One of the many blessings of being a writer is how much I learn when I write books. How I’m stretched as a person. How much I learn about myself and what I believe as a Christian. I know what you’re thinking. Kelly, you write Amish romances and romantic suspense. Fluffy stuff. And it’s true, novels like mine are first and for most intended to entertain. If they don’t, I haven’t done my job. But many authors of Christian fiction also hope to nudge readers toward a better understanding of the Christian faith. I do. It’s how I use my spiritual gift to spread the Word.
The idea is to weave this faith element into the story without being preachy. To do that we have to understand what we believe and why. My newest release, A Long Bridge Home, is a case in point. On the surface, the story focuses on a young Amish woman who must evacuate when a wildfire threatens her community of West Kootenai, Montana. She’s never been away from home before. Her father decides to move the rest of the family to another state. Christine stays with family in St. Ignatius, but essentially, she’s on her own for the first time in her life. Her boyfriend (special friend in Amish parlance) travels to another city. Christine meets someone new. It has all the trappings of a good romance, right? (If you don’t read romances, trust me on that point.)
That was my initial focus when I thought about pitching the Amish of Big Sky Country series set in Montana to my publishers. Then I learned that St. Ignatius, where one of the Amish communities is located, is on the Flathead Indian Reservation. My interest piqued, I began researching how it happened that non-Native people came to settle and even establish cities on the reservation.
My husband and I took a week-long research trip to Montana. One of our stops was The People’s Center, the Kootenai tribe’s historical museum, in Polson. There a young man named Jordon Strasso spent two hours giving us a guided tour of the museum. Even though he was exhausted from drumming at the annual Arlee Fourth of July powwow the previous evening, he didn’t rush. He shared not only the history of his tribe, but his personal perspective on what it means to be Native Indian in the United States today.
My imagination blew up after that. What would it be like for a stalwart believer from the Amish Christian faith to encounter a young man with a spiritual belief system so completely different from her own? For the first time Christine has to articulate what she believes and why. She’s never had to defend her beliefs to anyone, let alone someone whose ancestors lost their land, their culture, and their way of life because of missionaries who came “in the name of God.”
As a writer, I also had to answer those questions for myself, but for me, it’s not the first time I’ve questioned my faith. Christine struggles with hard truths in A Long Bridge Home. “[Raymond’s] view of the world bumped against hers and sent it spinning out of control. For the first time she had to justify—in her own mind—what she believed.”
The underlying theme of A Long Bridge Home tells us exposure to a world and beliefs different from our own is good for us. It forces us to examine what believe and why. As my editor noted, it’s a matter of internal balance, knowing where we stand, what we believe, but being open to letting others believe in and stand for something different. We allow for civilized discourse. We open lines of communication.
How’s that for fluffy? “Now [Christine] knew the world was bigger and more complicated. Threads of many colors made up the fabric of this world. Its brilliance drew her in. She wanted to touch this bright, worldly shawl and wear it around her shoulders.”
So we listen, evaluate, and reject those beliefs that don’t coincide with Scripture, while always treating with respect and honor those who differ in their beliefs. That’s what being Jesus’ ambassadors in this world is about.
My church family, Northwest Hills United Methodist Church has encouraged me over the past twenty-five years to know what I believe and why. I couldn’t write these books without the undergirding of Scripture that comes from all those years of attending a church grounded in the Holy Bible.
If your interest is piqued, you can read the first chapter of A Long Bridge Home on my website at www.kellyirvin.com/books/a-long-bridge-home/.
Find A Long Bridge Home wherever books are sold.