COVID-19 and Missions: What I’ve learned so Far

As a freelance author, I’ve felt led to tackle the issue of COVID-19’s effect on missionary work overseas, particularly in Japan, Italy, and Spain. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to write about missionary work and glad for the editors who are taking a chance on this subject.

I will say that I’m surprised that Christianity Today is not writing more about this (I’m available, if you’re curious, Andy Olsen). CT is the go-to resource for Christian news and this is a topic that is severely underserved. I hope that gets rectified.

At any rate, I want to share a few things that I’ve learned so far in my research:

  1. In many ways, missionaries are facing the same issues we’re facing in North America. I know a college teacher in South Korea and another in Lithuania. Both have had to move online and some courses are just not available right now. This is the same thing facing San Diego State University, UCSD, and just about every other school in America.
  2. In some countries, it really is that bad. Near Madrid, Spain, they really are using a mall ice skating rink for body storage, and the missionaries I’ve met there really are locked down in ways that we haven’t seen in the USA, even in California where I live.
  3. One of the biggest areas where missionaries are being impacted is in funding. Because they had to shutter their English classes at a local café (that they manage), Dale and Karen Viljoen have had to turn to other funding sources (supporters) to keep the ministry alive until the classes can resume. Another family, hoping to start a ministry in Italy this summer, now finds themselves stuck at 80% funding because they can’t travel to churches to find new supporters.
  4. Glimmers of hope abound, but it might be awhile before we hear about them in the hardest hit areas of the globe. People are really struggling in Italy and Spain. These are places that don’t have evangelical churches to serve as a reference point, not that they can do that at the moment at any rate. Still, in Japan, Dale and Karen have found reasons to be hopeful, and we should look for those reasons too, whatever our situation. I just saw a post from some missionary friends in Lithuania that was full of gratitude despite a recent decision to extend that country’s lockdown until at least Easter Monday.
  5. Everyone overseas right now needs our prayer. I know…you need prayer for your family’s well-being too. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Even still, we are blessed beyond comprehension as believers by the sheer fact of our belief. People are dying in neighborhoods that have no evangelical gospel witness, and I hope that breaks your heart like it’s breaking mine. Pray.

As I get word that my articles are being published in the various news outlets, I’ll share them out on Facebook, Twitter, etc. In the meantime, please pray, and if you give, try to continue doing so if at all possible. Give more if you can. Keep overseas work going.

You can read more about why I chose this topic on THIS BLOG POST.

Until the next update…

 

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Why I choose to write about COVID-19

I am commissioned to write two articles on COVID-19 and missionary work in Asia and Europe. As I write those articles and others, I wanted to give you an idea about why I chose this topic.

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Beautiful little stream near our hotel in Su’ao, Taiwan.

Around the first of March 2020, as the world was learning just how bad COVID-19 was getting, I was struggling to find a vision for my writing. I had a great nonfiction project going with my church’s teaching pastor (still going, actually), but my fiction writing was dying on the vine and I hadn’t written an article that sold since May 2018. I’d lost my original focus somewhere.

Which led to my first reason for writing about COVID-19. I needed to calm down, get back to writing what I love, and find people to serve. While the world is awash in competing claims about the virus, I felt that maybe missionaries were not being written about as much as they should be, so I focused on that. That has led to two article projects as of this writing, and I have plans for more (hopefully).

Another reason is that the writer in me is still skeptical that we’re getting the whole picture. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, and I’m certainly not going to be the person who breaks it open. I don’t know if it’s the “liberal media” stirring things up, or the Chinese Communist Party trying to keep their economy intact while blowing it out of proportion to drive competing western economies down, or what it is, but I just feel something in my gut that isn’t square.

Again, I don’t expect to be the person who will figure it all out. Nevertheless, it’s spurred me to do what I can in a situation like this, which is to look for stories to tell that might help people understand the overall situation better. That’s one of the reasons I picked to specifically talk about missionary work in light of COVID-19.

Finally, but certainly not least, I need to be humbled about my writing. I keep having grand visions for my work, and I keep having to be reminded that God gives success and failure, and that I need to just do the next indicated step. I’m his servant, so I need to focus on being that. COVID-19 reporting will not make me famous. Plenty of bigger names are already covering that. But it is a way for me to serve.

I look forward to what I will learn as I write about this interesting situation as it continues to unfold.

If you want to stay up to date with my writing as I focus on COVID-19, you can sign up for my newsletter HERE.

 

Taiwan Visit (Photo Blog)

I was blessed to be part of a trip to Taiwan recently, my third trip in twelve months. I’ve grown to love that island and the people that comprise its population. In two of the visits, God has blessed me further by letting me meet with believers. On my first trip, I got to visit an international congregation on Easter Morning while on my most recent trip, I worshipped with a Taiwan congregation.

My travels have taken me to Taipei, Su’ao, Kaohsiung, and a few other main cities near Taipei and the airport that serves that city. Su’ao, in particular, has become to me like my hometown of Girard, KS. It is small, quaint even, but I have grown to love it for that simplicity. In all three visits to the village, situated in Yilan County, I’ve run most days.

After a few days in Su’ao, we moved on to Kaohsiung, which I’ve been to once before, on my first trip to the country. This time, I got to worship in Mandarin with a church there.

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David Ullstrom, OMF missionary to Taiwan, preaching in the native language.

I’ve written at length in my monthly newsletter about the church, but I’ll say a little snippet here: “This is what I love about the people of God. When I arrived at the church, David (the missionary) confessed that he probably wouldn’t be able to offer a translation because, well, it was a church ministering to Taiwan people, not English speakers. Much to my surprise, a retired Taiwan Air Force technician, who also led the singing for Qiaotou God’s Love Church, sat down next to me after the worship and personally translated everything David preached, just so I could follow along. He then translated everything for me during the little Sunday School time after, and of course translated my words back to the congregation when David asked me to share about why I was there.”

 

I was also blessed to be in town during the annual Lantern Festival. Please enjoy the photos!

 

You can sign up for my monthly newsletter HERE.

Saving Ebenezer: Sneak Peek

Deciding to buy a book is a big step. In order to show you just how much you’ll love Saving Ebenezer: The Continuing Saga of a man named Scrooge, I’m offering you the first scene, in its entirety, for your enjoyment. Once you’ve given it a read, please order the book at THIS LINK. Feel free to share this sneak peek with your friends!

front-2Tiny Tim was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt about that. His death certificate carried the necessary signatures of the clergy at the church where he would be buried, the clerk, the undertaker, and a certain Ebenezer Scrooge, whose name was just as solid as it had been when he’d signed Jacob Marley’s death certificate. Indeed, Tiny Tim Cratchit was as dead as the wood he presently lay in.

Much had changed in seven years. Scrooge had given much. Indeed – almost all! – to rid himself of the guilt and shame of his miserly ways. Nearly saved Tiny Tim, too, who was only slightly bigger at his death than Christmas Eve seven years prior. Scrooge had the best doctors working on the boy’s condition, all of them happy to have Scrooge pay for this treatment or that, but never quite figuring out exactly what was wrong. Still, Tim had started the pathway of a bright future.

Until pneumonia struck. In a fortnight, Tim had gone from spry and hopeful to weak and discouraged. And then dead.

As Ebenezer Scrooge watched the simple casket lowered into the near-frozen muck on December 20th, 1850, there could be no mistaking the fact that a piece of him was being buried as well.

And that was why Ebenezer Scrooge was angry.

The old Scrooge was back. Joy had given away to sorrow in the meanest of ways, for it sprung upon the old man with such ferocity that he had no defense! None at all!  Oh! How much Scrooge had loved the boy too! Like his own child. Alas, his love had no more ability to overcome Tim’s sudden illness than his father’s had. Powerless, and angry, that was Ebenezer Scrooge, all right. Joy had given way quickly to pain and sorrow, the likes of which Ebenezer Scrooge had never experienced before.

“Amen.”

Scrooge looked up. He hadn’t even noticed that someone was praying. The few who gathered on that crisp Camden Town morning made their way to Bob and Emily Cratchit to give their condolences or pass by the cold hole where Timothy now lay. They passed by Martha, the oldest sister, who had her husband and small child by her side. Then they would say nice things to Belinda, the second child. Peter would be next, though he was now much taller than his older sisters, and then a couple of younger children whom Scrooge didn’t quite know well enough, despite being close to their parents for these last seven years.

Ebenezer didn’t recognize many of those gathered that morning. Undoubtedly, a few were churchgoers, whom he might not recognize because, if he were to tell the truth, he didn’t go to church often. Even after giving money for several new pews five years prior! And one that bore his name besides. Nevertheless, many of those gathered were strangers, if the looks on Bob and Emily Cratchit’s faces were any indication. Mourners, the lot of them.

One of them, in particular, caught Ebenezer’s suspicious eye. A man – late 30s perhaps – well dressed in a dark, drab coat, black gloves, and black shoes that matched his black hat. He smiled a thin smile that seemed out of place, and Scrooge also noticed that he looked in his own direction as much as he looked toward the grave or the deceased boy’s family. The man did not offer his condolences to the family directly, which Ebenezer thought odd. His thin smile was unsettling…something different there.

Scrooge looked away from the grieving family. His pointy nose and tired eyes focused on the ground where his adopted son now lay. In the moments when he let himself dream, though those moments were few, he dreamt that he could help find a cure for the boy and someday take him under his wing. To watch him die of fever and cough, and not the crippling ailments which Ebenezer had tried to correct, was a blow of the meanest sort.

And what now? Well, that was a question supposing for another time to answer it. He turned slowly, yet as fast as old bones and sinews would allow, and began to walk away. Turning back to look one more time on the cold mud, he spat on the filthy snow beneath his feet.

“Bah! Humbug!”

 

Saving Ebenezer: The Continuing Saga of a man named Scrooge, is available now at THIS LINK. Please share this sneak peak on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms where you are present. Thank you!

Calling all Beta Readers!

Greetings!

I just set up my first author event for Saving Ebenezer. It’s getting real! This event isa pre-launch get-togetherfor a small group of people who are close to me (residing in San Diego) or decision makers in the Tierrasanta community (the neighborhood where I live). I’ll be sure to post pictures on my blog and send out a link to everyone. So far, I’m planning three total author events this fall. I hope many of you get a chance to attend one.

Speaking of Saving Ebenezer, I’m currently taking applications for test readers, otherwise known as beta readers. Here’s a short list of the test reading process so you can decide if you’re interested:

  1. I send you an electronic copy of the book. You can upload it into any e-reader you want (Nook, Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, etc.). I plan to get those sent out in the first week of September.
  2. You read the book by the end of September (it’s a novella, so plenty of time!).
  3. Please inform me of any glaring issues in the book, like misspellings, bad grammar, missing punctuation…things like that.
  4. Before the book’s publication date, you submit a review to Saving Ebenezer’s Amazon page (link will also be in the back of the book). This is the most crucial aspect of this process. People need to see truthful reviews of the book before they decide to buy. Your review will be THE key component to that purchase decision.
  5. After you’ve submitted your review on Amazon.com, your part is complete! Let me know via email and I’ll send you a signed copy of the paperback version of the book as my thanks.

Think you might be up for it? I’d love to have you on board! Simply reply by email (dan[at]navychristian.org)  and let me know you’re interested in being a test reader.

A real Trope of a Character

I’m currently listening to a podcast called Writing Excuses. I’m doing that because Thomas Umstattd Jr. and James L. Rubart told me to, in order to become a best selling author in the next 5 years. Since I have a resolution of having an agent by the end of this year, having a 5 year goal to being a best seller is a good range I think.

Anyway, my first podcast from the folks behind Writing Excuses is about cliches and tropes. They suggest I go through my writing and seek out these cliches and tropes to make sure I’m not using them without originality. I hadn’t thought about it too much, but after listening to the podcast, I realize that I do have a couple of these as characters in my stories.

For example, in The Dirty Campaign, I have two characters that would be considered tropes. The first is Mildred, who is the town gossip. She hangs around, gathering bits and pieces of a story, and then tells it as gospel truth. She is a trope, bordering on the cliche. Yet, Mildred also plays an important part of the story by forcing the reader to consider the damage gossip causes in our churches. This is something I’ll explore more in future stories with her as well.

In the current WIP (Work in Progress), J. William Seymour, the intrepid young reporter for the Sunset Sentinel that you met in The Dirty Campaign, also serves in the trope/cliche role. He dreams of being the big city investigative reporter who breaks the big case, and Sunset just isn’t big enough for him. Because of that, he over-attacked the situation in The Dirty Campaign and, not to spoil things, causes issues in Tragedy in Sunset as well. Whereas Mildred served to move the story along and sound the warning, however, I need to work more on Will Seymour. Truth be told, right now, he’s too canned.

While I wish I had great examples to share with you in addition to Mildred above, the truth is, I have a long way to go before I’m where I want to be as an author. I’ll get there, though, and I’d love to have you along for this ride of a lifetime! Sign up HERE to get on the mailing list and join me on this adventure!

KingSumo Campaign Results

Like I did with my Bookfunnel Campaign, I want to give back to the greater writing community by sharing with everyone how my KingSumo Campaign went and what it accomplished.

I actually ran two campaigns. The first one was for my Christian fiction newsletter list and the second one was to kick-start a science fiction mailing list. I’m moderately pleased with how both turned out. I’ll break down each one in turn.

1.  Christian Mailing List:

Goal: Increase readership in order to provide future agent/editor/publisher hard stats on my ability to build a platform for my writing. This mailing list needs to be able to make an impact by the middle of 2019, so a shorter event horizon, if you will.

Method: Set up a KingSumo contest with a free book giveaway advertised on my personal facebook page and my writing Facebook page.

Cost: Book ($8.79) Facebook ads: ($18.19) Total: ($26.98)

New email addresses: 55

New likes on Facebook page: 30

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #1 (17 opens, 2 clicks, 2 unsubscribes: 30% opens)

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #2 (10 opens, 0 clicks, 0 unsubscribes: 18.9% opens)

When I added the 53 email addresses to my main Christian fiction newsletter, I got the following responses from my drip campaign:

Drip 1: 53 sends, 11 opens, 3 clicks. I believe, based on what I can see, that my free Bookfunnel novelette was downloaded twice off of this campaign.

Drip 2: 53 sends, 7 opens, 0 clicks.

Drip 3: 53 sends, 7 opens, 0 clicks.

I’ve sent one monthly email since then, and my preliminary data suggests 9 opens.

Commentary: Overall, I’m happy with this campaign. It cost me less than $30 and it got me 53 subscribers, of which 18 are 3-star and above after my drip newsletter and one monthly newsletter. I’ll try to reengage the rest of them before purging my list in mid-January. I suspect I’ll be able to capture a few more, but most of the rest will be dropped. Again, for such little overall investment, picking up this number of new subscribers was worth it.

I plan to run another KingSumo campaign in the early spring to coincide with my next short story release.

My biggest takeaway is that I need to write better engagement emails for my drip campaign, and to incorporate those new subscribers sooner into my larger mailing list. I kept them quarantined too long.

Special shout out to James L. Rubart, who’s book The Man He Never Was* had just earned him his 5th Christy award right before I started the contest. I’m sure that helped, and I’m grateful for his dedication to the craft. Jim and I did not correspond before I ran the contest and, aside from hopefully gaining some new fans through my promotions, was not given any monetary reward.

2.  Science Fiction Mailing List:

Goal: Long term prospect of slowly building a list to introduce people to my writing while building relationships that will, someday, lead to sales of future projects. Maturity horizon for this list is approximately 5 years out.

Method: Set up a KingSumo contest with a free short story value pack giveaway advertised on my Sci-Fi Facebook page.

Cost: Asimov’s Science Fiction Value Pack ($11.70) Facebook ads: ($20) Total: ($31.70)

New email addresses: 49

New likes on Facebook: 21

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #1 (11 opens, 0 clicks, 2 unsubscribes/bounce: 22.9% opens)

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #2 (11 opens, 0 clicks, 0 unsubscribes: 23.4% opens)

I’ve sent one monthly newsletter since gaining these subscribers. The newsletter resulted in 9 opens (19.1%) out of 47 sends, with 1 unsubscribe.

Commentary: I bought a value pack from Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine* in late 2017 and loved it, so I enjoyed using this as the prize for my sci-fi contest. While the number of bounces and unsubscribes is higher with this campaign, I’m still happy with the results in an overall fashion. All said, 14 subscribers have a 3-star and above Mailchimp rating on the date of this post. Like with my Christian newsletter, I plan to attempt to engage the 2-star subscribers to beef that number a little before purging the inactive subscribers by the end of January.

Oh, and the guy who one the contest? Already signed up to be beta reader for my short fiction!

Overall Verdict

Ok, now for my overall verdict. Would I do KingSumo again? Yes! It took very little cash to reach real potential readers that I probably wouldn’t have reached before. Now I’m doing the hard work of building relationships with them. Several email addresses were probably just spam traps, which bounced as they expected, and some realized they didn’t win and don’t care about my writing, which led to the unsubscribes. Others probably just have an email address they don’t check often and don’t care about me either. They’ll get removed if I can’t engage them.

Overall, though, this was a better campaign than the Bookfunnel free giveaway, and I expect to run it again at least for my Christian fiction brand, if not for my sci-fi list.

* Affiliate Marketing Link