when they shared about an organization called the Mocha Club. It was all about giving up $9 a month to support development projects in Africa. As a college student, I could sacrifice $9 and provide clean water for an African for a year! To me, this was incredible. I definitely could give up a couple “decaf americanos with steamed milk” a month in order to provide basic clean water for an entire year. My heart was on fire for Mocha Club and I joined that night. Throughout the years, my passion for Mocha Club and Africa grew and at the same time, I discovered a desire to work in the non-profit realm. The Lord is the great Orchestrator : in 2013, I moved to Nashville and am now the Community Coordinator for Mocha Club. Plug your nose for the cheese: dream come true!

I’m the director of our members and love getting to know the Mocha Club community! I also work with partners, artists, and events to share our common passion for Africa and get others to join our community.

2. What do you want people to know about the work Mocha Club is doing?
The best part about the work that we do is that it’s all about the people. The relationships we have with our African partners across the continent are long lasting and impactful. These partners are leaders in their community who we come alongside to help with what THEY say they need. They are the experts. They know their community and what they need – we are there to help alongside them. The Mocha Club is all about small sacrifices making a big impact. The work we do in Africa is done by a community of people coming together to do their small part and in the end, making a huge impact. It’s the thing you tell your friend about who tells their friend about so we can all do it together!

Photo courtesy of Mocha Club

3. What’s one of your favorite stories from recent work?
This is a story of Kidist (find the full story here) – one of the women who was a former prostitute and is now enrolled in the Women At Risk program receiving counseling and job skills training in order to restore her dignity and lead to a better life for her. The way she describes the staff and other women at the program as “being among family” is just beautiful. Her story is an inspiration to me of strength, perseverance, and hope.

4. What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
We have different ways that people get become part of the community at Mocha Club: first, become a member! Giving up $9 a month and getting your friends to do so too is an easy way to become part of the Club and make a direct impact in Africa. Be an advocate! Share about Mocha Club with your family and friends and grow our community together. Volunteer! If you live in Nashville, we have events coming up that we would love to have you be part of. Check out Ellie’s Run for Africa (elliesrun.org). It’s a 5K race that raises money for our education project at New Dawn high school in Nairobi, Kenya. Or if you want to volunteer on the road, we have multiple artists that go out on tour and talk about their partnership with Mocha Club. We would love your help at the Mocha Club table to share what we are all about and get others to join!

Where to connect with Mocha Club
Twitter | Facebook | Website | YouTube | Pinterest | Instagram

Thank you so much Fallon! Loved hearing more about Mocha Club and hope you readers enjoyed the awesomeness as well! If you’re interested in joining, you can check out My Team, Love Connects Us, or start your own!

Photo courtesy of Mocha Club

(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about! Find previous entries here).

Changing the World, Difference Makers

Amani Ya Juu | Difference Makers Feature

Internet!!!

I’m really excited today because I’m kicking off a post that I hope many like it will follow! Having this feature was a big goal of 2015 and now I can share the first one. Yay!

I want to change to world. I want to partner with folks who are also changing the world for better and I’m thankful to be able to use my voice to spread the awesome work and stories of amazing people around the world!

To kick things off I’m featuring a long time favorite – Amani Ya Juu!

Amani ya Juu (“peace from above” in Swahili) is a sewing and training program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberia. Women at Amani are learning to work together through faith in God who provides a peace that transcends all cultural and ethnic differences. Amani portrays a unique picture of diversity, with women coming from Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, and other African nations.Amani began in 1996 with four women sewing placemats together in Nairobi. Since then, Amani has grown to over 100 women representing ethnic groups and experiences from all across Africa. As women return to their homelands, they carry Amani with them. Amani has established a presence of peace in five African nations and two US cities (Washington, DC and Chattanooga, TN). Each Amani center is locally registered and independently managed with support from an international leadership team.

Lovely ladies! Allie Gonino at the Pass the Light premier, Martha and Jerita, Beatrice and (bottom row) Susan

I had the chance to talk with Amani’s Marketing Director Emily Kirwan, so let’s get to it (and thank you Emily for taking the time!)

1. How did you get involved with this organization?
I first “met” Amani in 2010 when I was studying abroad in Rwanda. A former Amani employee in Kenya had started a center of her own back in her home country. There were women working alongside each other from opposite tribes. Literally, one woman’s husband could have killed another woman’s husband during the 1994 genocide. But these women worked, sang, prayed and ate in fellowship with one another despite painful ethnic histories. And of course, they made stunning products!

I was so in love with the beauty of the organization. Every piece of that experience, from the business-as-a-mission strategy to the high-quality products, made me hungry to be part of it. A year later I was interning at their DC center, which was the US warehouse at the time. I went to Liberia the next year with Amani to volunteer and was then hired to do marketing and resource development.

2. What do you want people to know about the work you’re doing?
In the past 30 years, over a trillion dollars of development-related aid has been given to poor countries in Africa by rich western countries. Most countries are worse off. Throwing money at a problem without accountability creates nothing but a system of dependency.

Amani ya Juu is a non-profit AND a business. The ladies are trained in a skill that allows them to improve their standard of living. They are empowered to provide for basic needs of their families because their are paid a fair wage. We are all about holistic healing. That means that in addition to the physical needs like money for food, the ladies participate things like group devotion or counseling. They are being nurtured spiritually and forgiving people who wronged them. You can almost see a visible transformation. After woman has spent some time training with us she sits a little taller, smiles more, laughs as she works with other ladies, etc.

Also, everyone should read a book called When Helping Hurts. Its all about ways to alleviate poverty without accidentally hurting the poor…and ourselves. Amani ya Juu tends to identify with this philosophy of poverty development.

Amani ya Juu – Beyond Fair Trade from Amani ya Juu on Vimeo.

3. What’s one of your favorite stories from the work y’all have been doing?
Recently, we asked some ladies at Amani Kenya to share on the theme for forgiveness (see here). A huge part of our work focuses on reconciliation and forgiveness. A lot of the ladies are refugees who have fled from civil conflict or other tough situations.The responses were incredible. When I think about the things I struggle to forgive compared to the responses we got from the ladies, I am amazed.

Another cool thing about Amani is that we love it when people leave us for bigger and better things! Sometimes when ladies graduate from our training program, they are given a loan or scholarship so they can start their own businesses or go to college. My favorite of these stories is Rahab, who moved into a slum so she could employ young women (mostly single mothers) by teaching them to make paper beads (see here). When we did that interview Rahab invited me into her home in Nairobi. I had outstanding fried chicken and was able hear the stories of the Rahab and the other young women.

Rahab actually has breast cancer right now so please keep her in your prayers. She is an incredible person who has overcome a difficult past.

4. What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
There’s 3 ways anyone can help change the lives of the ladies in Africa!
1) Shop online at amaniafrica.org. We have fair trade bags, accessories, home goods, jewelry, clothing, baby items, and more—all ethically made in Africa!

2) Volunteer to host a box party. We send a box of products, you sell what you can, and you ship what doesn’t sell back to us! It’s a free, fun way to empower ladies in Africa without leaving home, and it’s pretty easy (right Jamie? 🙂 ). Email volunteer@amaniafrica.org for details. (I agree! These parties are the best!)

3) Donate online to programs for sewing machines and scholarships.

A visit to Amani Kenya – Amani ya Juu from Amani ya Juu on Vimeo.

Where to Connect with Amani:
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest 

Ladies in White (L-R) Top Row: Emily, Nikki, Jocelin, Lindsay | Bottom Row (L-R): Huguette, Jess | Beautiful photos by Molly Gardner Photography

Thank you so much again Emily and Amani and I’ll most definitely be praying for Rahab. Dear readers, thanks for joining in! Now let’s hear from you! Who inspires you? Whether a person or organization, I’d love to hear about them!

(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about!).

Changing the World

Why We Should Change The World

After reading the title of this post did anyone else bust out in dance to Captain E.O.’s “We are here to change the world….gonna change the world!” No? That’s odd.

While it is a worthy topic, MJ’s jams aren’t the topic of discussion today. I’ll save that for another time. As you might have noticed (or not at all 😉 ), this “Why” series is full of posts I do once a month that discuss whatever my heart desires. Sometimes it’s related to books, but most of the time you find things like tv, sports and other such shenanigans. Today it’s about changing the world. Daunting no?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the rather annoying “YOLO” term (if I ever use it, please know it’s in a sarcastic/let’s make fun of this and it usually involves friends and I deciding to eat ridiculous amounts of candy), but I do have to admit, it’s true. You do only live once. So let’s make it count (If you ask me, speeding in fast cars or making as much money as possible isn’t making it count).

Instead I can’t express enough how much more life matters and comes alive when you invest and give to others.

One of the places and organizations I’ve recently partnered with is Reach Out and Read. It’s awesome. Each week I head over to a medical clinic and read to kids in the waiting room. They also get books too. While this might not seem like a big deal, statistics show it is. Having a book of their own, reading more can drastically affect how well they do in school. As they mention on their website: These early foundational language skills help start children on a path of success when they enter school.

I love doing this. It’s fun and when the kids want me to keep reading more, my heart melts a little.

The program in central Austin is starting to gain momentum and it’s a blessing to be a part of! Sometimes there’s a ton of kids, sometimes just one. And don’t worry if you’re not the outgoing-let’s-get-this-party-started type, I promise if I can do it, so can you. I have yet to master the use of the puppet (y’all I.have.tried), but puppets creep me out (which I’m sure can probably be traced back to a creepy 80s film I stubbled upon).

To my fellow introverts, don’t you worry, most of the time when the kids see me, my first thought is “please like me! please come be my friend!” You know, just like any other 31 year old woman. I promise I survived my youth years with no major mishaps.

But internet! Once books start to be read, it’s a whole new world. It’s worth pushing myself beyond my comfort zone every single time! You want to talk about Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed? Got that one down like a lyrical gangsta. Clifford, Dr. Seuss and Llama Llama are my b/f/fs for life.

Seeing kids run to the bookshelf, anxiously picking out their next book, then coming back makes me wish my lunch hour was all day long.

I want to change the world. I have this crazy idea I’m working on of a fundraising Read-a-thon. I don’t know what it will look like, but why let that stop me right? :). And even if reading isn’t your thing, I bet there’s something out there waiting for you to join and change a person’s life.

So what about you? I’d love to hear what you think and if there’s something awesome you’re connected to!

If you’re wondering who the hey Captain E.O. is (a.k.a Disney’s greatest invention ever) please see below and you’re welcome!