Category: Following Jesus

Experiencing the People and Places of the Stories

I love hearing from our authors about their interactions with their readers.

Judith Galblum Pex (Judy) often forwards emails and vignettes to me.

Judy is an American-born Israeli Jewish Christian. From their home and ministry in Eilat, Israel, she and her husband, John, have a unique perspective on the Middle East—and the world—especially because thousands of travelers stay in their hostel (The Shelter) each year. And because the Pexes are “Trail Angels” who help people who are walking the 600-mile Israel National Trail. Judy wrote a book (Walk the Land) about her and John’s experience of walking the famous and challenging Trail from one end of Israel to the other.

Here’s one experience Judy shared in a recent update:

“Last night John and I slept out at a camp site on the Israel Trail. In the morning we met a group with 50 participants called ‘Walk about Love.’ They enable people to do the Trail by providing meals and taking their bags from camp to camp. One of the women, a Reform Jewish rabbi, from New York City [in the picture above with Judy] immediately recognized me from Walk the Land, and very excitedly told me she had read my book and wanted a picture with me. Another woman was eager to have a copy in Hebrew. The organizers of the group knew the Shelter. … In preparing for her trip she came across my book on one of the sites and ordered it on Amazon. She used a Yiddish word to mean “preordained” when she realized she was meeting the author.”

And here’s another recent experience Judy had, this time at The Shelter:

“A tour group with 25 people from New Zealand led by a couple we know and guided by a friend of ours came to the Shelter today to hear about the work here and we sold fourteen books, a mixture of all three books.”


Judy receives emails from readers all over the world who have read her book(s). Here are examples of recent messages she has received and shared with me:

“I have just enjoyed reading your book “Walk the Land.”  It was lent to me by Astrid and Craig who are friends at our church and who met at your Hostel and were saved through your ministry.  Like Astrid I am Jewish, in fact I am a child survivor of the holocaust.”

–(a reader in Australia)

“Shalom Judy. I am currently reading your book Come Stay Celebrate. I’m only on chapter 9 and I can’t put it down. Your stories have reminded me of when I first believed in Jesus in 1986. How my life changed and how exciting it was to learn and grow. It’s created a hunger in me to keep learning and growing! Thank you for writing this book and sharing your faith and leading so many to Jesus!!”

–(a reader in Las Vegas Nevada)


Judy often shares experiences like these on her Facebook author page. You can follow her there: https://www.facebook.com/Judith-Pex-author-280669071951952/

Judy’s books:

The Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a sign erected at a viewpoint in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white, silent layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?

This brings questions to my mind:

Should we seek/embrace silence?

Where/how do we find silence?

Why is silence important/needed?

What can we learn in silence?

Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound: my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?

Love, Risk, and Rescue

I was editing a novel about mountain rescue about the time of Hurricane Harvey. Reading the fictional story set in Colorado’s mountains and watching videos of flood victims rescued from the rising waters in Houston, got me thinking about the rescues I’ve experienced or witnessed.

I lived most of my life near the mountains and rivers of Northern California and near rivers flowing down from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. In both places I have witnessed major floods where many people had to be rescued from rooftops, bridges, and floating logs.

Random tragedies happen. And they have victims—people, livestock, pets, wildlife.

I have been on the victim end of tragedy waiting for someone to rescue me. When I was four years old our house burned down in the night. I woke in a back bedroom to smoke filling the room and the sound of crackling fire quickly moving through the house. My mother came in her nightgown, took my hand, and led me through the burning house and out the front door in the nick of time. I tell some of that story in Journeys to Mother Love.

My mother herself was rescued at the age of 21 months. Her mother had died of TB and her father had abandoned the children to go find work. The county took the children into custody and declared them neglected and sent them to a state orphanage until age 21. But my mother, the youngest child, was rescued by the doctor who did a medical exam of the children for the court. He knew a childless couple who wanted a child and overnight arranged an adoption. So my mother was rescued from an institutional childhood and brought into a loving, nurturing home.

These types of tragic experiences can cause emotional trauma from which God’s love and grace is seeking to rescue us. Janyne McConnaughey‘s memoir, Brave, describes the process of healing from childhood trauma. Physa Chanmany‘s experience of extreme trauma as a child in the killing fields of Cambodia is described in his memoir, No More Fear. It’s hard to imagine anything more tragic than the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot’s regime. But God’s physical and spiritual rescue of Physa is a story you won’t soon forget.

Speaking of God’s gracious love, the greatest rescue of all happened on the cross where Jesus revealed the extent of God’s love for us, making a way for us to have fellowship with the Father and to be set free from sin and death. I grew up as a preacher’s kid, spending a lot of time on a church pew and singing gospel songs such as, “There’s a sweet and blessed story of the Christ who came from glory just to rescue me from sin and misery. He in loving kindness sought me, and from sin and shame hath brought me…”

Rescue costs. It involves risk and compassion. Theologian Thomas Jay Oord teaches that God’s nature is essentially “self-giving, others-empowering” love that doesn’t seek to control the creatures whom he has created with free will. That means we can resist rescue—or we can choose to cooperate with God’s rescue work and ministry.

For a person buried in an avalanche in the mountains, one can hardly imagine they would resist help when a rescue team finds their location and digs through the snow to reach them. The risk involved in such a rescue is displayed by teams in our mountains here in Colorado—mountain rescue teams who answer the call to go into avalanche, blizzard, and sheer-cliff conditions to rescue and save mountain adventurers from deadly situations—often at risk of their own lives.

The latest Cladach fiction release—a debut novel by Jeanie FlierlTo Conquer A Mountain—brings together light romance and suspenseful adventure with high-mountain rescue set in the Rocky Mountains. Reviewers have commented that the descriptions of the rescues were their favorite parts of the story. I know Jeanie did a lot of research to make those scenes realistic.

At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Tatum, avoids risk and stays away from heights and situations she can’t in some way control. But after she experiences a series of unexpected, tragic events and relationships, later in the story we see her high on a 14,000-foot mountain peak, both rescuing and being rescued.

If you’d like some easy reading for long winter evenings, get To Conquer A Mountain. It might also get you thinking about love, risk, and rescue.

 


Photo credit: jamehand on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 

Grace in Horrific Times

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There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.

There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.

There is a growing spirit of division among people, as evidenced in current discourse, events, politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.

There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:

  • Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
  • A political terror-hostage crisis (in the book, HOSTAGE IN TAIPEI).
  • Christian and Muslim refugees in Africa and the Middle East (in the book,A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH).
  • Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
  • Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).

All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s personal presence, providence, and grace.

We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.

Showing Love and Offering Hope in the World

We can each do something this day to increase shalom, well-being, and flourishing in our world—God’s kingdom come.

I like the quote by Anne Frank, that I photographed this summer when I was visiting Birmingham, Alabama. This monument was erected in the context of the Civil Rights struggles of that city, quoting a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis. If she could think and pen such words, shouldn’t we as followers of the Messiah—who revealed to us God’s heart of Love and compassion—be looking for ways to “improve the world” that God created, died for, lives to intercede for, and is coming back to reclaim and re-create? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” John 3:16.

As a believer and follower of Jesus, the Creator and Redeemer, I want to reflect his character of holy love into this groaning, strife-filled world.

One way I seek to do that is by publishing books that offer hope. I believe that is what sets “Christian books” apart among general book publishing. Whether fiction, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry, a story, essay, or poem may portray a context of brokenness, sin, and conflict. But into that milieu will shine a ray of hope that gives the reader renewed courage to reach up and take hold of “the helping hand at the end of God’s long arm of love.”*

————

*This is the way a former pastor of ours liked to describe “grace.”

Hope for Refugees

Lang with her brother and three sons in our backyard

On this World Refugee Day (June 20) I think of the refugees I have known. First, years ago my family helped sponsor a family of Vietnamese “boat people.” Lang, a South Vietnamese Army officer’s widow, and her brother and her three sons, escaped for their lives off the shore of Vietnam in a small boat to wander the sea along with many others. They gave everything they owned to the boat’s owner. They suffered on the sea. But they were fortunate that a ship picked them up and took them to a refugee camp.

Lang with my daughter

They arrived in our town frightened, slightly sick, “lost” in a completely different culture. While we waited for an apartment to open for them, this sad little family stayed in our home. Our little girl gave up her bedroom for them. Our way of living was so different from theirs. I showed them the glasses in the cupboard. They took one and drank water from it, then returned it to the cupboard. I bought five plastic glasses and wrote their names on them and lined them up on the counter for them to use.

They had experienced dangers and horrors that I could barely imagine. Even though I made beds on the floor, at night they all slept side by side on one double bed.

The word “refugees” changed in my mind from strange, almost-suspect stories into warm, real human beings.

Using gestures and a Vietnamese-English dictionary, I tried to tell Lang about Jesus’ love. Tears welled in her eyes. I tutored her in “English as a second language” for a short time. Eventually they moved to another city and I lost track of them. But I’ll never forget all I learned from them. And I have prayed that the welcome we gave them, and the bit of God’s love we tried to show them across cultural and language barriers, would grow like a seed planted—and that I will see Lang and her family again in Heaven. I look forward to worshiping around the throne the One who gave us freedom, who rescues us from sin and evil and death, and gives us the opportunity of new life and hope and peace.

Because of this experience, and then later getting to know the many Laotian refugees who came to our church, I had the opportunity to write and publish the book, No More Fear: From Killing Fields to Harvest Fields, the story of Physa Chanmany who came to America as a Cambodian refugee.

Physa also had some things in common with many refugees today. As a boy, Physa saw indescribable horror and genocide. Taught to fear Westerners, especially Americans, he had never heard the truth of Jesus. But as a lost and traumatized refugee, he had a dream in which he encountered Christ, who set his life on a new course of hope.

“Trail Angels” for Jesus in Israel

(In Hebrew with English subtitles)

Judith Galblum Pex writes from Eilat, Israel:

Shalom dear friends,

…We just want to share with you a short video clip that the Israel Broadcasting Company made about the Shelter Hostel as part of their new digital series about Trail Angels. I mentioned our interaction and help with the Israel Trail hikers in my book, Come, Stay, Celebrate: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

On the original website from the Broadcasting Company, the video already has more than 156,000 views. Here’s the link to the video on YouTube [The video is embedded above.] where you can also share it with your friends. To read the English subtitles, just press on the “settings” button on the lower right side of the screen, a cogwheel, and click on subtitles – English.
 
 
With love and blessings,
John and Judy

When John and Judy Pex, Israeli believers in Jesus, hiked the Israel National Trail in their late 50s, it was life changing. A challenging trail that runs from the southern to the northern tip of Israel, through many types of terrain—deserts, coast, cities, and mountains. Judy wrote about the experience in Walk the Land: A Journey on Foot through Israel. John and Judy were helped along the way by “trail angels,” and they decided to sign up to be trail angels themselves. They offer one free night in their hostel in Eilat, close to the southern end of the Trail.

As you can see in the video, young Israelis like to walk the trail and often take the Pexes up on their offer. At the Shelter Hostel, they offer hikers a bed for the night, meals, help with phone calls, and advice in starting out on the Trail. All guests at the Shelter Hostel also have opportunity for spiritual discussion, fellowship, and worship.

This is just one more way the John and Judy Pex have found to share the truth and love of Jesus. Judy tells about many more ways God has worked and helped them reach out to thousands of people through the years—tourists, travelers, students, refugees, Jews, Gentiles, and Arabs—in the book, Come, Stay, Celebrate: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

We can pray for John and Judy and their family in Israel. We can also learn from them and seek to find ways to share the life and love of Jesus with people in our spheres of influence.

Free Pastor Andrew Brunson

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Have you seen this picture on social media? Pastor Andrew’s story has been published in Christianity Today, The Washington Times, broadcast on ABC News, etc. Pastor Andrew Brunson has been wrongly imprisoned in Turkey, accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” His family says he’s being persecuted for his Christian belief. The North Carolina man has given 23 years to Christian missionary work in Turkey—building churches and spreading the gospel.

It’s easy to scroll past such stories when we see them online. We become inured to them. But this man’s story got close to home for me when I realized his connection to Cladach Publishing.

Pastor Andrew’s mother, Pamela Brunson is the missionary (with World Witness) who first sent me the manuscript for Paper Poppies: A Memoir, which Cladach published in 2005. At the time, Pamela was serving in Russia and became acquainted with the author, Marianna Vekhova, a Russian Christian working with street children in Moscow, who has her own harrowing story as a suffering, spiritually-hungry orphan in atheistic Russia during WWII.

Pamela distributed Marianna Vekhova’s Russian memoir, Paper Poppies during her speaking engagements while on missionary furlough in the U.S. The last I heard, Pamela and her husband were transferring to ministry in Turkey. Recently I learned that their son, Andrew, is the missionary imprisoned in Turkey.

Please pray for Andrew’s release, and consider signing the petition asking the U.S. President to speak to the Turkish president and request that he order the release of this falsely accused and imprisoned man. The petition has been launched by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination of which Andrew is a member.

On February 6 Pamela shared in a public post on Facebook:

We tend to expect God will bless and protect us. When something bad happens, say a child dies of cancer, we feel confused and disappointed in God. We rethink our concept of Him. Job 1-7, David in Psalms 1-40 and Jeremiah all struggled with this.

While some have faced the same trials as Andrew rejoicing, Andrew has been sifted as wheat by Satan: inability to sleep, terrible nightmares, considered by cellmates as an ‘unclean’ Christian, shock, fear of the future, immobility of confined spaces, feeling abandoned by God, weakness and without books or other input, confused. We just received a letter written on 11th January where he wrote:

“Even if You leave me, I will follow You
Even if You don’t help me, I will follow You
Even if You don’t show me goodness, love, care or compassion, I will follow You.
Even if when I call, You don’t answer but remain silent, I will follow You. This is my intention.”

When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. We are more closely connected than we sometimes realize.

“…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.…” (1 Corinthians 12:25-, NIV)

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