Monday, April 17, 2017

The Case for Christ & Women in Ministry

THE CASE FOR CHRIST is
about the life of Lee Strobel, and his transformation from hard-nosed investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune, to becoming a follower of Jesus.

THE CASE FOR CHRIST, at times, seems a bit over-the-top. But then, to be fair, it shows a very topsy-turvy part of Strobel's life so some melodrama is going to be part of the telling. Overall, THE CASE FOR CHRIST does a great job chronicling Strobel's journey. And leaves it up to the viewer as to the preponderance of evidence for the Resurrection.

I left the theater with two major take-aways:

I wanted to know more about Leslie Strobel, Lee's wife.

As portrayed in the film, she finds Jesus first and, more importantly, remains steadfast in her convictions despite dealing with her husband's almost two-year long mission to discredit her faith. (The majority of the film focuses on that timeframe). Between Leslie's acceptance of Christianity and Lee's he was a confirmed atheist. He was anything but understanding and oftentimes quite belligerent in his insistence that God, and Jesus, in particular, were a hoax.

After viewing the film, I considered Leslie to be the anchor of her family. The one, who, by example, led her husband to believe in God and Jesus. By the way, during Lee's period of investigating the couple already had a four year old with another child on the way.

Ironically, in an interview on Pure Talk, Leslie said, that, after she prayed the "Sinner's Prayer" with her neighbor Linda, she was unsure for about a year if she was "saved" or not. "I just didn't believe that it took," she explains.

Regardless of whatever was happening in her heart or spirit, outwardly, she continued to pray for her husband and extend mercy to him during a time when Lee, by his own telling, often came home drunk and angry. Perhaps out of frustration that his investigation into disproving the validity of Jesus wasn't bearing any fruit.

Things got so bad between them that it got to the point where Lee flat-out told his wife that he didn't see them staying together if she didn't change her tune.

She didn't. But he did. Eventually giving up his quest and turning to God. (In the film, there's a scene where Lee stands in front of a giant whiteboard, filled to the brim with questions and clips of information about Jesus. He raises his hands in the air and says, "OK God. I give up!")

I walked out of the theater lobby wanting to know more of Leslie's story. Even if it's not as dramatic as her husband's there is definitely something there worth exploring.

In an interview for a Jesus Calling podcast, Leslie said, "I just wanted to be a mom and raise kids." Her own transition to becoming a Christian was almost uneventful, in comparison to Lee's, which was much more of an intellectual exercise. "For me it was relational," she said. "It was never a question of needing any facts or proof."

She sums up, "It's been such a privilege and honor to be used by God. To have our story touch hearts."
Leslie & Lee Strobel

Which brings me to a second and final take-away, not necessarily linked to the film, but definitely nudged by it.

Why don't we hear more about women in ministry and their own faith journeys in mainstream Christian media? (I realize there has been great breakthrough in this area, at least in America, over the past 20 years, but it seems a lot more could be done).

Having just celebrated Easter, it bears repeating that it was women who first encountered the risen Jesus.

All four Gospel writers agree.

Matthew names Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" going to the tomb. (Matt. 28.1). Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Solome (Mark 16.1). Luke records "the women" went to the tomb, and later mentions Mary Magdalene, Jonnna, and Mary the mother of Jesus as being there. And John tells us that it was Mary Magdalene who first encountered the risen Jesus

So, in a culture that was men-centric, it's very significant that four male writers record that it was women who first spread the word about the Resurrection.

Years later the apostle Paul wrote: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Corinthians 15:14).

For us, living in the 21st Century, this fact might not seem like much, but for the time in which Jesus was living, it turned the culture upside down.

Women had no rights. Were seen as men's property. Were not given leadership positions.

But yet Jesus and God chose to ignite the beginnings of what became the Christian Church by and through women. You could almost make another case: That if it weren't for the women among Jesus' followers, we might not be following Jesus now.

Here's the trailer for THE CASE FOR CHRIST.

Photo Credit: top, Pure Flix




Monday, April 10, 2017

Natalie Vellacott: Author & Missionary



Natalie Vellacott served as a police officer and detective in the UK for ten years before resigning in 2011 to become a Christian missionary. Her book, Planet Police, contains humorous and revealing stories from the front line. 

Natalie has lived and worked with street people in the Philippines. Her true story They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? (
published in 2014), relates her encounter with a group of street teenage boys abusing a solvent called "rugby" to help them forget the pain of hunger and poverty.

Natalie served on the Logos Hope Christian mission ship for two years. She published her adventures in The Logos Life in 2017.

What was your motivation to become a missionary?
The short answer is that I believe God called me into mission work. I had been involved in street evangelism with my church since I was saved as the urgency of sharing the truth with others became my priority in life. I had begun to find it more difficult to share with people while working as a police officer due to legal and organizational restrictions. I believe all Christians are missionaries in one sense and that if someone isn’t evangelizing at home, they won’t be motivated to do so if they travel abroad.


In your book, you mention becoming ‘definitely converted’ to Christianity when you were 23. Can you share what happened?
If you want to read the full story, my personal testimony is included at the end of all of my books. I was raised in a Christian home but drifted from God just after my baptism when I was seventeen. I spent six years living a worldly life—smoking, drinking, gambling and involved in non-Christian relationships. I was seeking satisfaction and meaning in those things but ended up miserable and empty inside. I knew the truth due to my upbringing--that my sin was an offence to God and that I was separated from Him. I reached a point where I couldn’t continue as I was, mainly due to witnessing changes in my younger sister that I knew could only have come about by God’s intervention. I basically did a 180—I confessed my sin to God asking for His forgiveness through Jesus and resolved to make major changes in my life. My story has similarities to the prodigal son story in the Bible.


What was the hardest part of your initial experience with the ‘rugby boys’?
Definitely seeing them abusing solvents right in front of me and being powerless to stop them. I knew they were potentially doing irreversible damage to their bodies and minds. Even after we had been working with them for some time, they still used this as a way to hurt me when they were angry or upset and it worked every time. I would have done anything at that point to stop them doing it. It was a painful and effective form of emotional manipulation that I had to learn to ignore.


Originally, you started your Filipino missionary work in Olongapo. Would you be able to share how things are in Olongapo now?
I last visited Olongapo in late 2015. The large group of children abusing solvents under the bridge hasn’t returned which is a mixed blessing. Some of the children did leave the streets, returning to their families or back to school, others are living permanently at the youth center. However, the solvent abuse continues with smaller groups of children now operating less visibly in other areas of the city.
I eventually had to leave Olongapo in 2014 because I couldn’t find a church to settle in and I needed more of a support network for the work I was doing. I joined a church in Manila (the capital city) where my new pastor suggested that I should try to focus more on working with girls. This was a low point for me as I had believed God was calling me specifically to work with the “rugby boys.” It wasn’t that I wanted to work with boys as such, but most of those abusing solvents were boys. After prayer and consideration, I realized that I must submit to the authority of my pastor--his point was valid because the boys I had been working with had grown older.
I continued working with several of the original boys after leaving Olongapo and visited some of them in rehab in Taguig and in the youth center in Olongapo. I am still in touch with many of them via social media and as I recently revised They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? I included the boy’s individual updates in the back of the book.


For those who haven’t read your book, what have you been doing since Dec. 2013?
I have struggled on and off with ill-health due to having an under-active thyroid. This necessitated several trips back to England and affected me in other ways as only those with the same problem will understand. After leaving Olongapo, in April 2014 I joined my church’s program in Manila, working among the street homeless. This included some “rugby boys” and girls. I joined a medical mission to Tacloban (the area that was hit by the devastating typhoon) and just generally took part in help and hope projects in the area. I left the Philippines in February 2016 for a furlough/break and haven’t returned to date.

My writing has become more of a ministry partly due to my health issues although my health seems to be stabilizing and I’m keen to get back to the mission field. I comment on contemporary Christian topics in my blog and write honest Christian-perspective book reviews using Goodreads as my main platform. During my recuperation, I had time to write Planet Police—my auto-biography about being a police officer in England for ten years and also more recently The Logos Life detailing the aspects of life on Logos Hope not covered in the “rugby boys” tales. I’ve tried to include humor and cultural oddities but all of my books have an evangelistic slant. Some readers find that off-putting but as that’s the main purpose in my writing I’m afraid it’s there to stay!

I have also been volunteering for an organization that shares Jesus with enquirers in chat conversations via the internet and I have spent several lengthy periods in South Carolina, America volunteering at the ministry center that supplies the Logos Hope ship with books.


What motivated you to move to the Philippines to do full-time, independent missionary work? How long did you remain in Manila?
Maybe I have covered this already in part. On joining the Logos Hope ship in 2011, I prayed that God would lead me to a country for full-time mission work at the end of my two-year commitment. On becoming involved with the “rugby boys” in the Philippines I started to believe that God was calling me to return to the country. The ship moved on from the Philippines in December 2012 and I prayed that if God wanted me to go back I would get further opportunities to spend time there. I was sent to Manila on a challenge team in April 2013 and when I arrived it felt like I was coming home. The ship then unexpectedly sailed to other ports in the Philippines that had been postponed so I had further opportunities to experience the culture and start learning the language.

Why did I go independently? That could be a long answer! I do believe there is a place for mission organizations in the society that we have created but I also believe that the church could fulfill that role. I prefer to operate by traveling from church to church rather than there being a third party involved. That is the reason I moved from Olongapo to Manila because being in a good Bible-believing church is essential for any missionary and I struggled to find one. I need a place where those who I witness to can be taught and discipled and to grow and be held accountable myself. Christians cannot function in isolation.

I was only in Manila for just under two years in the end. I am praying about whether or not to return to the Philippines at this time.


Would you be able to comment on what it’s like in Manila now, with the recent war on drugs (Giyera Kontra droga se Pilipinas)? Do you see it helping things?
I am only aware of what I see in the media and from occasional updates from Filipino friends. I believe the current leader Duterte is extremely dangerous, more so because the shame and honor culture will result in many Filipinos submitting to him. Although Filipinos are more aware of their human rights due to the invasion of Western culture, they are still a relatively shy people. Most hesitate to share their views or stand up for their rights unless repeatedly prompted. Many also tend to go along with the stronger personalities as they avoid conflict. This creates a power vacuum that Rodrigo Duterte seems to have stepped into.  In terms of the solvent abuse, as far as I’m aware, it isn’t covered under Duterte’s war on drugs—he is dealing with harder drugs. The country needs our prayer.


From your perspective, how widespread is the problem of solvent abuse in Manila? In the Philippines?
Solvent abuse among children and young adults is rampant in the Philippines and other third world countries. It is cheaper than food and stops the hunger pangs that they feel. It also allows them to escape their meaningless lives into a fantasy world where they can fight imaginary beings and feel invincible. They don’t think about anything beyond the twenty-four hours in front of them and most don’t care whether they live or die. Many are also covering the pain and rejection of problem families or other abuses by using this drug.


Can you talk a bit about the sort of projects funded through your Olongapo Christian Help & Hope charity?
My charity was set up with broad scope to share the Gospel and help the poor. We have purchased Christian literature and Bibles for distribution, bought clothes and food, funded medical procedures, helped some apply for jobs, sent others on a youth camp and even replaced a church roof in a slum area.


How has your relationship with God changed since you wrote your first book? Since moving to Manila? Since coming home to England?
I hope I have learned to trust God completely although sometimes I feel like a child learning the same lessons over and over again. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges is a great book for those struggling in this area. I have definitely realized that God’s ways are not my ways and that I cannot see the bigger picture as He can. I have stopped asking “why did this happen to me?” and started saying “okay that’s happened, what next?” I think that is biblical because we are told not to worry and not to be anxious and yet that is what we spend a lot of time doing without achieving anything.

Even now, I’m back in America at Operation Mobilization’s ministry center packing books for Logos Hope for the third time in the last twelve months. I’m here because I’m waiting for God to show me what is next but I don’t feel anxious in the way that I might have done in the past. I know God has a plan and that He will reveal it when the time is right. I just need to be obedient and serve where I am to the best of my ability.


Is there any wisdom you’d like to share with readers who may be considering missionary work?
The most important thing is to keep the Gospel central, it is far too easy to drift into help ministries but I believe that help without hope is the ultimate tragedy. People can be materially comforted, medically improved or successful academically with better career prospects, but if they die without Jesus they will still go to hell.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” Mark 8 vs 36 (KJV)

I have included all of my spiritual lessons in my two mission related books. The Logos Life has a list of ten lessons towards the end of the book which I hope will help those considering mission work to adequately prepare themselves. I actually wrote the book with potential missionaries in mind believing that they could learn from my mistakes, challenges and experiences.

I also read a book recently which highlights some important areas, Letters Missionaries Never Write by Fred Kosin, I recommend this as a resource for those serious about mission. I met the author recently—he and his wife Jenny are missionaries to missionaries, they travel around the world encouraging and supporting missionaries on the field. They live by faith—praying for their material needs and waiting for God to provide--which is becoming a lost concept in current mission circles. They are well-equipped to offer advice with their wealth of experience.


Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I just want to encourage those that are considering mission work to pray, take advice from Christians you trust and then go. If God calls you then he will provide for you. I have experienced God clearly opening doors and closing others which is what makes me believe that He will do the same in my current uncertain situation. The missionary life is hard but it is also rewarding and what greater work is there than to be sharing the Gospel--offering hope to those that are perishing?

Natalie served on the Logos Hope Christian mission ship for two years. She published her adventures in The Logos Life in 2017. A Kindle Countdown deal is now on at: 
https://www.amazon.com/Logos-Life-Nat...



Monday, April 3, 2017

Lent's Purpose

According to Baylor University's Center for Christian Ethics, the season of Lent may have had its roots in the tradition of the early Church encouraging fasting for 1-2 days before Easter. Although there is some evidence to link Easter with baptism, the practice was not widespread.

It was Athanasius of Alexandria, in a series of letters (334 AD) who encouraged a forty-day fast, linked to Easter.

Interestingly, according to Christianity Today, the season of Lent didn't always begin on Ash Wednesday. It was Gregory the Great (540-604) who moved the start of Lent to a Wednesday, and instituted the spreading of ashes on the forehead. A symbol of the self-examination and denial, linked to Genesis 3:19, "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

The fasting portion of Lent also has undergone changes.

After the Council of Nicea, church leaders instituted a standard for the 40-day fast of one meal each evening, with no meat, fish or animal products. Today, in the West, that is not the standard, and Christianity Today points out, many Protestant denominations (outside of Episcopal and Anglican) do not mention or practice Lent at all.

Regardless of the history, the main focus of Lent is on reflection and denial. The United Methodist Church's organizational website notes that Lent is a "season of repentance, fasting and preparation for Easter," reflecting on our relationship with God. It often involves giving up something to help this effort. 

So, what's the significance of Genesis 3:19?

Shortly after the Fall (when our spiritual ancestors sinned against God for the first time and were cut off from intimate relationship), God told them: "...For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return."

Indicating that from that point forward, the human race would experience death.

We can take this to mean, on a physical level, that at some point, we will all leave this earth. That our life, as we now experience it, will be over.

Everything we have, materially, at one point, will be gone. The instant we leave this world. (While it's true that some possessions may be forwarded on to relatives or friends or designated institutions, for the most part, those things will no longer be ours).

That's a sobering thought.

It's been said that most of our life, at least in Western culture, is spent ignoring the fact that we're going to die. Death represents the unknown and it often frightens us into accumulating material things.

However, for a person of faith, death isn't the final chapter.

That's the purpose behind Lent.

On the one hand it's a reminder that life is fragile and fleeting. On the other, it asks us to examine the kind of life we are living and our relationship with God. And the spiritual reality of Easter Sunday.

For followers of Jesus, Easter Sunday is a celebration of the life to come. Of death being conquered. That there is much more to this world than material reality.

Lent asks us to remember that this life will someday end. It asks us to slow down and examine where our priorities are. Lent asks us to acknowledge that there is more to living than consuming. We can choose to live lives of service to others. Lent is an invitation to examine the spiritual reality beyond everyday life. Lent is a reminder that we don't have to be afraid of death if we're lived the kind of life to prepare for it.

And by pointing ahead to Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus, Lent offers a resounding "YES!" to the age-old musing, "There has got to be more to life."

How about you? How do you observe Lent?

Photo Credits:
United Methodist Church
episcopalchurchofthetransfigurationofvail.org
catholicreview.org














Monday, March 27, 2017

Immigration - The History of US

With the recent attempts by the current administration in Washington to issue a travel ban, there's been much attention given to the issue of immigration.

We tend to forget that there were native people living in the United States well before our ancestors got here. Which means before there was an Ellis Island there were at least two centuries of assimilation going on.

European nations settled the portion of the continent that became the US with little regard for established boundaries. When more land was wanted, the policy of Manifest Destiny conveniently opened up millions of acres (known as the west) for exploration. When that wasn't enough, the same policy looked south (to Mexico) and the US took hundreds of thousands of acres from our neighbor to establish California and Texas. The current state of Hawaii was also annexed after a long history of commercial exploitation.

Of course, there is also a more positive side to this story. Millions upon millions of our ancestors came to the US through Ellis Island and other ports. From 1892 to 1920 the US received 20 million immigrants. So, it's totally accurate to say that we are, indeed, a nation of immigrants. Almost every one of us can trace our family's history back far enough to prove its truth.

Like it or not, this is part of US history.

So it's more than slightly ironic to witness the clamor in Washington against immigrants: the aforementioned efforts to issue a new travel ban on Muslims, plans to hire an additional 10,000 ICE agents to round up immigrants, calls for extreme vetting and plans to build a "huge" wall to seal ourselves off from Mexico.

None of these plans honor our history. It's as if the authors behind such actions have willfully given in to a selective amnesia that wipes out truth and ushers in unfounded fear. (Even though many ethnic groups have faced prejudice, there were relatively few federal attempts to limit immigration until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed. And since the Immigration Act of 1924 there had always been limits set on various ethnic groups, until 1965 when such ethnic limits were abolished, but numerical restriction was maintained using other criteria).

Simple quotas were established in 1978. And in 1986 the Immigration Reform & Control Act was passed into law. By 1990, the total, more flexible number of immigrants allowed into the US had increased to 675,000. Since that act, it has become increasingly more difficult for immigrants to receive acceptance to come to the US. The current vetting process typically involves 20 separate steps, staring with the United Nations, and includes at least three different federal agencies.


Regardless of the number of individuals allowed into the US, the fact is, all of us (except Native Americans) come from a long line of immigrants. That is about the only thing that we all have in common as Americans.

Ironically, about the only common thread running through the various faith traditions practiced in the US is how to treat the stranger among us. These traditions teach us to help the stranger among us (Christian), welcome them (Muslim), that there is a special blessing reserved for those who do (Jewish and Christian) and that ultimately life is suffering, most of it caused by us, but we can actively choose to recognize and eliminate it (Buddhist).

In an effort to help remind us of the good of immigration - the following quotes are offered:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Emma Lazarus, Poet, These words are on the Statue of Liberty

“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”
George Washington, First President of the United States, son of immigrants

“I’m troubled by [the immigration debate]. When [my family] came from England during the war, people said, “You are welcome here. What can we do to help?” I am a beneficiary of the American people’s generosity, and I hope we can have comprehensive immigration legislation that allows this country to continue to be enriched by those who were not born here.”
Madeleine Albright, 1st female Secretary of State, Immigrant

When you get to know a lot of people, you make a great discovery. You find that no one group has a monopoly on looks, brains, goodness or anything else. It takes all the people - black and white, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant, recent immigrants and Mayflower descendants - to make up America.
Judy Garland, actress


America was founded on immigrants. The immigrant experience is common to all of us.
Nia Vardalos, actress

We are indeed a nation of immigrants. People who choose to come to America have always been one of our greatest sources of national vitality. They keep our economy strong and our communities dynamic. They are some of our greatest patriots.
Thomas Perez, Democratic Party Chair, son of Dominican immigrants


To underscore the economic importance of immigrants in the US, the New American Economy (NAE) has put together a data-base where you can search the economic impact of immigrants in your state or congressional district. According to the NAE, 40% of the CEOs of Fortune-500 companies are immigrants or children of immigrants.

According to the NAE, in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, three of the battleground states during the recent 2016 presidential election, there are 1.7 million immigrants; and they paid $17.4 billion in taxes in 2014.


Photo Credits:

1) scholastic.com
2) immigrantetoamerica.org
3) www.ccri.uottowa.ca
4) billmoyers.com

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meet Author Beverly Nault


Beverly Nault writes Fresh Start Stories, because everyone needs one from time to time. Her stories are filled with colorful characters whose lives are changed through storylines that draw the reader in through humor, poignant moments, and fun-filled adventure. Beverly is the Associate Editor of the literary journal, “Eastern Iowa Review.” She is also a freelance developmental editor.
Bev lives with her husband Gary in Southern California and dabbles in photography. She has two grown and married children, and one incredibly talented one-month-old granddaughter who already shows a lot of potential.
“The Kaleidoscope,” (2015, Wild Rose/Crimson Press) a romantic suspense, earned an InDy’Tale Magazine five-star review and their Crowned Heart for excellence.
Beverly has written the award-winning The Seasons of Cherryvale, series, set in a small town. The first book in the series, “Fresh Start Summer,” earned the San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild Excellence in Writing Award, was included in Real Simple’s 21 Best Summer Reads list, and earned Honorable Mention in the Reader’s Favorite Writing Awards (2011). Her short story, “Camouflaged Christmas,” appears in the “21 Days of Christmas, a fiction devotional (2015, Broadstreet Publishing).

Beverly co-wrote “Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton,” with Mary McDonough about her years working up on the acclaimed television program, The Waltons, and her life growing up in Hollywood. “Lessons” won the Ella Dickey Literacy Award.

According to one interview, your favorite book as a teen was “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Why was this book important to you?
At the time I was intrigued by Scout’s precociousness, and also her relationship with her father, who was an attorney. My own father was an attorney, and Atticus’ insights and wisdom resonated within me. Harper Lee built into the story so many layers that it has a remarkable texture and relevance for any age and time. For a book to reach so many levels is an extraordinary feat.

What other novels have influenced you & why?
“Gone With the Wind” is another novel of complicated relationships, a complex time in history, and a strong heroine who at first glance reveals herself to be of questionable “character,” but then she ends up a much improved, better version of herself for what she’s gone through by the end. I admire authors who can take us along the journey with their characters and at the end we feel as if we’ve become a little better or stronger or more convicted as well. But without all the turmoil and self-sacrifice, we can remain comfortable and relaxed in our easy chair.

Where do you get your inspiration to write? 
Every story has a different prompt. When I first conceived of “The Kaleidoscope.”  I imagined what it would be like if we could see a glimpse of our own future. Would what we see cause us to change, would we be bolder, or frightened of what was to come? Would we become a better person for the challenge? As I researched advances in artificial intelligence for the technical elements of the story, I realized I wasn’t the only one wondering the same things. That in itself was a glimpse into the future!                                                                                                       

Do you have a favorite genre, as a reader?
I read everything from classical literature to short fiction to bestsellers, so I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. I’ve also been Associate Editor for the Eastern Iowa Review, a lyrical essay journal, and a beta reader for agents and publishers, so my reading piles vary widely. I think reading multiple genres informs an author’s work, and enriches their reader’s experiences. I’ve just finished reading “Two Years Before the Mast,” and thoroughly enjoyed swinging from the yardarms and exploring early California. Books are the best, aren’t they?

You co-authored with Mary Beth McDonough, “Lessons from the Mountain,  What I Learned From Ellen Walton” (from The Waltons, television series). What was that experience like?
That experience was one of the highlights of my career. She’s a wonderful, kind, funny, smart woman, and a very talented actor. We laughed together and cried a bit over her incredible experiences, and I got to interview iconic actors from Patricia Neal, who was the original Olivia Walton in the made-for-television movie, “The Homecoming,” to Earl Hamner and Richard Thomas and the other living cast members. Each was helpful and genuine and as kind as they are on the show. Mary and I formed a bond that will last forever because of the experience, and I’m proud of her for going on to write her own novels.
Do you have a writing routine? (Time of day, place to write?)
I need quiet and a comfy chair, and to know I have a couple of uninterrupted hours. When I first began writing fiction I was told there’s such a thing as “fiction brain,” a special place where your most creative thoughts come from. I can say that it’s absolutely true. It’s as if you’re accessing a different part of the mind that needs to be exercised, but also approached with respect and reverence for it to work properly. Don’t want anything to shut it off when it’s really cooking! By the way, I wrote the first draft of “The Kaleidoscope” long hand. I learned in a workshop that it’s a great way to slow down the process to give the creative brain a way to keep up, and I really do think there’s wisdom in that. Typing your scribble into the computer then becomes the first round of editing. Try it!

How did your Seasons of Cherryvale series come about?
Seasons sprang from my thoughts as I pondered about our communities where we we tend to drive home and straight into our garages, essentially ignoring our neighbors and never getting to really know them. So I came up with a concept of a town that had been built many years ago around a bridle path that has become a jogging and walking trail in the modern times. This artery’s history became a sort of anchor for the townies, and now this CherryPath “ties neighbors together like a patchwork quilt, in good times and bad.” Funny thing about that series, I live in Southern California where we don’t really have seasons. So I needed to find a small town that experiences the full range, from autumn colors to firefly summers and the challenges of snowstorms, so I studied a map and found a small town in Kansas called Cherryvale. I liked it so much I decided to “borrow” their name. After the series came out, someone from the town contacted me and asked if I knew they existed. I told them I did and hoped they didn’t mind. They said they were actually flattered, and invited me to appear at the upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival with the first two books that were available at the time. I enjoyed meeting everyone in town, from the mayor to the Fire Chief to the pastors of the churches, and all my new fans. They made me feel as if I was a townie myself, and I’m excited to say I’m returning “home” for this year’s Blossom Festival with the completed series.

Did you know, going into the first Cherryvale book, that it would become a series?
Yes, I wanted each book to be based on a season or holiday. There are six books or novellas, and one short story. Here’s the sequence: “Fresh Start Summer,” “Grace & Maggie Across the Pond” (a novella set in England), “Autumn Changes,” “Hearts Unlocked” (a Thanksgiving Romance), “Christmas Bells,” “Aloha Grace” (a short story set in Hawaii) and “Spring Blossoms.”

You have won the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Excellence in Writing award. Could you describe the importance of your faith?
My faith in Jesus Christ is woven into the tapestry of my soul, and everything I write stems from what he taught and what he’s done for the world in his sacrifice on the cross. That said I try to temper everything I write so that it’s appropriate to the piece and audience. No one wants to read sermonettes or anything heavy handed. I believe it’s possible to use characters who believe in God without sermonizing, or question and rebel and even reject God, because it’s how we as humans process and live out our relationship with the Creator.

What is your definition of success, as a writer? If you had to pick one accomplishment to be most proud of, what would it be?
Probably the publication of “Lessons from the Mountain.” An agent shopped our proposal at the same time as the country was reeling from 9/11, and no one wanted to take on a new project around that time. We stepped back from seeking a publisher but went ahead and wrote the book. A couple of years later, we had a terrific memoir of what Mary’s life had been like growing up in Hollywood, but we had no agent. We knew we had an excellent manuscript, so we persisted, and we eventually sold it on our own to Kensington. (It’s now gone into its fifth printing.) The icing on my own personal cake was that in the very same month that Lessons came out, “Fresh Start Summer,” also released from a small press. I call them my twins, and still can’t believe my “luck” in having them released at the same time.
Would you be willing to share a few tips for writers?
Read everything you can, especially “above” your own talent so you can learn from those who’ve gone ahead of you. Join a critique group with members who are relentless and honest. Attend conferences and workshops. Write, polish, and then hire good editors, both for developmental feedback, and for proofing. When I read for agents and for the journal, I can tell right away if someone has done their homework and studied the craft, and then readied it sufficiently for market. If you believe in your work enough to spend the time writing, then you should believe that it takes a team to make your project the best it can possibly be. There are a lot of books out there competing for readers’ attention, so from the very first page, serve them a polished masterpiece, and don’t let go of their mind and soul until the very end. And please, think about your ending as much as your beginning. Your readers deserve an ending that satisfies.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I’m excited about my next novel. I’m currently fine-tuning, “Misdirect, A Novel of Spies, the Sahara, and Searching for God,” which is about a former CIA operative who finds herself back in the field. Following my own advice, I’m now polishing it so it shines. I’ve had it with beta readers, I’ve taken important sections to a critique group, I’ve hired an editor and proofer, and then when it’s been through these very important steps, I’ll finally have it ready for market. Here’s the summary:  A CIA analyst assigned to desk duty must return to field operations to redeem a failed mission she blew years ago. When she’s about to retire and put the entire fiasco behind her, she learns her estranged daughter’s fiancĂ©e’s life is in danger, and she must not only rescue him from the enemy, she must stop the largest terror attack ever planned on America.

Find Beverly at: www.beverlynault.com






Monday, March 13, 2017

The Story Behind A United Kingdom


The film, A UNITED KINGDOM, is a love story between Seretse Khama (who is the Prince of Bechuanaland, a UK protectorate) and Ruth Williams, (a clerk at Lloyd's of London).

Seretse was a black African and Ruth was white and English. Which was a bit of a shock in 1947, when they met at a London Missionary Society dance.

According to Jessamay Calking, writing in the Daily Mail, in post WWII, blacks made up only 0.02 percent of the population in England, and the interracial couple faced enormous prejudice. In fact, Seretse's uncle conspired with the UK government to stop their planned wedding. He succeeded, but Seretse and Ruth married in a civil ceremony.

Ruth, in particular, paid a high price for her love. She was sacked from her job and her family disowned her.

But Seretse also had a tough road ahead of him.

In a series of tribal meetings back in Bechuanaland, he had to convince leaders that he was fit to govern them. Eventually, in 1949, over 9,000 men turned out to hear Seretse's appeal to accept him as their chief and honor his wife. They overwhelmingly agreed.

After this meeting Seretse telegraphed his wife to join him in his homeland. Initially it was hard for Ruth to gain acceptance, but after her pregnancy, the women of Bechuanaland softened, soon to be followed by the men. However, the British government, bowing to pressure from South Africa tricked Seretse into coming back to London. (South Africa - which borders Bechuanaland - had a deeply entrenched system of apartheid. It did not formally bring about a democracy until 1992, under international pressure to do so, a year after Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years in prison).

Seretse was then banished for five years from going back to Bechuanaland. Later, when Winston Churchill's party won the election, Churchill had Seretse banned for life, which effectively separated him from his family indefinitely.

Fortunately, during this time, Seretse was allowed to return to his country to follow up on a lawsuit he had begun against his uncle (the same one who tried to keep his marriage from happening).

While Seretse was reunited with his family, their first child was born. But because of Seretse's banishment, he had to take his family back to England with him in order to remain together.

It wasn't until 1956 that Seretse and his wife were allowed to return to his home country for good, but as private citizens, stripped of his royalty.

According to Wikipedia, in 1961 Seretse got back into politics, establishing the Nationalist Bechuanaland Democratic Party. He was elected the first Prime Minister in 1965 and pushed for independence from the UK. In 1966 his country gained independence, changed its name and elected Seretse the first president of Botswana.

As evidence of showing what a remarkable leader Seretse became, when he was elected, Botswana was the third poorest country in the world. But he pushed for economic development (producing beef, cooper and diamonds). The discovery of the Orapa diamond deposits resulted in Botswana becoming the fastest growing economy in the world between 1966 and 1980.

Seretse also upheld democracy and non-racism within a portion of Africa that was raging with civil war. (Remember that Botswana borders South Africa). And he insisted upon strong measures to keep corruption at bay. All of these efforts led to economic prosperity and peace among his people.

Seretse and Ruth had three children. He died in 1980, at age 59, due to prostrate cancer.

Calkin's article points out that Ruth remained in Botswana after Seretse died, living alone on a farm and devoting her time to women's rights. She passed away in 2002.

All of Seretse and Ruth's children live in Botswana. Ian, their eldest son, is the fourth president of Botswana.

As for the film, A KINGDOM UNITED, director Amma Asante was quoted by Calkin as saying she was drawn to the project because of her admiration for Seretse and the love he had for his wife. "It reflects on how he was able to love his people. He was an honest man who had great integrity. And I think that integrity is something the (Botswanaian) country has been able to benefit from ever since."

Calkin quotes David Oyelowo (who plays Seretse in the film) as saying of Asante "I always hoped to find a female director to do this film. I wanted it to be unashamed. I've been a huge beneficiary of working with female directors."

Rosamund Pike, (who plays the part of Ruth), was quoted as saying "I do feel that in general, the cinema needs more love stories... It's one of the most deeply human things you can express on screen."

And Calkin's piece in the Daily Mail wraps up by quoting the real Seretse Khama, from Susan Williams' book Colour Bar (upon which A KINGDOM UNITED is based.) "Bitterness does not pay. Certain things have happened to all of us in the past and it is for us to forget those (things) and look to the future. It is not for own benefit, but it is for the benefit of our children and our children's children that we ourselves should put this world right."

Here's the trailer to A United Kingdom.

Photo Credit: Getty Images - top photo
Africaok - image of family






Monday, March 6, 2017

Matt Cooper & A Soldier's Home


Matt Cooper has been an attorney for 26 years.  He recently provided representation to a United States Service member, Sgt. James Hurley, in a Federal Court action that lasted over five years.  This action resulted in amendments to the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  Hurley v Deutsche Bank, et al.  These amendments (known as the "Hurley Amendments") continue to affect every man and woman on active duty service in the United States Military.  Matt memorialized this landmark legal conflict in a book entitled A Soldier’s Home.  He currently represents a number of servicemembers in similar cases.


Matt also co-founded the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Foundation, Inc., (SCRA) a Non-Profit Public Charity that is focused on assisting United States Servicemembers and their families with their rights and protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  Through the Foundation, Matt pursued and partnered with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School to produce the 2015 Michigan Revised Judge’s Guide to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  The SCRA Foundation raised funds and distributed Judge’s Guides to every federal, state and tribal Judge throughout the State of Michigan.  This caught the attention of the Department of Army, who sought Matt’s assistance and partnership with Army OneSource to develop and distribute Judge’s Guides in every state.


How did you decide to become a lawyer?
While attending Western Michigan University, I worked for five years at Wickes Lumber Company.  I enjoyed higher education at Western and I received a lot of personal satisfaction helping customers.  Between desiring more education and helping people, I thought a legal degree and becoming an attorney would fit well with my ambitions.


Why did you choose to represent Sergeant Hurley? Can you offer the basic details of the case?

While Sgt. James Hurley was in Iraq during President Bush’s surge in that war, Deutsche Bank, Saxon Mortgage and their attorneys illegally foreclosed on his home.  Hurley’s mother, wife and two small children were displaced from their residence.  The bank not only illegally foreclosed on his home, but sold it to a bona fide purchaser.  Upon Sgt. Hurley’s return from the war, he found another family living in his home; a home that he had lived in and enjoyed for ten years.  Sgt. Hurley was a man in his 40’s and had developed quite a homestead.  His home was set high on a ridge along the Paw Paw River.  It was a beautiful home and he had never missed a payment. Sgt. Hurley’s home was illegally taken from him; while he was away serving our country at war. Sgt. Hurley’s home was near my law office.  One day he came to my office seeking to know if he had any rights relating to his loss. At the time, I was not at all familiar with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  However, I knew that Sgt. Hurley had been wronged. I have always held the belief that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong and that our justice system, on its best days, does attempt to achieve justice and do what is right.

Your case involved going against Deutsche Bank. What was that like?

It was miserable.  The case drug on for over five years because Deutsche Bank could not allow the violations that they were committing against thousands of soldiers to be disclosed.  Unbeknownst to me, the United States Department of Justice had been tracking me and this case for the last two years of its progression through the court system.  Because of the Hurley case, the Department of Justice learned that these Defendants were violating the rights of thousands of other soldiers.  In fact, the United States Department of Justice obtained the largest SCRA settlement as a result of Hurley.  Senior attorneys at the Department of Justice declared Hurley and his attorneys pioneers in this area of the law and because of what they were able to accomplish - allowing the Department of Justice to obtain justice for thousands of soldiers.  As a result of Hurley, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act was amended.  These amendments are referred to as the Hurley amendments.  All of this was fuel for Deutsche Bank defending its actions and trying to keep a lid on the illegal violations they committed against United States soldiers.  At one time, Deutsche Bank even filed for sanctions against me.


What was it like trying a case in federal court?

Federal Judges are appointed for life.  This question reminds me of an old joke that I have heard told in various forms.  That is; upon entry into Heaven one day, someone noticed that there was an interesting fellow walking around in a black robe.  Upon inquiry of another as to who the gentleman was, the response was, “oh, don’t worry, that’s just God.  Some days he likes to pretend he’s a federal judge.”

How did your experience with the Hurley case change your opinion of the legal system in the US?

Not for the better.  I have always been a firm believer in that our system of government is the world’s best.  The justice system, however, I believe has been mostly ignored by society and our governmental leaders. 

What’s the mission behind the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)?

The SCRA has as its stated purpose from Congress, to secure the defensive needs of our nation.  The principles behind the SCRA were formed before the founding of our nation when General George Washington stated: “When we assume the solider, we did not lay aside the citizen.”  These principles were expanded upon by President Lincoln during the Civil War.  In 1917, the United States Congress passed, for the first time, the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act.  This Act protected our servicemembers throughout World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.  In 2003, these protections were updated and re-named the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Upon enlistment, our servicemembers sign a blank check payable to the United States of America up to and including their life.  The least we can do is what President Lincoln recognized - if a servicemember can defend our nation, they should be allowed to defend themselves back home, relating to civil suits and claims made against them.  Simply put, if a servicemember is defending us, shouldn’t they be allowed to defend themselves?

What does the SCRA Foundation do? (How is it separate from the SCRA itself?)

We formed the SCRA Foundation, Inc., in an effort to help the public, judges, lawyers and military personnel recognize the rights and responsibilities associated with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and what soldiers endure when they are activated.  I felt much of the problem in the Hurley case was the need to educate our judiciary about what is contained in the SCRA and its practical application.  Working with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, the SCRA Foundation, Inc., developed a Judge’s Guide to the SCRA and provided a copy to every state, federal and tribal judge across the State of Michigan.  The Foundation also provided a copy of the Guide to hundreds of lawyers and military personnel.  This project caught the attention of the United States Army.  They sought out our partnership with Army OneSource to work with different law schools in each state throughout our nation providing Judge’s Guides to judges, attorneys and military personnel throughout the country.  It is my understanding it is quite a lucrative business model for lenders to target United States Military personnel for extending loans and credit. 

I recently worked on an SCRA case for a captain in the United States Army.  He was in default on his mortgage and on active duty.  Yet, his mortgage was easily sold and acquired by someone seeking out this type of mortgage.  Could you imagine making the business decision to buy such a mortgage?  Think about how money is made in that type of transaction.

In your experience, how do members of the US Armed Forces lose their homes?

As Sgt. Hurley's story indicates, thousands of servicemembers actually lost their homes through illegal actions taken against them by financial institutions.  Following the Hurley case, it is illegal, and in complete contradiction of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to exercise a non-judicial foreclosure against someone on active duty military service.  We know this happened to thousands of servicemembers.

If financial institutions would only follow the SCRA, it would work to their benefit as well.  Soldiers do not have their debts forgiven.  They are not allowed to be irresponsible for their bills. The SCRA merely provides practical protections that anyone would see as reasonable. For example, helping a soldier on active duty in a war zone far from home to participate in the process.
This is not a political issue; it is about being an American.  The men and women serving and protecting our nation are our country’s most precious asset.  The SCRA does not give them something for nothing; it merely helps them balance their responsibilities as a servicemember with their obligations as a citizen.


How big a problem is foreclosure among veterans? Do you have a few tips as to how to avoid this?

I believe our servicemembers are used to pulling up their boot straps and marching forward.  But many times this causes them hesitation in seeking out help. Typically servicemembers are trained to take responsibility for their actions, including their debts.  When foreclosure occurs, sometimes the servicemember is simply willing to move forward and not protect their self against violations.  My specific tip would be to seek out legal counsel right away.
                                                                                                               
Can you offer an update as to how Sgt. Hurley is doing today?

I would encourage anyone who is interested in arts and crafts to check out Sgt. Hurley’s website, Razor’s Edge.  Sgt. Hurley is a skilled craftsman  and is extremely talented with his engravings.  If you have the opportunity to read the book, A Soldier’s Home, you will see that Sgt. Hurley is a man of incredible character and fortitude.  I continue to admire how he has endured and has moved forward in such a positive manner.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Please recognize the importance of our servicemembers serving on our behalf.  Unfortunately, we live in a very violent and adversarial world.  It is the men and women serving our nation that provide us with the freedom and ability to live the lives that we do.  If you have any desire to provide assistance or learn more, please visit www.SCRAFoundation.org   The Judge’s Guides can be found and downloaded directly from the site.

You can check out A Soldier's Home here.