We’ve all heard the quip, when starting out on the writing journey, ‘don’t quit your day job.’ It is usually offered by a caring friend (or editor) who knows that making a living in the writing world can be daunting. But I’ve found that keeping my day job has not only put food on the table but has also blessed my writing.
For the past twenty years, my day job as a pastoral worker in Europe has inspired my other job of writing ‘entertainment with a soul.’ Paying attention to daily experiences, whatever that may include, can certainly provide us writers with great content for our stories.
Here’s how my day job inspired my latest novel.
In the summer of 1984, I, along with dozens of others serving with Jesus throughout Europe, gathered for ITeams’ yearly conference in an Austrian castle-turned-retreat-center. It was a time to refresh our souls and be encouraged by interacting with like-minded young people who were serving overseas.
On this night, the different teams were giving reports about the ways Jesus was at work in their various ministries. I listened to fascinating stories of God’s mighty work among those who were taking great risks to help persecuted believers gain access to Bibles from outside Vienna in countries that sat behind the Iron Curtain.
It all sounded so very exciting and rewarding.
Fast forward a few years to another conference. This time the former Bible smugglers were telling about their fledgling ministry to refugees. The Iron Curtain had come down and suddenly any and every one could take whatever they pleased into Eastern Europe. Many of our colleagues moved into Eastern European countries to begin ministries there.
But some stayed right in the village outside Vienna where a young man named Randy* had begun a ministry to refugees. In the 80s, he had trained to be a Bible smuggler. But when he got to this village with his teammates, he found he wasn’t cut out for that job. And so, stuck in this village for his two-year term, he started visiting the Government Refugee Housing Center down the street. At that time, the imposing brick building housed mostly refugees who had fled from the East.
Randy began offering English lessons to the kids and then to the adults and eventually he began leading Bible studies. Gradually, a ministry to refugees was born. It flourished and grew after the Iron Curtain came down.
I loved hearing the stories of refugees encountering Jesus.
Fast forward again about twenty years when the Holy Spirit nudged my husband and me into a new job—that of being Pastors to ITeams staff throughout Europe. Our home base remained in Lyon, France, but we traveled to thirteen different countries, interacting with staff on many different teams.
Suddenly, I was seeing up close and personal those ministries I had been hearing about at conferences for so many years. Now, in our pastoral role, we had the privilege of interacting with not only the ITeams staff but also the refugees they come alongside. We heard stories of refugees fleeing persecution along what some call The Refugee Highway and finding hope at The Oasis, a ministry center where refugees have opportunities to encounter Jesus.
These displaced people, mostly young Muslim men, played chess and Uno with the staff and volunteers. Some watched the Jesus film in their own language. Others attended clandestine Bible studies. And a few left with Jesus in their hearts.
I’d been writing recent historical, inspirational fiction ever since I met with an editor at a writers’ conference in 1994. Often my inspiration came from little known events in history that I’d learned about while living in France or from recent history in my beloved hometown of Atlanta.
But now, hearing these current stories of refugees, learning of changed lives, and meeting some of these precious people, I felt a new inspiration. And so I began to pen a story that flowed out of the change in ministry the Spirit had nudged us into, a story called The Long Highway Home, fiction that is nevertheless based on so many true stories of refugees and how ITeams staff come alongside them with Jesus to see lives transformed.
I’m so thankful for the way Jesus nudges us into new challenges. How do you respond to His nudges?