Part 3 – What I Would’ve Missed!

Posted at May 25, 2016 12:35 pm

 

My husband has this funny thing he does on flights that take us over an expanse of water.  Throughout the flight, he keeps check on the board that shows exactly where the plane is located over the wide, open sea and nudges me continually to give me updates.  Even though this is information I definitely don’t want to know or think about.  So he kept nudging me as we flew for hours over the ocean in route to South Africa.  Meanwhile, I kept my eyes focused on one movie after another, trying not to think about the vast, dark, and in my mind, forbidding body of water below us. 

After eighteen hours or so in flight, I finally heaved a sigh of relief when we landed in Johannesburg.  However, over an hour later when we arrived in Mamelodi, I was somewhat frightened all over again.  Everywhere I looked there were metal bars on all the windows, an electric fence around the compound where we were staying, and empty streets because “anyone who was smart” had already headed indoors before daylight turned to dusk.

Yet those fearful feelings didn’t last the entire trip.  As the days passed, they dissipated with each person we met.  Yes, we saw many things that broke our hearts and brought tears to our eyes—the wheezing, nearly lifeless AIDS patients. Children born HIV-positive. Living conditions that were far more unfathomable and severe when you stood in the middle of them rather than just seeing them on a pamphlet or website.  But, in the face of all of that, as I became acquainted with the women of Mamelodi and the ladies of Beaded Hope, I felt like I was being ministered to—instead of the other way around.  The smiles and hugs of the women were so warm and genuine, they lifted you up. And going to Sunday service with them was like nothing I’d ever encountered. Their ardent prayers and songs of worship could take the roof off a building. They were—they are—courageous, amazing people and you couldn’t help falling in love with them.

Mama Peggy, Jennifer’s main contact, known as “the Matriarch of Mamelodi, “ had her helping hands in everything—hands that never seem to stop moving.  And Mighty, Mama Peggy’s close friend, worked right alongside the matriarch and with Jennifer as well.  The two of them and the other ladies we met working at Bophelong Hospice were well-educated women. They could’ve lived elsewhere. They could’ve had very well-paying positions doing other things. But their hearts were with the people in the village. They sacrificed prestige and income to be able to help where they felt they were most needed. Going out to the villagers weekly, they counseled about AIDS, comforted the grieving, and brought hope, medicine, and food to the sick. Such incredible, admirable women!

Comparably, our efforts and contributions those two weeks felt trivial.  Because of the weather and some other complications, we didn’t really get to do all the helpful things we’d hoped to do while in Mamelodi.  In fact, a few weeks after we returned stateside, I kept trying to process what had happened and mostly all that hadn’t.  Wondering why we’d gone across the globe at all since it seemed we hadn’t made much of an impact on anything.

One particular morning, I was standing at my kitchen counter, looking at photographs we’d taken, wondering once more what the real purpose of the trip had been.  And it was that morning that I saw—really saw—all of those beautiful faces again.  Faces of the women and children and men I’d wished I could’ve brought back home in a suitcase with me.  Not because my heart went out to them, but because they’d touched mine. 

Later it would come to me as I sat to write Beaded Hope that the experience had been a good lesson about God’s timing.  All along I’d kept thinking I could write the book based on Jennifer’s stories, my limited imagination, and Google, but I would’ve never gotten it right.  I had to get on a plane to meet those South African women.  I had to come to know them for myself, witness their courage, their spirit, their faithfulness, and warmth if I was ever going to be able to capture those qualities in my fictional characters. 

That morning, remembering all those wonderful traits about the women, I felt like I couldn’t give up.  Even though I’d received numerous rejections at conference and through submissions I’d made, for the ladies of Mamelodi—for the privilege of having met them—I needed to give the Beaded Hope thing one more try.  Not only did I want to publish the book so a portion of the sales could go to the Beaded Hope organization, I also wanted people to come to know the women I’d met and feel their inspiration the way that I had.  

Which meant I needed to find an agent.  

Closing the photo album, I headed upstairs to my writing cubby. Sifting through agent lists I’d accumulated, my eyes migrated toward an agency—Spencerhill Associates—who represented both secular and Christian fiction.  It didn’t say whether or not the agency accepted unsolicited manuscripts, so I looked up their website to see.  However, the site was under construction.  The only thing left to do was to call.

I thought I’d get an assistant on the line, but I guess it was lunchtime or something.  Much to my surprise, the owner of the agency picked up the phone. 

“This is Karen Solem.”

Oh no!  Caught off guard, I instantly felt nervous.  My voice quivered as I blabbered, introducing myself.  “I have a, uh, partial manuscript, and I, uh, was wondering if you take unsolicited manuscripts.  Can I send it to you?”

“What’s the book about?”

I didn’t know what else to say but to give the same pitch I’d given to others before.  I also mentioned I’d actually gone to SA.

“Send it to me right away,” she said without hesitation.  “I think I can sell this thing on a partial.”

What?

The next day when I met with my critique partners and told them what had happened, they glanced at one another and then began laughing as they looked back to me.

“You have no idea who you were talking to, do you?” they asked.

I shrugged as a nervous trill meandered it way through the pit of my stomach. “It was the first name I saw on the agent list.”

With that, Heather and Shelley began to cite authors from Spencerhill’s client list.  So many well-known authors who I’d read and admired.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Thank God you had no clue who you were calling.” They chuckled.   “Or you would’ve never made that call.”

Oh, how right they were!   That day, my ignorance was truly bliss.  And a blessing.

 

…to be continued

 

 

Jennifer with Beaded Hope ladies

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