Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Touching Them: Zimbabwe

It's been nearly a year since my last trip to Zimbabwe. I must admit I'm really feeling quite sad that I'm not going this fall as I have for the past two years. Though the trip is a hard one, my heart is so enmeshed there . . . and the situation so much worse for the people now . . . that I'd love to hug on them and encourage them at present.

This month Action!--a bi-monthly published by World Bible School--published an excerpt of my article below. Keep scrolling down to read the full story that highlights, in part, the incredible feeding work managed by Alvaro and Debbie Dos Santos.

And please pray for the men, women, and children of Zimbabwe.



The aged man with sunken cheeks and rheumy eyes was too weak to walk into the church building. He sat in the dirt, sun glistening on his chocolate skin. My friend Justin Nash, an American photographer and Christian, snapped photos of the man while the old fellow muttered something in Shona, the native language of most Zimbabweans. Another interpreted.

“I am just waiting to die,” the man mumbled. “I am so tired of being hungry.”

Compassion twisted Nash’s stomach as he and his traveling companion, Alvaro Dos Santos, were led inside to a scanty feast prepared especially for them. Zimbabwean Christians surrounded the perimeter of the one-room structure, faces pressed to the windows to watch their honored guests.

“I can’t eat this,” Nash whispered, his throat tight.

Dos Santos understood. For years he and his wife, Debbie, have lived the compassion of Jesus among the starving people of Zimbabwe. “Take a bite to show your gratitude,” he instructed in the strong accent of a man who learned English late in life, “then pick up your plate and come with me.”

Nash did as he was told, following Dos Santos into the midday heat. The photographer stooped down, offering his meal to the elderly African.

The man dipped his head in thanks. Immediately, he passed the plate to a small girl beside him. They shared a few handfuls together then passed the dish to the next child. And so it went. The man who longed for his suffering to end did not think to hoard his rare meal.

Alvaro Dos Santos says that’s the African way. “If you have one apple and twenty people, the apple will be passed around, and each person will take one bite. Not a big bite—not more than their share—then it will go to the next person.”

Dos Santos, Portuguese by birth, a shoemaker by trade, and a passionate man of God by faith operates a network of feeding centers throughout Zimbabwe, his home for many years until August 2005 when government threats forced his family to flee the country. Officially, the centers provide more than a 100,000 meals a month.

“But it isn’t enough,” Dos Santos says, running a hand through his hair.

Indeed, practicing true religion among the widows and orphans in Zimbabwe is a daunting task. The country, situated on the northern border of South Africa, is ruled by a dictator condemned by the international community for his crimes against humanity. The people live under the burden of a violent and oppressive government, a collapsed economy, and rampant HIV/Aids. They are starving, diseased, and often homeless.

I first met the Dos Santos family (the author with Debbie and Alvaro Dos Santos in 2008, at right) through World Bible School teacher Paula Leverett and her husband Lynn. In 2006, and again in 2007, I accompanied the Leveretts to Zimbabwe to witness the incredible and selfless work being done to touch the lives of hurting people in the Name of Jesus Christ.


Dusty gravel crunched beneath my sandaled feet when I stepped out of the truck at the Rukweza church and orphan feeding station in the heart of Zimbabwe, but I hardly noticed for the pounding of my heart. Joy and deep compassion crowded around me along with 117 children who, one-by-one, offered their hands in greeting (photo below). It was my first visit to a feeding center.

And it took my breath away.

The sweet young ones wore ragged clothes and tattered shoes—many wore no shoes at all. I was struck by how calloused and rough their little hands and feet were. Though they smiled, their eyes were somber, holding too much heartache at such tender ages.

A woman named Loveness oversaw the work there. We were officially introduced to the children under a fig tree, then they prayed and lined up to have their hands rinsed with cool water. They bowed their heads and clapped their hands in appreciation before receiving a plate of sadza—the cornmeal staple of Zimbabwe.

After they ate, the children served the men and women—several area preachers and a town official had joined us. We shared, too, eating rice, sadza, and a small portion of chicken with our fingers. The children sang for us and put on a humorous play about the importance of education. Apparently we will end up dead on the side of the road if we don’t do well in school! One boy in particular was quite an actor. His strong, bold voice made it easy to imagine him as a preacher some day.

To be honest, I’ve been enchanted by this land of beautiful scenery, beautiful people, and beautiful spirits. Every bit of it is fascinating to me—from the eucalyptus gum trees and flat-topped acacias, to the monkeys darting across the road, to the precious dark-eyed children outrunning our vehicle over rough terrain.

But everywhere, there is need.

And the church is responding.

Not only do the Dos Santoses oversee the feeding stations, but their ministry provides blankets during winter months and medicines in a country lacking even basic health care resources. The Leveretts have also mobilized WBS workers and other compassionate Christians to generously answer the pleas coming from our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters.

Every time the Leveretts visit the country, church leaders come to them with requests on behalf of the neediest in their congregations. School fees for orphans. Medicine for epileptics and asthmatics and a man with meningitis. Glasses for a legally blind boy and his sister. Wheelchairs for the disabled so they don’t have to drag themselves along the ground as I’ve seen so many do. A thatched roof for a widow who lost her home in a fire.

Through the coordination of the Leveretts, HIV testing and medications have been provided in one region to more than fifty infected Christians. Bibles and songbooks in the Shona language have been purchased for a dozen churches. Zimbabwean Christians have received shipments of cornmeal, training and equipment for drip-irrigation, and bales of clothing for distribution.
In 2002 the Leveretts initiated a correspondence-course for training vocational preachers. Thousands have been converted to Christ through the efforts of the nearly one hundred men who have been trained. These evangelists have planted churches in scores of villages far out in the bush, so bicycles have been provided to assist them in their ministries.

The Leveretts don’t meet these needs on their own—they simply share the stories with caring Christians, many of whom take it upon themselves to help in big and small ways.

Two years ago I met a young orphan at a feeding center who boldly approached to tell me he was an artist and needed supplies. He proved his claim by sketching in
my notebook. I think Joseph touched my heart because he dares to dream in a place where dreaming is impractical. Because he yearns to create in a time when priority is placed on simply surviving. I provided a modest amount of money to meet his request—and last year joyfully hand-delivered a box of supplies donated by an artist friend. It doesn’t take much to become the hands and feet of Jesus, touching the lost and hurting with His love and compassion.

Please pray for Zimbabwe and her people. God is already at work intervening—I see it in the many Christians stepping in to feed and clothe the people and treat the sick. I see it in the faith expressed by Zimbabwean men and women who have little more than faith to live on. I see it in the smile of an orphan who's treated with gentleness by an old woman dishing up sadza.

If you would like to touch those served by the ministry of the Zimbabwe feeding centers, you may send a check earmarked “Zimbabwe Feeding Fund” to the Southwest Church of Christ, 4515 Cornell, Amarillo, TX 79109. For more information on how you can help, call (806) 352-5647.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What Dad Taught Me: Walt Cassady, 1933-2008

Believe it or not, one of my earliest memories of Dad was him coming into my room in the morning when I still young enough to sleep in the crib; he teased me because I’d ended up at the opposite end from where I started. That seemed funny to both of us. That day, I learned what it was like to share laughter with my father.

When I was five, Dad drove our family to California for vacation. We ran out of fuel somewhere along a barren highway because Dad was not about to pay $0.32 a gallon for gasoline. That day, I learned that sometimes it’s prudent to pay top dollar because your family will never let you live it down if frugality sends you walking back up the road with a gas can.

In 1969 Dad gathered his children around the television to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Even though I was very young, he told me to watch carefully and to remember what I was seeing, because history was being made. That day, I learned that if I approached the world with open eyes, I might witness great events and make them part of my own personal history.

Dad instilled in me a love of travel. He took our family on long road trips each summer, usually in conjunction with his National Guard two-week drills. But one of the biggest road trips I ever made was the first time he sent me off on an errand by myself behind the wheel of a Ford Gran Torino with six inches of snow on the ground. I was petrified because I was sixteen and had never driven on such roads, but he had every confidence in me. That day, I learned that I could do most anything if someone I admired believed in me.

Years later, when I was married and having my third child, Dad and Starr came to visit when the baby was due. I soon went into labor, and just before my husband took me to the hospital, Dad put both hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes. In pain, already breathing through contractions, I expected words of wisdom from my father. Instead, he gazed at me with great sympathy, and simply said, “Honey, I’m so sorry.” That day I learned that sometimes laughter and compassion go hand-in-hand.

In early September 2005, Dad phoned to tell me he and Starr were loading up the motor home and heading down to Slidell, LA to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They ended up staying for several weeks and spear-heading plans to help rebuild a local church building, and by all accounts, even when he wasn’t in charge, he made sure everyone knew the right way to take care of the cleanup efforts. But that day in September, I learned that there’s a big difference between feeling sorry for people in need, and actually being like Christ by altering your life and plans and finances to help them.

I’ve always been proud to be Walt Cassady’s daughter. He was far from perfect, but he lived a life of passion, service, and adventure. And on July 5th, I learned what a privilege it is to stand beside someone you love and admire deeply as they’re birthed into True Life.

I’m thankful to Dad for teaching me so much. For talking my mother into having one more baby. For corny jokes that my children have deemed “Cassady’s,” for sending my children and me on missions trips because he wanted us to have those kinds of hearts, and for a lifetime of love.

Dad’s legacy will not be forgotten.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Call to Prayer


It's been nearly three months since I've posted--not because life has been dull, but because it has been very full, blessed, and trying all at once.

There is time to write on other matters later, but now I'm coming with two very special requests.

Please pray for my father who suffers a rare cancer and faces surgery next Tuesday, July 1. The procedure is complicated and my father is in a weakened condition. Simultaneously, we've learned that my mother suffers from advanced Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. She knows my father, but is often confused about the rest of us.

My siblings and I are spread across the USA and Europe, but we are taking turns going home to help care for them during these crises. It is a joy and a privilege to serve our parents in this way, though heartbreaking all the same.

I also ask that you please join me in signing a petition to the leaders of several southern African countries to intervene in the travesty taking place in Zimbabwe. You may sign online at

Most of you know that I have personally traveled to Zimbabwe twice in the past two years to witness first-hand the suffering of men, women, and children under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. In recent weeks, a number of my Zimbabwean friends have confirmed the fear, danger, and turmoil that they live with daily as reported in the news coming out of their land. They are hungry, without medical resources, intimidated, harassed, and oppressed.

If you are unfamiliar with the situation in Zimbabwe, you will find good coverage at www.cnn.com. Check out this particular story:


Please consider signing the petition. It only takes a moment.

And thank you in advance for your prayers.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Let The People Pray

Please join me in praying for the people of Zimbabwe. Not for some nameless mass of humanity, but for my friends. My loved ones. For Washington, Alice, Keith, Bryan, Si, Kennedy, Godwin, Kuda, Peter, Dorcas, Penelope, Tendai, Emilee, Witness, Chipo, Chris, Pauline, Philip, Assan, Richard, Campion, Freddie, Joyce, and many others.

I've been closely following whatever news manages to trickle out of Zimbabwe prior to and since the presidential elections last Saturday, March 29. Mugabe, who twenty-eight years ago led a revolution and has remained in power with an ever-tightening, slowly-crushing grip, seems to have encountered an upset.

However, forbidding most foreign journalists (arresting some yesterday), delaying election results for nearly a week, and sending paramilitary to ransack opposition headquarters gives evidence to the rumors that Mugabe is once again up to his dirty tricks, trying to stay in power by whatever means he thinks will work. He's used violence and intimidation many times before.

That inflation is at 100,000 percent, unemployment is officially at 80 percent (much higher by more realistic estimates), life expectancy has dropped to 35 years, people are starving, nearly a third of the population has fled, and hope has nearly faded, he's convinced he's been good for the country. Or maybe being good for the country is the least of his goals.


Sunday, March 16, 2008


(*Song lyrics by Indie-pop artist Ingrid Michaelson)

Sometimes I’m astonished by how very fragile I am. How fragile we all are. How easily a word wounds, a look hurts, a cold shoulder upsets.

Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.

I’ve vowed not to be overly sensitive, and for good reason. Hyper-sensitivity is the curse of self-centeredness. But still . . . we’re each so fragile.

So it's fairly simple to cut right through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess.

I have the power to build up and the power to tear down. And sometimes I wield that power carelessly. Thoughtlessly. Selfishly.

And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.

Is it any wonder Jesus tells us to love one another? To put one another’s interests above our own? To bear with each other, forgive one another, strengthen one another. To be devoted to one another, honor one another, accept one another. To be kind and compassionate to one another. Encourage one another. Love one another deeply.

Did I mention “love one another” more than once? Yes. So did He. Why? Because . . .

. . . we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.

(To listen to “Breakable,” go to http://cdbaby.com/cd/michaelson3/from/ingridmichaelson)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Work in Progress

A WORK IN PROGRESS is not only the name of my new writing blog, but the title of the novel I'm currently working on, and an accurate description of my writing journey.

You can find my writing blog at: http://caronguilloswriting.blogspot.com/

I hope you'll check in often for updates, excerpts, behind-the-scenes glimpses into my stories and characters, thoughts on writing, and "First line I wrote today" posts.

There's also a survey on the new blog (below the "About Me" section on the right sidebar), so let me know what you think. You can leave comments on my posts over there, too, so I'd love to hear from you whether you're an established writer, a beginner, an avid reader, one of my faithful cheerleaders, or simply a curious bystander.

Of course, I'll still be sharing my heart here at On This Journey, so don't go away!

Monday, March 03, 2008

I'm Out

Well, I didn't make the Top 10 Finalist cut in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, but I'm thrilled for the ones who did and eager to see what happens next.

To see the finalist entries, go to http://www.amazon.com/b/ref=gw_cto_abna?ie=UTF8&node=332264011&pf_rd_p=369140101&pf_rd_s=left-nav-2&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_i=507846&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0JX82YDT4R39TR7FEZKC

I can't wait to read and review their excerpts!

By the way, you can view an extended excerpt of my entry at the independent ABNAbooks.com site.


You can also rate and review it. No awards in the offing, but I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Our Privilege

Several days ago I passed one of my 117 students as I drove home from school. We both pulled to a stop light—I in my Toyota, he on his bicycle—and waited our turn to cross the busy intersection. I guessed from the dashboard clock that he’d gone to tutorials or served detention or stopped over at a friend’s house before heading home. The student didn’t realize it was me, or at least pretended not to, but I couldn’t help watching him while we waited.

This particular boy is the sort of freckle-faced kid who’s pretty good in math, but more interested in being a clown in the classroom. From time to time, I grind my teeth over him, but we get on all right for despite his efforts, he’s not a very successful comedian.

Seeing him there cast him in a different light. Daylight, actually, for I teach in a windowless, basement classroom. But more than that. I’d forgotten how small he is until I saw him in contrast to the cars rushing by, buildings and trees and lampposts dwarfing him, wide blue sky curving overhead. I thought about how hard he tries to gain attention and acceptance from his peers—not unusual in middle school—and about how often I raise one eyebrow at him.

My heart was overwhelmed by compassion for this kid trying to find himself and his way in the world. I regretted the times I’ve felt frustrated by him; felt anything less than the love of Jesus for him.

I said out loud, “He deserves to be loved. Everyone deserves to be loved.”

Just then, two men with backpacks and dirty clothes crossed the street in front of us, and as clearly as if He’d spoken out loud, God reminded me, “Everyone is.”

Now I have no way of judging whether the three people in my line of vision know the love of man or God, but tears gathered in my eyes because for a split second, I felt the crushing grief of all the people in this world who feel unloved. Had it lasted longer than a heartbeat, the pain would have been unbearable. At the same time, my heart was pierced deeply by how many men, women, and children have yet to experience the overwhelming and unconditional love of their Father.

It’s our job, you know, to tell them. To show them. To live the love of God in Christ Jesus among them. To experience it fully in our own lives.

It’s our privilege, but we forget that. We forget to see people the way Jesus sees them. Forget that our loving relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth is something most people can't fathom. That it comes with a responsibility to every living person.

But I'm glad He reminded me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Press Release

Some of you might be interested in today's press release about the ABNA contest on Forbes.com


. . . or that might be just me. :)

I MADE TOP 100!!!

Just discovered my novel "Children of Light" made the top 100 cut in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest (out of 5,000 world wide entries)! If you could possibly help me out by posting a review (or commenting on someone else's review), I'd appreciate it. You must be an Amazon customer to review or comment, but anyone can visit my profile and download an excerpt (for free) at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00124COPM

Thanks friends!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An Invitation

Hey friends,

Want to know why I wrote "Children of Light," an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist? Go to http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00124COPM and scroll down to my latest blog post.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Haggling Over the Cost

I was reading about the cost of discipleship in the gospel of Luke this morning, and I feel foolish.

Just the other day I felt a bit sorry for myself, enumerating in my mind what this mission of ours has cost in terms of relationships, primarily. I actually said to God, "I had no idea it would cost this much." The financial aspect I can live with, money being such a fickle part of life anyway. But by calling and choice we’ve stepped outside the comfort of our established relationships and started over.

Yet even as I whined, I couldn’t help seeing God’s wisdom in putting us through this specific training module. What in the world did I think would happen when we move to a large metropolitan area in another eighteen months and instead of joining an established church with a ready-made family, we start living the life of Christ in the midst of those who don’t yet know him?

Jesus said, "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." That particular cross is not simply some trial or tribulation—we all have plenty of those forced on us by the nature of things—it’s the cross on which we voluntarily crucify our own plans, desires, and self-will for that of God’s.

In a reading last week, Oswald Chambers questioned, " . . .do you say, 'I am not willing to be poured out right now, and I don’t want God to tell me how to serve Him. I want to choose the place of my own sacrifice. And I want to have certain people watching me and saying, Well done.'"

Well, yes. Sometimes I do.

But here’s another truth: there is nothing I must give up that compares to knowing Jesus and being transformed into his likeness. Nothing so sweet as volunteering to be sent and having Jesus push me out of the nest and into the hearts of people who need him.

I’m stronger now for my wrestling with discipleship self-pity. Wrestling with it and winning by the power of the Spirit at work in me. If this is what it costs, so be it. I’m not haggling anymore, for I’ve gotten the better end of the deal no matter how you slice it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Self-Esteem, Schmelf-esteem

I’ve decided that self-esteem isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, seriously, look at how fragile it is. How quickly it dissolves into an insecure mess, giving up its strength at the smallest hint of criticism. Felled like the giant-above-the-beanstalk by the absence of just one hoped-for affirmation. One phone call that never comes. One ignored email. One day of obscurity.

Or maybe that’s just my self-esteem.

I recently entered a novel of mine in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and made it to the semi-finals. Okay, so did 846 other people, but it’s a move in the right direction. Anyway, I received very nice reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and two of Amazon’s top reviewers as well as some others. But two or three mediocre reviews really got under my skin. I went to bed early after reading one of them, convinced I’m a terrible writer with no business letting anybody read my stuff. Good-bye self-esteem; you’ve been edited.

I have a friend that was twice supposed to let me know when we could meet for lunch. I never heard from her again. Ciao self-esteem; you’ve been dropped.

I shared some exciting news with someone. They replied with a lukewarm “how nice.” Au revoir, self-esteem; you’ve been boring.

I had something important to say in a conversation in which it was impossible to get a word in edgewise. Adios, self-esteem; you’ve been silenced.

I know better. I really do. I spent a couple of years wrestling with adolescent-style insecurity and finally realized the only ticket out of that mud pit was to put my confidence not in myself or in the favor of others, but in God alone. Call it God-esteem. But every now and then I forget.

So, I’ve decided I want to get rid of my self-esteem entirely. It’s a fickle, demanding, mean-hearted lover with serious control issues. Enough navel-gazing. Enough hurt feelings. Enough measuring myself against people who appear to be more successful, more beautiful, more interesting.

Sayonara self-esteem. You’ve been kamikaze-ed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semi-Finalist!

Out of 5,000 world-wide entrants, my historical novel "Children of Light" is among fewer than 1,000 semi-finalists as judged by Publisher's Weekly! The farther along I move in the contest, the more professional feedback I get. Of course, if I actually win first place, my novel will be published by Penguin Books. But the exposure and feedback will be very valuable for me. You can help me by reading and reviewing a 5,000 word excerpt of my novel at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00124COPM.


You'll need an Amazon account (free) before you download the excerpt (for free).

Here are a few points to remember:

* When you read excerpts from the semifinalists and post reviews, you’ll be in the running to win a prize package (including an Amazon Kindle, a $2,000 Amazon.com gift certificate, and an HP photo printer) for providing the most--and the most high-quality--reviews.

* Read and review by mid-February so I can make it to the next round.

* On the link above, my novel is listed as "Romance" but can be found elsewhere as "Historical." I'm not going to squabble over the mixed labeling issue. :)

(Tips for reviewers from Amazon:)

• Be persuasive. Experts at Penguin will be relying on customer reviews as they prepare to select the finalists, so don't hesitate to tell us what you really think. The reviews that provide the most thorough, thoughtful feedback are the ones that will help Penguin choose the Top Ten.

• Quantity and quality help. The more reviews you write, and the more helpful each review is, the more likely you are to win one of our three prize packages.

• Discuss. As with customer reviews for all our products, you can comment on others' excerpt reviews and rate them. Any discussion and activity we see around specific titles will only keep us coming back for more, so feel free to speak up and banter with your peers.

• One quick heads-up: Per the contest rules, every excerpt is a maximum of 5,000 words in length. As a result, you may find that excerpts vary in length or end unexpectedly. Consider yourself warned--and happy reading!

Thanks friends! Caron