RIDGECREST, N.C., 5/31/2008 8:30:53 PM
News / Religion

Writers encouraged to fulfill 'Great Commission' through craft

Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference helps wordsmiths develop craft

Art and Dotty Dennis sold the house, gave the furniture to the kids and stocked their new home – a 30-foot Pacific Sea Craft named “Fanta Sea.” They were sailing to an early retirement in the Bahamas.

Or so they thought.

A “short-term” mission trip turned into a two-year detour to Yemen, amidst civil war. Then it was Africa after an embassy bombing; Iraq, reaching Baghdad 10 days after the war began; hurricane relief in Nicaragua; tsunami aid in Malaysia; recovery in Sri Lanka.

Fifteen years later, their retirement dreams of floating off in the carefree Caribbean sunset remain gratefully docked.

“God did all this,” said Art Dennis, 69, of Duncan, S.C., about the life-changing missions. Of the natural disasters and conflict, he said: “I have never been scared.”

Ironically, Dennis sees his toughest test ahead: writing about those 15 years to inspire “ordinary guys like me” to also serve.

That’s why Dennis – a retired commercial construction manager with a penchant for deep-sea adventure diving – attended the 2008 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference at
Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center May 18-22.

Best-selling and award-winning Christian writers, along with agents, publishing house representatives, magazine editors, journalists and speakers shared their expertise.

For the 385 who attended, the whirlwind of workshops by day were clarified by nightly keynote speakers who inspired with humanity and humor – and a healthy dose of inspiration to embark on gathering their stories.

Art Dennis took that to heart.

“To me, being a writer has always been this awesome thing – I’m in awe that people can sit down and do it,” said Dennis, his trepidation belied by his winning a Cecil Murphy scholarship to the conference, and by his moving descriptions of baptizing new believers in the Indian Ocean or providing comfort within tragedy – stories all punctuated with self-deprecating Southern asides.

“When we had that sailboat in the water headed to Belize and God invited us to go to the mission field, I could have said no,” Dennis said, color rushing to his face in memory of those with whom he shared hope.

“But, what in the world would I have missed by saying no? All the people that we love. All the tears we shed. I wouldn’t trade it. And if I don’t tell these stories, I’ll feel like the servant that was given one talent and did nothing with it.”

When novelist Alton Gansky told the audience, “Every aspiring writer needs to understand this simple truth: Your career is a joke,” he meant it in the nicest possible way.

“Your life is a joke. Thank God! Because the excitement, the thrill, the adventure of being a writer is in that second ending that we don’t expect out of that single story of our lives;” the definition of a joke, Gansky said. “God has a few twists and turns for us.”

Les Stobbe, editor-in-chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild challenged writers to look at the eternal impact their writing can make.

“So many Christian writers are thinking of writing only for fellow Christians,” he said. “I believe we should be fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Conference director and author Yvonne Lehman agreed. “Novels should not be a sounding board for personal grievances or preaching, but it should minister to the reader in some particular way that strengthens their faith.”

After the conference, missionary-turned-aspiring writer Art Dennis couldn’t say writing was any less intimidating. But his urgency, inspiration and determination were sparked.

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