Monday, September 19, 2011

Persistence Pays Off ~ Guest Post by Sylvia Stewart

Somewhere between 1986 and 1988 I took a college course in Creative Writing. Chimwemwe’s Quest began as a writing-a-short-story assignment.  O.K., it began short and got longer and longer the more I thought about it.  (Can you guess that I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer?)

Many of my critiquing friends complained that my protagonist’s name was too long, unpronounceable and almost unreadable, so, with great reluctance, I changed her name, which meant “joy,” to Chikondi, which means “love.”  Kondi is an abbreviation.  Kondi’s name may have changed, but her plight remained the same.  She longed to know that her father loved her.

Shortly after I finished this college class, we left for another missionary term in Malawi, East Africa.  I taught classes in the Bible College in English, The Gospel of John, and Typing.  I taught Beginning Reading for the illiterate or nearly illiterate wives of students, helped with a sewing class for them and did some work in the small library.   Writing slid into an as-time-permits slot.  I kept a journal when I had time in the evenings, writing by hand or typing on an old hammer-the-keys typewriter, often by the light of kerosene lamps.  (The generator went off at nine p.m.). 

Women of my generation weren’t expected to have a career; they weren’t even expected to work outside their homes, so I didn’t think of planning time to write or developing a career.  It felt like a small miracle when an article would be published in one of our denominational magazines.  But Kondi’s story niggled at the back of my mind and wouldn’t give me any peace.

I would add a page or two from time to time and re-write the story again.  I’m sure there were at least 15 revisions before I submitted Kondi’s Quest to a publisher.

I wanted, so much, to leave a small legacy for the African children who pulled at my heartstrings.  Many of them were ill, deformed, in pain or had nutritional deficiencies.  (It was common to see red-headed children under five whose tummies bulged in the typical symptoms of Kwashiokor, a protein deficiency.)  If I didn’t write a story for them to tell them about God’s love and His concern when they were lonely or in pain, who would?  The message I wanted to share was one of the driving factors that kept me adding, bit by bit, to Kondi’s story.

By then, our children had grown and were leaving the home nest.  One by one, they married – and then a wonderful miracle happened.  We began having grandchildren!  Oh, I longed to hold them and tell them stories and share my heart with them, but we lived half a world away.

After 21 years in Malawi, we uprooted to pioneer a work in Ethiopia.  Our mission organization wanted us to start a Bible College in Addis Ababa.  We were in our 50’s so language learning did not come easily.  Finding and settling in to a new home took time and energy.  We had no car, so we walked to the bus stops and rode the local taxis or mini-buses. 

Slowly, the Bible College developed.  We finally found property to rent, ordered furniture, and I became the Librarian for the college.  Since I’m not trained in library science I had a huge learning curve.  The initial purchase of 150 books grew to almost 4,500 volumes over the next several years. 

I also taught college English to our Ethiopian students, many of whom had never had a grammar course before – not even in their own language, Amharic.  I loved interacting with the students but didn’t like teaching grammar.  However, learning it well made me a much better writer.

Kondi’s story was pushed into the background again.  During breaks between school terms I’d take it out and add a bit.

After serving 21 years in Malawi and 11 years in Ethiopia, we retired and returned to Oregon.  I joined Oregon Christian Writers and began soaking up all I could of writing techniques.
Kondi’s story was finally finished and went through another re-write.  I sighed with delight as I signed up for a critiqueing class during the Summer Conference.  When I walked through the classroom door my heart pounded with excitement.  Kondi’s Quest felt ready for print.  I’d done my best.  Soon, I could look for a publisher. 

The group loved the story, and the mentoring editor liked my writing style.  However, I learned to my dismay, that my book was only half as long as it needed to be for the pre-teens I had targeted.  My excitement deflated like a punctured balloon.  However, I determined that almost 19 years of off-and-on writing for this book was not going to be wasted.  Back to the keyboard!

I sent out some more articles while I worked on Kondi’s Quest.  It was fun to continue her story.

Meanwhile, our daughter, Lynnette, had submitted and been accepted to the OakTara stable on recommendation of a friend of mine.  After her book came out, she recommended my book to her editor and I slipped through OakTara’s oaken door on my daughter’s coattails.  I had a contract!

My pre-teen’s novel, Kondi’s Quest, is FINALLY in print.  It has been a 24-year journey – a journey of love and concern for African children.

I took encouragement from Philippians 1:6:  “. . . He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion . . .” God gave me the step-by-step persistence to finish what I started – for His glory.
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