Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Equality as a Cultural Issue

10645013_s (1)I always thought I knew what equality was.

Americans believe in equality. We don’t like to think of ourselves as snobs. We try not to judge a person’s worth by their fame or income level or what they look like. We try to treat all people with a certain degree of respect. So when we moved to New Zealand, where equality is very important, I felt we fit in and understood. Years later, however, I learned that the New Zealander (Kiwi) idea of equality was slightly different.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a label used in New Zealand and Australia to describe their aversion to people who “get above themselves.” They are friendly to almost anyone, but eye with suspicion the “tall poppy” who grows higher than the rest. Kiwis and Aussies rarely celebrate success and don’t generally aspire to build wildly successful careers.  Sports is the exception to the rule. Everyone loves the All-Blacks, the nation’s rugby team. Compared to many other cultures, however, education is not highly valued. New Zealand is, as a result, always short of doctors, but they have plenty of tradesmen.

Kiwis will tolerate a certain amount of success if the successful person lives in an average house, drives an average vehicle, and is like everyone else.  Anything that could hint at being flashy or pretentious will not impress the average Kiwi, but will have the opposite effect.

 Equality and Leadership

Understanding the Kiwi concept of equality becomes important in a leadership position. Titles are rarely used. Even kids often call doctors and pastors by their first names. While Americans use titles as a sign of respect, expecting it in New Zealand often signals superiority.

Some cultures weigh a pastor’s advice very heavily and nearly always follow it. In an egalitarian culture like New Zealand, however, a pastor or leader has to tread much more carefully when giving advice or correction or he will risk offense.

Formality and Leadership

Kiwis like to keep most things casual. Formality often comes across as unfriendly. Formality often emphasizes a central figure standing up front, leading things. Casualness emphasizes everyone in the group, because individuals can speak out quite freely.

People sitting in a circle drinking tea is friendly. Casual dress, informal settings, unstructured meetings are friendly too. Having tea and biscuits (cookies) makes anything seem more friendly.

On the other hand, anything highly structured or planned can seem unfriendly. Rules, punctuality, formal dress, evaluation, one speaker talking without comments from the audience; all these can easily come across in an unfriendly manner. Meetings are often much more casual than the American counterparts.  While Americans may be uncomfortable with such a degree of casualness, it makes the meeting seem friendly to Kiwis. And friendliness is the brother of equality.

Potluck Chili for Many Occasions and Diets

I’ve just come from a church potluck dinner after a morning service with a baptism. We had a great attendance, good testimonies, and an all-around great Sunday morning.  The food was not the most important aspect of this, but it’s the topic of this blog. What do you serve a big group when you have different diets to cater for?

This noon meal was soup and finger food. We had five crockpots of soup and lots of sandwiches and savouries. This works well for our church. I always bring chili. Of course chili is as common as dirt in America.  It’s not common in New Zealand, but Kiwis seem to really like it and it goes every time I bring it.

But the great thing about chili is that you can easily adapt it to suit a wide range of diets. It’s easy to make and very filling. You may have your own recipe, but if not, here’s mine. I often call it my 8-can chili. Here are things to look for when you want to feed a crowd:

Gluten Free

This chili is easy to make gluten free. Just make sure none of your ingredients have wheat in them, especially the pasta sauce, baked beans, or seasoning.


One time I knew a vegan couple would be attending our pot luck. I simply took out enough for them before I added the ground beef and kept theirs hot in a small crock pot. Then I added the meat to the rest of the chili in the large crock pot.

Dairy Free, Egg Free

Chili works great for these diets as well.

Something Different

Make waffles using corn meal for part of the flour and use a little less sugar. My recipe is already gluten free. Pour chili over the waffles and top with grated cheese or the cheese sauce in my recipe and sliced olives.  This works well for lunches or youth group. You can make the waffles ahead of time and warm them in an oven when needed. A small crock pot works well to keep the cheese sauce warm until serving time.

Just be aware that the waffles won’t necessarily be gluten, dairy, or egg free or vegan unless you work to make them that. For dairy free or vegan the cheese sauce would need to be made with something like soy milk and soy cheese. To be gluten free the cheese sauce needs to be thickened with cornstarch (cornflour) that has no wheat in it, not  wheat flour.


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zcoverEdges cover, frontWhen a baby dies from head injuries, an innocent babysitter is accused and uncertainty forces experts to define the edges of truth. This intensely personal story will grip your heart and challenge your faith.  It gives a vivid account of Mary Weaver, who was presumed guilty of shaking and slamming a baby to death, and one of her lawyers, Steve Brennecke, who fought to clear her name.  Dr. Ruth Ramsey calls this book, “a wake-up call for anyone who is ever involved in childcare.”

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Feeling Unappreciated?

Water drops folling from a bamboo leafDo you ever feel you are pouring out your life in ministry and no one cares? Like your drop of ministry isn’t making a very big ripple? Sure God knows your heart. He sees the hours of work, the spent emotions, the faithfulness in service with little visible results.

But you care about these people.

You watch them come to Christ in salvation and take their first baby steps as a Christian.

You listen to their heartaches. You pray with them, weep with them. You point them to Scripture.

You hear their concerns and make changes in your ministry to meet their needs.

You see them going in a dangerous direction and you want to shake some sense into them. Instead you pray and look for opportunities to encourage them to draw closer to God.

You’ve given your life to serve these people. You exhaust yourself in ministry for them. Don’t they care?

Dr. Raymond Buck, now with the Lord, served many years as a missionary to Africa. Many times this veteran missionary heard new missionaries voice their frustrations. He would say, “We didn’t come to be appreciated.”

In Second Corinthians the Apostle Paul opens his heart with great transparency. He had poured out his life for the Corinthian church but a small but vocal group were challenging his authority. They questioned his credentials as an apostle. They accused him of being insincere, spiritually weak, and an ineffective speaker.

As Paul ends his epistle he says, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. . . . But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.” (2 Cor. 12:15,19, NKJV)

Paul poured out his life in ministry in a way few others have. Though he was forced to defend his credentials so his message would be accepted, he didn’t do that to be appreciated. He cared only that his children would be built up in Christ.

Are you feeling unappreciated today? Are you faithful to the Lord and your work, yet seeing few visible results? Satan can use your discouragement to cripple your ministry while you sink into self-pity. So often God is working in hearts in a way you can’t see.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58, NKJV)

[image courtesy of Andrejs Pidjass/Deposit Photos]

Effective Storage Ideas to Stretch Your Ministry Time

file cabinet 001In 35 years of mission ministry (16 years in Taiwan, 16 years in New Zealand, plus Stateside ministry) I’ve found a secret that has multiplied my time and energy to allow me to accomplish much more than otherwise possible. My secret? Storage.

Storage doesn’t sound very important but it has saved me hundreds of hours of time. Plus it multiplies the ministry of any program or series. Some of the ideas are my own: a puppet show with talking Christmas tree ornaments; a series of Bible stories about Bible characters who would have seen some of the ancient Wonders of the World; a Christmas program with a modern-day Scrooge. Other lessons and programs have come from others. The principles are the same. You take time, work, emotional energy to teach or lead a new program. If items are stored properly you can use them again with much less work.

On the other hand, your church storage space may be stuffed full of items you’ll never use again. Saving everything often makes things so hard to find that no one ever uses any of it. Storage clutter can claim church space (or house space) that is needed for other things. What should you save and what should you throw away?

Store or Toss Questions You Should Ask

How big is it?

Saving a box of jingle bell shakers doesn’t take nearly as much room as three refrigerator box inns. Small things that are easy to store may be worth storing if it looks likely they may be reused. The fridge boxes, on the other hand, may drive someone in your church crazy.

Hint: Big items are easier to store if they are flat. We have a cardboard stable window with a picture of a donkey’s head that we have used many years. We hang the flat piece of cardboard on the wall for use and though large, it takes little storage space. We have also used camels many years which are two-sided, but store flat.

How often will you use it?

Standard Christmas props may be used often. Nativity costumes; a manger; gold, frankincense, and myrrh; these items can be used in many different ways. Other items are specific to a certain program and may be unlikely to be used ever again.

If you don’t plan to use the items again, consider donating them to a missionary or sister church. We have been given a number of quality VBS programs from churches who had used them once. We have used them multiple times as part of our kids’ program on the mission field.

How hard is it to duplicate?

If an item can be reproduced easily, the need for keeping it is slim. The more work it is to reproduce, the more you should be reluctant to toss it. If the item is big, like a Christmas program prop, consider saving the pattern instead of the item. That way you can save a lot of time in reproducing it without having to save the whole thing.

Our church has limited space to save Sunday School materials. I often keep only the original pages of reproducible pages and toss the copies. If I alter the original I keep both versions. I save a lot of room by not keeping all the extra copies of reproducible pages, but I can make copies quickly and easily. I can use the scratch paper for other things.

The harder something is to duplicate, the more you should consider saving it. Also remember, when you make a prop or visual, consider how you will store it. Consider making large items in a way that they can be folded or disassembled  for easier storage.

Storing Lessons and Visuals

I save so much time by reusing lessons. I teach Sunday School, Discovery Club, Bible in Schools, Christianity Explained, New Believers’ Bible Studies, and other lessons. Kids grow up and out of your class. You may change ministry locations or teach new groups of people. Saving notes and visuals allows you to reteach those lessons with less preparation.

Many lessons and visuals can be saved in simple file folders or manila envelopes in a box or filing cabinet. When teaching materials that belong to your church, keep a file of your notes and the visuals you make in your own files. Label them clearly so you’ll be able to recognize them the next time you need them. Don’t forget to back up digital files.

Save series of lessons or bulkier files in cardboard file boxes. You can buy these at a stationery store. They are made to hold file folders and fit into a filing cabinet.

But what do you do with big visuals that don’t fit anywhere?

I used to stack large envelopes of visuals and flannelgraph backgrounds next to the wall behind a bookshelf. Then I realized that these outside walls in a room which is often unheated were allowing my materials to mold. Thankfully I caught this in time and totally altered my storage technique. I lost some moldy envelopes, but nothing of great value.

For large, flat visuals I made a large flat box. I wanted these to fit in a file cabinet so I started with two of the cardboard file boxes. You buy these flat and fold them to the size of a file folder. Instead of folding the front sides of the boxes up,  I left them flat and overlapped the bottoms. Then I duct-taped the bottom and around the entire sides of the combined boxes. The top opens from both sides and the sides overlap a bit when closed. One file drawer will hold three of these large flat boxes when placed on their sides and stacked. Those boxes will hold a large number of large flat visuals.

Fasten posters to your file cabinet with magnets. If you don’t want them to fade, place the wrong side out.

Of course, not everything will fit in a file drawer. I have a huge wooden Pharaoh mask that I use to teach about Egypt. It is a permanent office decoration when not used in a classroom. I have a whole dresser for puppets and props and a storage bin to take puppets back and forth in. Finding the right size box is often key to your storage problems. You might need a box for CD’s and another box for 3D visuals. Storage doesn’t have to look fancy, but if you organize things well you can store a maximum amount of stuff in a minimum amount of space.

Then the next time you go to teach something you’ve taught before, you can use your emotional energy in preparing to re-use a lesson with enthusiasm rather than duplicating visuals you’ve already used before.