Deb’s Books Blast/Deb’s Ministry Blog

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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

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How to Help Your MK’s Keep in Touch with their Home Country

Girl holding the Planet Earth

In 1980 we carried a baby onto a plane bound for the mission field of Taiwan. We didn’t plan to return to the States for four years. That baby and another one yet to be born would grow up in Taiwan, but we had to look past that. Someday they would want to return to the States for college. Unless the Lord called them to be missionaries in Taiwan or some other Chinese country, they would have to fit into American culture. Actually, no matter what they did as adults, they would need to be able to fit into American culture on furloughs. Even in foreign countries they would likely have American friends they would need to understand. Little did we know then that the Lord would lead us away from Taiwan during their high school years and move us to a very different country of New Zealand.

Last month’s blog talked about adapting to the culture of the host country, but we were aware that our kids also needed to be able to interact in their home country. They wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the latest TV commercials which, for some reason, form such a strong part of American culture.  But we needed to help them understand American culture as well as the cultures of their host countries.

1. Give your kids a regional identity.

“Where are you from?” Generally MK’s hate this question.  They hardly know where to begin to answer. If they say they are from some foreign country, other kids may disconnect because they can’t relate, or even feel your kids are showing off.

People don’t mean that to be a trick question. They are just looking for connections. Giving your kids a regional identity with some part of your home country will give your kids more connections. It gives them a group to belong to. Face it, in their home country, almost no one will be from the country they grew up in.

We realized that Americans have, not just a national identity, but a regional one. Art and I grew up in Montana and Colorado. That American sub-culture is different from the South or California or the Northeast. Our kids needed a regional identity too.

In Montana, our furlough home, people hunt, fish, climb mountains, and chop wood. None of these activities seemed very important in Taiwan, but our girls needed to know what it meant to “come from Montana.” We did take our kids hiking. On furlough we sent our kids to Bible camp in Montana. We tried to give our kids a taste of the farm and the mountains. Furlough gave them the opportunity to meet our friends and their kids. We never succeeded in making them avid campers, but we tried to give them enough activities in those places to at least give them some sort of regional identity.

2. Avoid disposable friendships.

“Friendships are disposable.” I remember thinking this as a teen. My dad was a church planter, and because of some special circumstances in his ministry at that time, I moved at least once a year during high school. One year I went to three schools the first month. I finished up the year at the school I liked the least. I didn’t fit in and finally decided that I didn’t have to make friends there. I just had to get through the school year. In time I revised that a bit, but you can see how friendships seemed disposable.

Many MK’s visit a different church every Sunday during furloughs. Even if they are friendly, many American teens aren’t prepared to make friendships that quickly. Short term friendships can be valuable too. Sometimes short term friendships come back around as you get older.

Help your kids to understand that life is enriched by many kinds of friendships. Help them to keep in contact with some of their friends. Email and Facebook makes that easier than it was in years past.

Kids can also benefit from friendships with adults. They can extend their family with “aunts and uncles” who are co-workers on the field or take a special interest them in their home country. We had some adults that worked hard to stay connected with our kids. My daughter Lori writes, “Whether the relationships MK’s make are with kids or adults, In the States of on the field, these meaningful relationships can easily last a lifetime if they keep in touch.

Make the effort to help your kids build relationships with people in your supporting churches so that when they leave home they will realize they have friends in their home country who care about them.

3. Visit well-known national places while you are on furlough.

You have to travel anyway. Go the extra mile to see historical places, see national parks, or do fun activities. Research ahead of time so your kids will understand the significance of where you are going. One thing you kids may not get overseas is the significance of being a citizen of your home country. They may never be as patriotic as the average citizen, but they do need to gain some understanding of why a citizen feels proud of his country.

Years ago most Americans felt a strong pride for their country, many feeling it was the best in the world. Sometimes today they have the opposite problem. Politics and problems have stolen their pride to the point they aren’t even respectful of government leaders.

Missionary parents need to give their kids pride in and respect for both their host country and their home country. They need to help them see the good and deal with the bad realistically.

4. Choose books and DVD’s that will help your kids understand the culture of their home country in a good way.

Helping your kids become comfortable in two cultures may be a big task, but it is well worth it. It will help them reach adulthood with a positive attitude about their MK experience.

Jordan Axtell is a fictional missionary kid in my two most recent books. In Broken Windows Jordan comes to terms with some of the issues M.K.’s face. He is especially haunted by the fact that his parents have been faithful missionaries, but seen little fruit for their labor. Broken Windows is currently free for Kindle through Tuesday, June 14. This weekend I launched Deja Who?, Book 2 in the same series. In that book, Jordan finds himself especially suited for a ministry to international students because he grew up in Taiwan.

You can find Broken Windows here.

You can find Deja Who? here.

Join my book blast for inside information on Deja Who?

zcover Deja Who

This Friday, June 10, I’m launching my book Déjà Who?, Book 2 in The Keyhole Mysteries. The paperback version is available now and the Kindle should be up within a few days. Broken Windows, Book 1 in the series, took place in Boise, Idaho. Why did I move my characters, Jordan and Zophie, to Minneapolis for book 2?

My Book Blast readers get information about my books that you can’t get anywhere else. If you join before Friday you’ll get a letter with 4 Reasons I Chose Minneapolis as the Setting for Déjà Who? Everyone who joins my Book Blast also gets my article on 6 Marks of Distinctively Christian Fiction.

Buy the paperback or Kindle version here.

5 Ways to Nurture New Musicians in Your Church

Maybe you’ve identified musicians in your church who have the potential to play for church someday but currently lack the necessary skill and confidence. How do you help them gain the skill and confidence they need to become regular musicians?

My daughter, Lisa, found herself in a church that needed more pianists. This is her story of how her church encouraged her to begin playing in public.

Lisa’s story

From an early age, I was taught the value of music within the church. My mother, the daughter of a church-planter herself, taught me piano for several years and then found me other piano teachers. When I dragged my feet about piano, my mother would explain: “If you’re ever a part of a small church with no musicians, you’ll understand why I made you take piano lessons. It’s hard to sing in a congregation with no instrumentalists.”

I knew how to read music and play songs written for singing in four parts. I had some training in chords and improvising for hymns, but I was far from being a good church accompanist. As I moved into a season in which I used other ministry skills, I set piano aside. However, I made a promise that I would play again if my church ever needed me to do so.

Fifteen years passed. During that time, I was part of several churches, but none needed an additional piano player. I did not have access to a piano to practice on and played very rarely—perhaps once a year. Surely, I wouldn’t be needed to play piano again, I assumed.

I was wrong. Within a few years, our small church lost five piano players, mostly due to moves out of state. Less-experienced players began dusting off their skills and playing. I thought I was safe—we still had several ladies who could play better than I could. But, our pianists were all young moms. A sick child, an imminent due date or even the nursery rotation could leave us short on pianists.

So I agreed to try as a back-up player. That’s when I learned that our church intentionally did several things behind the scenes to support newer, more hesitant musicians within our church:

  1. Let them start gradually.

Most beginning pianists will be intimidated if they have to play all the songs in a song service on their very first week. But there are several ways to avoid this. Perhaps on the first Sunday, the new pianist could just play for part of the song service (i.e. the first song or two before the Scripture reading.) Another piano player can play for the rest of the service. Or consider having your new pianist play “second piano” on a keyboard alongside your main pianist. This way, they do not need to be the only person playing.

  1. Keep a running list of songs the new pianist can play.

Let’s say the new pianist is only able to add one or two new songs to their repertoire each week. Don’t let this become a discouragement. Over several months’ time, she will likely be able to play many of the songs your church regularly uses. This will build her confidence and likely cut down on needed practice time.

  1. Consider including other instruments.

At our church, the pianist rarely plays alone. There is usually a guitar or some violinists. We even have a flute player who occasionally plays for congregational singing as well as a beginning harpist who has done some special numbers. At times, our musicians have mentored responsible teens and preteens to play their instruments in church. (Similarly, kids can be trained as choir members and soloists.)

  1. Look for recordings to help the musicians get a feel for a new hymn or chorus.

Some pianists need help making sure they are correctly sight-reading a new hymn or chorus. You may find that someone has posted a performance of it online. Listening to the recording will help musicians know that they are playing the song with the right notes, rhythm and speed. (It’s worth noting that some churches and song leaders choose to sing a song a little different from the way it is written.) It is easy to share a link with other musicians via email.

  1. Don’t underestimate the value of an encouraging word.

When I started playing piano at church again, I was very aware of my inadequacies. In fact, the speed of congregational singing usually meant I could keep pace only by playing just the right hand. Yet our pastor, music coordinator and most talented violinist all stopped me to express appreciation for my efforts. They found things to praise in my playing and encouraged me to keep trying. This helped me to persevere in playing for church as second pianist, even when I questioned whether my contribution was valuable.

I’m glad I committed years ago to be willing to play piano for my church if needed. I’m also glad for the help other church musicians blessed me with as I began that endeavor.

Thanks, Lisa. Here are several books I’ve found helpful in teaching piano students  to begin to play church songs:

Joyful Melodies, Volumes 1-4 by Jennifer Hall. I’ve used Book 1 for beginning students. All songs are in the keys of C, G, or F with simple hand positions. Some songs can be played as duets. This comes from a conservative Christian publisher, Bible Truth Music. Most of the songs are hymns. This book worked really well for me. You can order the books or pay for a download.

Religious Favorites by James Bastien These hymns, traditional Christian songs, and songs for special occasions are slightly harder than Book 1 of Joyful Melodies. This one book gives over 100 well known hymns. All are in the keys of C, G, or F. Most of the left hand for most hymns is largely composed of the I, IV, and V chords in their easiest playing positions.

Adult Piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall Faber. This book works well for teaching beginning adult students who have had some exposure to music. The greatest part about it is that it gets students playing melodies with chords earlier than usual, which helps prepare them for playing hymns and other church music. All you need to teach comes in this one book. If, however, you have an adult student who has absolutely no musical background, she may find this one moves too quickly.


Why I Joined ACFW


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If you’re a Christian fiction writer, perhaps you’ve wondered if you should join American Christian Fiction Writers. Maybe you don’t know much about ACFW or wonder if the benefit would justify the membership fee. If so, perhaps my experience in this article can help you decide whether or not ACFW is a good fit for you.

I began writing for Christian publication just before the Christian fiction market exploded in the early 1980’s. I’ve seen great changes in the Christian publishing industry and attended some very helpful conferences for Christian writers such as Write to Publish, other ACW conferences, and the Writing for the Soul conference (which is no longer active.) In recent years I’ve taken note of American Christian Fiction Writers, their conference and their membership.

For several years I hesitated to join ACFW because I can only attend writers’ conferences during occasional furlough years to the States, and only if the conferences fall at the right time in a reasonable location for me. Without the conference discount in my favor, I questioned whether or not the initial fee would be worth it if I couldn’t attend a conference. (It costs $65 to join for your first year, and $45 to renew your subscription each year thereafter.) I heard good things about ACFW, but never had a clear understanding of how it could help me.

In December 2015 I finally joined ACFW. I have gained considerable benefit from a few things and I continue to discover more benefits all the time.  You might be helped in different areas, but I’ll share the ways ACFW has helped me.

{Don’t miss the one helpful hint I share with you at the end that will make the whole ACFW communication easier.}

Critique Group

All members can participate in the Scribes Critique Group whenever they want. Since I have moved from traditional publishing to self-publishing, I wanted input from other writers to make my book as strong as it could be. I wrestled with self-doubt and wondered if certain parts of my book were working. This group gave me objective opinions by Christian writers who were on my side, but honest about changes that needed to be made. It was this benefit which finally convinced me to join ACFW.

How does it work?

To join the critique group you need to join an orientation class that teaches you how to submit and receive critiques. This takes about an hour a day for five days.  If you have already learned to use track changes, that will make this process easier. When you have completed the course, you can submit and receive critiques.

(Don’t miss my helpful hint at the bottom.)

You have to critique two chapters from other writers in the group for every one critique you receive. Some “critters” are more experienced or thorough than others, but you get at least 3 critiques for each chapter you submit. Comparing critiques gives you a good idea of what is working and what isn’t.

You aren’t obligated to make any changes, but if several critters note the same problem in your chapter, you’ll probably want to make a change.

I submitted the first 5 chapters from Broken Windows, which I had already published in 2015. I felt  these chapters needed to be tighter and get into the action faster. Since I had self-published, I could easily change these chapters, which I did once it was critiqued. I also submitted the first five chapters for Deja Who?, the sequel. Since the first chapters of any book are especially important, I decided to have these early chapters critiqued.

I feel the critique process gave me many good responses that helped improve my books, but I didn’t choose to have the whole books critiqued. You are  only allowed to submit 2 chapters a week (or 2500-word portions.) I didn’t want to wait long enough for the whole books to be critiqued, but appreciated the help for the chapters I submitted.

If you’re worried about flooding your inbox with emails, don’t miss the helpful hint at the bottom.

Email Loop

This allows you to ask questions and make comments on the email loop, as well as read other questions and comments. You don’t have to read or comment on anything if you don’t want. The subject headings help you scan the topics quickly and read the helpful entries.

The loop covers topics like punctuation tips, where to find valuable research, information about writing topics and contests, when authors are looking for blogs from other writers, and all kinds writing subjects.

I’ve found many of these entries helpful, but don’t miss the helpful hint at the end that helps you keep your sanity.

Joining Groups

You can also join groups with ACFW. Most, if not all, of these groups use Facebook to interact.

Since I don’t live in America, I belong to ACFW Beyond the Borders. This allows me to interact with other authors who live outside of the US. I’ve even “met” a few who live in New Zealand.

I also belong to two review groups that allow me to post my books for review by readers who agree to give an honest review in exchange for a book. I can also ask for beta readers from one of these groups. I have no obligations to this group, but I can ask or give reviews or comments when I want.

I’m also tiptoeing into a couple of others groups. Though not all of these groups are exclusive to ACFW, I wouldn’t have found them without it.

Other Benefits

You can also take online writing courses with ACFW, attend the national conference, meet other Christian writers, and find places to promote your own books.

Check out more information about membership benefits here.

You can find me on Fiction Finder here.

It takes a while to find your way around the extensive members only section of the ACFW website, but you can find help when you’re stuck. The spirit of ACFW is not competitive, but cooperative. You meet  a community of Christian authors there who understand people like you and want to help.

I can’t say if ACFW is a good fit for you. You can join and get nothing out of it. But membership does offer many benefits if you choose to use them. I have found my membership more helpful than I thought it would be, and plan to continue with it.

I did find out very quickly, however, that one helpful hint really helps you get started on a better foot. This is the tip I’ve been saving until last.

ACFW will work better for you if you have a separate email address for it. If you join a critique group, while you are giving and receiving critiques, you will be receiving many emails every day and it will drive you crazy if your ordinary email is bombarded with these. This separate address works well for the email loop too, so the email loop messages don’t get mixed up with your personal mail. Once you choose a separate address, you can sort the loop messages from the critique group messages. (They’ll tell you how.) That way, when you want to look at them they’re there, but otherwise they aren’t in your way.

I chose a gmail address for my ACFW mail, and that works well. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle, however, if I had used this separate address as soon as I registered.