Tales from the Refugee Camp

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The following is a true story.

The Nakivale Refugee Settlement is near Lake Nakivale and named for the lake. It has been in existence for decades with the first refugees coming from Kenya, Rwanda, and Congo – then Zaire.

In a 1960s experiment, anacondas were brought from Brazil to Lake Nakivale. 

The snakes have grown and proliferated around the lake. They attack children and small animals. 

One day, a man came upon one of the snakes, sunning itself beside the lake. He managed to kill it. They pulled the body from the lake and discovered it was 38m long (124.5 feet long). The refugees skinned and cut up the snake’s body for food.

Not long afterward, this same man went for a swim in Lake Nakivale. Witnesses watched a larger snake, the mate of the snake that was captured and killed, grab the man and drag him under. He was never seen or heard from again. They still haven’t caught the bigger snake. Residents have seen it sunning itself by the lake but it has returned to the lake before they could catch and kill it.

At least that’s how the story was told to me.


Novel Planning – Part 6 – The Freytag Model

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The next novel planning method I’m sharing with you is called the Dramatic Structure or The Freytag Model/Pyramid, named for Gustav Freytag who first described it using ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas. This is the primary method I’ve used to teach novel planning. Another variety of this is The Story Spine.

The Freytag Model uses 7 parts to build the story.

The Freytag Model

Freytag Pyramid

1. Beginning or Exposition

The characters and setting are introduced as well as any needed background for the main character and antagonist. The main character’s life is in stasis. He doesn’t seem inclined to change anytime soon.

2. Inciting Incident (Exciting Incident)

Something happens to force the main character out of his comfort zone and into the action of the story.

3. Rising Action

The main character must now go about to solve the problem brought on by the inciting incident. This is the largest part of the storytelling in the book.

4. Climax

The main character faces his final challenge. This is the turning point of the story, where the main character must face the antagonist and draw on inner strength or skill he has gained during the Rising Action to defeat them. 

5. Falling Action

The conflict unravels between the main character and antagonist, though the final outcome may still be in doubt.

6. Resolution

The main character either succeeds or fails against the antagonist and their life must move forward from this event.

7. Denouement

Also known as the ending. The plot threads are drawn together into their final conclusion. We find out what happens to the main character and possibly the antagonist now that the story is over.

Using this method, you can write a sentence or two about the plot for each of the points except Rising Action. You’ll need enough plot points in the Rising Action to carry you through the majority of the book – around 20-30 for a 50,000 word novel. Rising Action is the largest part of the book – also known as the middle. 😉 

Another item to note is that there is very little story telling that will take place between the Climax and Denouement. Once the final conflict has been resolved, the story must also be resolved or people will just stop reading. So you’ll want to have a well thought through ending.

Making a Difference

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Yesterday was Making a Difference Day. It isn’t a huge thing, but I noticed it because the theme of Talents is Making a Difference.

I’d love to be able to finish my life knowing I made a difference for someone. Anyone. Sadly, most of the time we go through life without knowing the impact we have on the lives of those around us.

But every now and then, God pulls back the curtain and lets us have a glimpse of the difference we’ve made.

A couple weeks ago I shared some of the struggles our people at the refugee camp were facing. The rain was coming, but sometimes it was so heavy it washed away the seeds they had planted. They hadn’t had food rations in over a month.

I can’t do anything about either of those things. I can’t control the rain. I can’t feed 100,000 people.

But God can.

We came home from church after hearing the news about the food rations. We felt defeated. Anything we could do would be a drop in a very large bucket of what was needed. What could we do?

After talking with James and asking counsel from family, I felt led to write an email to the American Refugee Committee. They have offices out at the refugee camp and I’ve met people from America who were visiting through the ARC. I sent a carefully worded email that shared the problem our people were facing. 

I go no reply. Nothing. Not a word.

Today Zizi shared some news with us. Last Monday, a large group from several aid organizations including the ARC and Samaritan’s Purse, along with the UNHCR, arrived at the refugee camp in trucks loaded with food and supplies for the refugees. They notified everyone that they’d be having a food distribution that very morning.

When the refugees arrived at the distribution, they received their entire ration. This is huge because they’ve only been receiving half of their rations or less and not even that for the last month. Some of the refugees didn’t get everything they were supposed to get but another distribution took place later in the week that made up the difference.

Officials from these aid organizations met with the refugees and interviewed them to assess the situation. The refugees were able to tell them the extent of the needs.

I’m convinced all this happened because of a carefully worded email I sent the previous week. God helped people who could do something see it and act on it. God worked so the slow cogs of bureaucracy moved quickly and our people received much needed food.

God let me make a difference and He let me see the difference I’d made.

Last week, God used me to feed a refugee camp.

How did God use you to make a difference? 

The Difference between Stress and Culture Stress

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When I wrote the blog post about having a rough week, I used the word stress several times. I realized later what I really meant was culture stress.

Everyone deals with stress. It’s a fact of life. Culture stress is like stress on steroids and there is nothing you can do to get away from it. All you can do is learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage you.

Miriam Webster defines stress as:

constraining force or influence: such as a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation; strain, pressure.

a state resulting from a stress;  especially  :one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium 

In our society today, stress is common. We live stressful, busy lives. We have stress at work, stressful schedules, financial pressure that adds to our stress. Slowing down and reducing stress takes focus and intention. 

Culture shock is defined in Miriam Webster as: 

a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation

Most people have heard of culture shock. To be fair, a person can experience culture shock moving from one part of the US to another. I’ve heard it’s worse when you move between cultures that share a language because you expect things to be the same and they aren’t.

Culture shock resolves itself in a matter of weeks or months. Initial adaptation to the new culture takes place. The “newness” wears off. Things around you don’t surprise you as much anymore. You know what to do, what to expect. But you still haven’t grown completely accustomed to the new culture. Culture shock turns into culture stress.

Culture stress is defined for missionaries as: 

the adjustment stage in which people accept the new environment, adopting new ways of thinking and doing things so that they feel like they belong to the new culture. This takes years, and some missionaries never complete it.

How do stress (as experienced in your country of origin) and culture stress differ and how are they the same?

Let’s start with the similarities. Both are brought on by tension, anxiety, or circumstances around us. Both are an inescapable fact of life. Both must be dealt with properly or they will cause physical problems.

However, there are some significant differences between stress and culture stress.

  • Culture stress is brought on by the process of adaptation to a foreign culture. All familiar cultural clues can be thrown out. You have to completely relearn how to respond in every situation. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes it isn’t.
  • Culture stress is exacerbated by an inability to communicate in the new culture. Even if the language in the host country is the same as your native language words have different meanings. You have to relearn all of these. Then there is the obvious issue of having to learn to communicate in another language (or languages)
  • Cultural values play a huge role in culture stress. If the perceived value system of your host country differs from your country of origin you can become resentful or frustrated with the host country and react to what they do and how they do it.
  • Culture stress cannot be avoided. Ever. It is a fact of life that every person living outside their country of origin will experience. You will never completely adapt to your host country. 

Sadly, as adaptation to your host country takes place, your country of origin becomes less and less familiar. Every time you visit, you struggle with culture shock similar to what you experienced when you first arrived in your host country. All the things that seemed “normal” before aren’t anymore. Cultural cues aren’t familiar. You say and do things that people in your country of origin can’t understand, but you don’t notice you are doing them because it’s “normal” in your host country.

Consequently, people who live overseas for any length of time end up in a constant cycle of adaptation wherever they go.

There are positive ways to manage this stress and there are negative ways. I’ll be covering some of this in another post.

When you pray for your missionaries, pray they have the grace and wisdom to adapt to their new culture so they can effectively reach the people with the gospel. This is not always easy. Our desire is for others to see Jesus in us. But when the culture is dealing with me instead of me dealing with the culture, it’s hard for this desire to be realized.


Novel Planning – Part 5 – Hero’s Journey

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I debated about whether to share this method of plotting a novel or not. It’s very similar to the Three Act Structure, so similar in fact, that in many ways they can be interchanged. However, if you look these up online, many writers make distinctions between the two. I’ll let you be the judge. You can find more information here and here

The Hero’s Journey is equally as old as the Three Act Structure. Consider Greek Mythology. In fact, that’s what its creator, Joseph Campbell, used when he wrote about it. Many, if not most, novels and movies over the years fall into this method.

Hero’s Journey

1. The Ordinary World

The Hero is introduced. His world is normal. Things continue as they have for his whole life. A conflict brews on the horizon. There is an impending problem he must face. Here you must show “normal” and “things are about to happen” and contrast his life with what it is and how it’s going to change.

2. Call to Adventure

The inciting event takes place. The Hero must act on his own personal tragedy or he is forced into involvement in some outer conflict that is taking place around him (or a combination of these two things). This is the beginning of the change for the Hero.

3. Refusal of the Call

The Hero refuses to act. Maybe he is afraid, or maybe he doesn’t want to change, maybe others talk him out of it. Whatever the reason he doesn’t want to take on the challenge presented to him by the inciting event. This is where you show how serious the situation or challenge is for the hero and those around him. You also show his weaknesses or failures when facing past challenges.

4. Meeting with the Mentor

The hero meets someone who can train him, guide him, impart wisdom to him, and help him with his journey. This person inspires him to action and he follows the call to adventure. 

5. Crossing the Threshold

The hero leaves the world he knows and willingly jumps into the plot. His world is turned upside down. Everything is new and unfamiliar This is where change begins.

6. Test, Allies, and Enemies

The hero goes through trials and tests in the new, unfamiliar world. Focus on the struggle here. The hero must try and fail or try and encounter new, harder difficulties. This isn’t the final, climactic test so the tests can be “fun” or less of a struggle for the hero.

7. Approach

The hero prepares for a significant challenge in the unfamiliar world. This is where the hero realizes how big the problem or challenge really is.

8. Ordeal

The hero confronts death and faces his greatest fear. This is the middle of the story. A significant plot point or conflict must take place and the hero emerges triumphant.

9. Reward

The hero is rewarded for facing death. There may be celebration but the risk of death or losing the reward is still present. The hero has won a small victory but must hold on to his reward.

10. The Road Back

The hero must finish his adventure or quest in time and return home with his reward. Most often his adversary is still chasing him. At first he believes he has won, but then things start to fall apart and he has to figure out how to keep his reward.

11. The Resurrection

This is the climax of the story. The hero is tested once more. He must resolve his inner conflict, face death, or make a sacrifice. He emerges purified and triumphant. He discovers the final piece needed to become the hero he always wanted to be.

12. Return with the Elixir

The hero returns home or continues the adventure with newfound power or belief that can change the world, just as the hero was changed. This is where you want to focus on the personal change that occurred in the hero and how he has become the person he always wanted to be.

I’ve used the pronoun “he” for this, thinking of stories like Hercules or Odysseus. You can develop this into whatever character you prefer for your story.

The Three Act Structure can be combined with this. The first act ends with Crossing the Threshold. The second ends with Reward. 

When One of Those Days Turns Into One of Those Weeks

Missionaries deal with stress in their chosen field on a daily basis. Most times it’s small things that add up, though sometimes we face huge stressors and have to deal with them without the normal coping mechanisms set up in our culture. This blog post talks about it in more depth than I’m going to cover here.

For the most part, I try to keep a fairly upbeat and positive view of life. I try. I don’t always succeed. I want to paint a picture of Uganda and Africa for those who don’t live here. Most of what we experience is good. There are times when it isn’t. I’d be giving an unbalanced view if I never told about the bad stuff too.

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This was one of those weeks. Let me give you the breakdown:

Tuesday – Water was off all day but we didn’t know it and emptied our water tank — for the third time in a week. When it did come back on, the water came out of the faucet and showers brown.

Wednesday – A hinge on our gate broke, making it impossible to open the gate without breaking the other hinge. This meant we couldn’t drive anywhere, including to church on Sunday, until it was repaired. (The landlord had someone out to fix it on Friday so we were able to get out and go to the churches on Sunday.)

Thursday – Let me go back to Tuesday. The ISP we’ve been using is in bankruptcy. We decided it would be wise to try a different one. James picked one of the two other options we have in our town that are affordable and set up an account at their office on Tuesday. Thursday morning, we discovered that all our data, purchased two days before, was gone. And we didn’t use it. We went to the company but they wouldn’t acknowledge there was a problem. Their only solution? Spend more money for more data (which I was confident would then just disappear like the other had done). We spent most of Thursday and Friday dealing with this company and they refused to even work with us.

Friday – We discovered that the gate problem was really a wall problem and that the recently repaired wall was tilting over far enough that, if we keep getting rain like we have been (rain that we need, mind you!) the wall will fall over in another week or so.

Saturday – We woke to discover that now, instead of being empty, our water tanks were full and overflowing! A valve up in the tank got stuck open. Water was running everywhere. Thankfully, our guard put out buckets and caught enough of it that it didn’t wash out the ground.  Once we used some water out of the tank, the valve began opening and shutting on its own so we didn’t have to call a repairman.

Sunday – We found out more of the roof at Ngarama had blown off in a storm on Thursday and that the refugees hadn’t gotten food rations in a month. To top it off, James squished a mosquito on the windshield and the whole windshield cracked.

Now, usually things don’t go quite like this for us. All this adds up to massive amounts of stress. It’s hard to function with this much stress. It’s hard to be nice to each other and when under this much stress.

But what can you do about it? The only option would be getting away from it and that brings stress of its own.

I’ll be posting about coping mechanisms and how we deal with stress in another post.

On a positive note, I look forward to how God is going to work everything out. (He already worked out the internet problem! He’s amazing!)

When you read these things, don’t feel sorry for us. We made a choice to live here in Uganda. Most of the time we enjoy it. But pray for us that we will handle everything with grace and that people will see Jesus in us.

Receiving the Word With Joy, Even in Affliction

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I read this verse today and thought of our church people when I read it. 

Paul had been in Philippi. While there, he was arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail. He and Silas sang in jail and God opened their bonds. Their jailer and his whole family were saved as a result. 

He then traveled to Thessalonica. He was only there for a month, but many people were saved and baptized and a church was born. Sadly, only weeks into their birth, that church suffered persecution because of Paul and Silas.

Yet, we see here that they suffered that affliction with joy. They gladly turned to God from idols and served Him. Their witness spread through the whole region. Paul didn’t even have to preach because of the testimony of the Thessalonians.

I was thinking about our churches today as I read this. Yes, we have struggles. People don’t always get along. They are still growing in their sanctification, just like me.

Yet their testimony (in most of the communities at least) is well known. They are known as churches where God’s Word is preached and followed. They are known because of their witness. People from the community are coming and they are being saved.

And all this is in the face of their affliction. It isn’t the same affliction that Paul faced, but it is just as legitimate.

Ngarama church lost another section of their roof this last week. Roughly 1/3 of the roof remains. Yet the church was full today, just as it was last time. Everyone sat in the sun. James sweated it out in the front of the church, facing into the sun the whole time he preached. The people are praying for God to provide for their roof to be repaired and they are believing He will do it.

The UN hasn’t brought food out for our refugees for over a month. The primary affliction these people have faced is hunger.

We heard that the people who process the refugees into the camp are demanding a fee and won’t give the refugees the basics they need for food and shelter until they pay it. They aren’t supposed to do this. Yet our people are trying to find ways to work around it, to meet the needs of the newcomers who don’t have anything, even though they themselves have nothing.

Could I stand and be as joyful as they are in the face of the affliction they face on a daily basis? I don’t know if I could. I fear I’d let the worry and self-pity overwhelm me.


Novel Planning – Part 4 – Three Act Structure

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The Three Act Structure is the oldest story telling method in recorded history. Greek plays used the Three Act Structure as did Greek literature.

It’s also common in our literature and movies today. The Lord of the Rings uses the Three Act Structure as does the Star Wars movies. 

This method can be used as the basis for one 3-part book or it can be used as the story arc for a trilogy.

The Three Act Structure

Act I – The Setup (or The Exposition)

Act I introduces the characters and the setting. It also includes the inciting event and the beginning of the rising action. The protagonist/s face their first major conflict and discover exactly what they are up against in their antagonist. This incident ensures that life will never be the same for the protagonist/s.

Act II – The Confrontation (or Rising Action)

Act II shows the protagonist/s embroiled in the conflict introduced in Act I. They are searching for ways to resolve this conflict but instead of resolution, the conflict worsens. They discover they don’t have the resources or knowledge to deal with the antagonist. It usually ends with another confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist walks away with a better understanding of their enemy and what is required to defeat them. 

In many second Acts, the protagonist is defeated, but not destroyed. They can’t comprehend how they will rise from this and ultimately defeat the antagonist. In other second acts, the protagonist wins a small victory, only to discover they are facing a much larger battle in the future.

Act III – The Resolution (or Climax)

Act III shows our protagonist facing their antagonist once again. This time, they have gained the necessary knowledge or experience to defeat them. The protagonist gets the ultimate victory. The third act ties up all the story threads. Most, if not all of the characters walk away with their “happily ever after.” The antagonist has experienced total defeat.

You can find more about the Three Act Structure in this blog post


Novel Planning – Part 3 – The Snowflake Method

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The next novel planning method we’re going to look at is The Snowflake Method. It was developed by author Randy Ingermanson.

The Snowflake Method

Step 1: One Sentence Summary

Write a one sentence summary of your plot using no more than 15 words if possible. (This sentence could become the hook that will sell your book.) Do not use character names in this sentence. The sentence should aim to show both the big picture plot and what the character has to gain or lose in the situation.

Step 2: One Paragraph Plot

Now expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the background, major disasters, and ending of the novel. Try to think of it as “three disasters plus an ending” where each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book and the ending takes the final quarter. (This could become your back cover blurb.) Again, this paragraph should not be too long. Go for one sentence for each of the disasters and the ending if you can.

Step 3: Develop Characters

You need great characters for any book so you’ll need to develop each of your characters’ story lines. Include this information:

  • Character’s name
  • One sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what your character learns, how they change)
  • A paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step 4: Plot Summary

The snowflake is growing. Expand the one paragraph from step 2. Each sentence (3 disasters and ending) becomes its own paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in disaster. The final paragraph will resolve the plot and tell how the book ends.

Step 5: Character Charts

Expand your character synopses into full fledged character charts. List everything there is to know about each character – description, history, motivation, goals, etc. 

Step 6: Expand the Plot Synopsis

Now expand each of your paragraphs from step 4 into a full page synopsis of the story. You will end up with four full pages of plot development.

Step 7: Scene list

Combine your plot synopsis pages with your character charts and organize them into chapters.

Then, all you have to do is just sit down and write.

(summarized from: How to Plan and Write Novels Using the Snowflake Method)

A Telltale Love

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It’s pretty simple, really. We, as Christians, have been commanded to reach the world with the Gospel. The trouble comes when people in the world don’t really want to hear it, right?

But what if you never even had to open your mouth and people knew you were a follower of Jesus? Could it possibly be that simple?

Why yes. Yes it can.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus showed love and compassion to all those around him. He healed their sicknesses. He raised their dead. He fed them. He taught them. He ate with them. He forgave their sins. He met the needs of their hearts.

He loved them.

If we are Jesus’ disciples and we desire to be like Him, we must follow this example that He gave. It’s Jesus desire, His command, that we do it.

A verse from my favorite hymn says:

May his beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win.

And may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.

When others see you, who do they really see? Can they tell you are Jesus’ disciple by how you act, by how you treat others? 

No matter how simple it sounds, it’s a daily challenge, at least it is for me. It calls us to lay apart our own reactions, the things that spring first to our mind and mouth (I can be so snarky and hurtful with my words!). It calls us to ignore someone’s hurtful or rude words. We have to lay that aside and respond in a way that is contrary to our nature — with compassion, grace, and love.

It might be simple, but it isn’t easy, at least not for me. 

This is the way, the only way, people will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ. “Actions speak louder than words” so the saying goes and in this case it is true. Jesus said it several times in this passage and the same is repeated throughout the epistles.

Do your actions show your love for Jesus? They must! It’s the only true way people will know you are his disciple.