My good friends Sarah Motley and Popedia Susan Fury gave me Prologue from Ohrid as a gift for my Diaconate ordination in December 2018. Reading the stories of the saints as well as the homilies and reflections became a regular part of my spiritual journey. Somewhere along the way, I thought it would be a good evangelism tool if there were a collection of African saints so that African-Americans could more quickly find our ancient Christian spiritual ancestors. This was not to say that we shouldn’t learn from the Greek, Russian, Syrian, or other holy men and women. But, making it a point to catalogue Africans would be a good sedgeway to introduce more of us into the faith and remind other Orthodox Christians that our faith is universal. So, I started a weekly series, “Dispatch from the Desert,” on the Desert Fathers Dispatch blog to cover the year 2020. The next year, I posted “Saints of Africa,” on a monthly basis.
I’m not sure of the numbers. But, a few people followed my work. It didn’t matter how many. It was just a challenge for me to commit to posting every week and every month. Sometimes I found saints that I never heard of. Some of these holy men and women didn’t have long narratives written about them. The stories of others were very moving. Writing the series added to my spiritual growth and I was glad that someone else was gaining from my work as well.
One “someone else” following my work was Summer Kinard, a theologically educated Antiochian Orthodox sister. She is also the Senior Editor of Park End Books, a small publisher specializing in Orthodox, Catholic, and Liturgical Protestant authors. Last summer, she proposed that I write a devotional book based on some of the African saints I’ve been sharing. I had to get a blessing from my hierarchs, and advice from my priest and spiritual mother. They recommended that I read more about African Christian history and Orthodox thought as a preparation for writing the book. After following their direction and a little more research, I sent Summer my manuscript. Her team at Park End have completed their work and the book, Become All Flame: Lent with African Saints will be released on Sunday, February 20th!
Becoming a published author was not even a thought in my head. It seemed that a list of African saints (native born and those from other lands who had an impact there) would be great to help evangelize and edify. I don’t expect to see million dollar checks in my mailbox, or find my book on the New York Times Best Seller list. But, it’s all good. It’s a blessing just to plant a seed of faith and interest in Orthodox Christianity in people’s hearts and minds. It’s a blessing to re-awaken the Orthodox faithful to our African roots and share a word of inspiration. I grew in the process. What more could I ask for?
Another writing and a teaching opportunity has knocked on my door as well. I will post about these things as the time comes closer. For now, I am humbled and thank God that He has used me in this fashion. More than once, someone has joke meeting me, “Are you the ‘John Grisham’ the author?” Now I can reply, “Yes, I am,” and refer them to my publisher.