Pandemic Fears, Realistic Response

Ebola. The word alone in a news headline is enough to make me want to click and read more.

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And the media certainly know how to play off my fears. All they have to do is insert the word crisis and they know they’ve got me.

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I live in suburban Ohio, between Cleveland and Akron—very close to the area where Dallas nurse Amber Vinson visited last weekend before she was diagnosed with Ebola. A few area schools have been closed and cleaned “out of an abundance of caution”; a bridal store she visited has been closed; and Vinson’s friends and family who had direct contact with her are being quarantined for 21 days (including three who work on the same college campus as my spouse). My husband got a notice about it at work, my younger daughter’s daycare sent home a notice, the pediatrician asked about possible exposure when I called to make an appointment, there’s a countywide Ebola hotline, the list goes on.

It feels to me like level of panic in this area is at an all-time high.

I don’t want to bury my head in the sand here and skip the news altogether, but I also need to be realistic: it’s more likely at this point that I’m going to die from a car accident or the flu than Ebola. There is a very real Ebola outbreak, but right now it’s in West Africa.

How do I manage my own personal fears while also working to help solve the problem? This was my quandary late last week when I remembered a series of resources MennoMedia developed a few years ago about pandemic preparedness.

Back in 2009, medical authorities were warning that the world was due to suffer a flu virus on a global scale, equal to or greater than the international pandemic of 1918. They warned that, despite our advanced medical technology, thousands of people would die and many more would become sick. People would fear for their health. Naturally, people would want to protect themselves.

So we at MennoMedia considered: How would the church respond to a pandemic? Do we have a plan? Will we retreat in fear, or are we ready to be God’s light in the midst of suffering?

We developed a series of pandemic preparedness resources. It has three parts:

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The Beyond Our Fears guide is designed to be part of a congregational study series, but it can also be a personal resource for inspiration and learning.

This series was written not to raise our fears, but to do the exact opposite: to prepare the church to shine as God’s light in the midst of such crises, to respond to our call to be people of healing and hope. Even if these crises never occur, the resources (especially the ones for adults) will help us think through our mission as Christians and how God calls us to join the work of healing and hope in our families, neighborhoods, and world.

Most of us would rather not think about worst-case scenarios such as Ebola in Ohio (or anywhere else, for that matter), a new flu pandemic, or devastating hurricanes or tornadoes. But governments and municipalities are creating plans to be prepared for each of these crises. So shouldn’t we, as ordinary people of faith, be spiritually prepared? Why not know before the crisis what kinds of actions and attitudes are most consistent with our faith? Why not think together about how is God calling us to be good stewards of the future? Let’s face it: crisis has always been a fact of human existence on this planet, and it can hit without warning.

Because these pandemic preparedness resources are perfect for such a time as this, MennoMedia is offering 20% off any of the three titles this week. Just use code BEYOND14 at checkout. I encourage you to take advantage of the sale and to consider these issues with your congregation.

Now to part 2: the matter of stopping and controlling Ebola in West Africa. There are so many inspiring stories of what’s being done in Africa. But, as experts warn us, more work needs to be done to contain and control this virus. Dollars are needed—quickly—to aid in this work. In the last week on the news or in my Facebook feed, I’ve heard of people giving to the following organizations. Click on the name of the organization to make your own contribution.

Manage your fears; make a donation. That’s my recipe for realism and action amidst worst-case scenario reporting.

How are you coping with fears of Ebola or other crises? If you have children, how are you talking about Ebola with your children? Has your congregation used any of these resources?

Amy Gingerich, editorial director

Amy Gingerich

Get Ready to Chase the Amish Dream

In case you hadn’t noticed, a long line of people stands ready to tell you Amish stories. They include:

  • Producers of Amish-themed reality TV shows.
Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

  • Tourist-venue operators.
Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

  • Writers of Amish fiction.
Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

  • Writers of Amish nonfiction.
Mindy Starns Clark is author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

Mindy Starns Clark, author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with non-Amish people telling Amish stories. In fact, I’ve done it myself, in a book that I wrote about Amish-themed fiction (Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels). And we at Herald Press tell Amish stories as well, through series like Ellie’s People: An Amish Family Saga by Mary Christner Borntrager, a series of young-adult Amish novels that we are re-releasing, and Return to Northkill, a series of historical Amish novels by Ervin R. Stutzman.

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Those of us who have told Amish stories have a variety of motives. Herald Press produces Amish-related books because we see it as part of our mission as a Mennonite publisher. We believe that we have a responsibility to produce books that correct misconceptions and offer authentic portrayals of the Amish, a community that is close to us historically and theologically (and sometimes genealogically!). But even those of us who are motivated by goodwill and careful about our representational work can’t escape the reality that we’re telling someone else’s story and that we’re telling it from our own angle.

Isn’t it time that Amish writers have a chance to tell their own stories?

A new series from Herald Press gives Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers the chance to do just that. Plainspoken: Real-Life Stories of Amish and Mennonites, which features books on daily life and faith written by Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers, launches this coming Tuesday with Old Order Amish writer Loren Beachy’s Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor.

I am thrilled that this series is kicking off with the work of such a talented and hilarious writer. People might pick up Loren’s book because it’s written by an Amish writer, but they’ll keep reading because it is some of the best humor writing around. Loren, a beloved columnist for the Goshen News, is a schoolteacher and an auctioneer, and his chapters teem with the pranks and foibles and routines of the folks in his Old Order Amish community in northern Indiana. When I was editing Loren’s writing, I’d often read parts to my sons and husband because, well, I couldn’t not read them out loud. And if the cover makes you at all curious—why is that man chasing that buggy?—let me just say that there are actually two accounts of two different buggy chases in the book. You won’t want to miss either one.

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New York Times–bestselling author Cindy Woodsmall says readers won’t want to miss any of these firsthand accounts of Amish life. “Anyone with an interest in the Amish or in humor will love this unusual rendering by a young and very spirited Amish man,” Woodsmall says. And Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony and Hope series, says this about the book: “For years I have harbored a secret desire to join the Amish. Now I can chase my Amish dream through this wonderful book by Loren Beachy. This treasure of a book has taken me into their homes, and them into my heart.” And here’s one more endorsement, this one from Lorilee Craker, bestselling author of Money Secrets of the Amish: “Loren Beachy is such a charmer! Reading through these delightful stories of life as an Amish bachelor, I felt like I was with Loren at an old-fashioned box social, a farm auction, and all the places and spaces he occupies in his plain community. Jump in the buggy with Loren Beachy and you’ll take to this book like a rabbit to a carrot patch.”

I told Lorilee this, and I can tell you: Loren is as charming in person as he is in writing. He stopped by my house in central Pennsylvania a few months ago, on the way to an auction, to hand off the final manuscript. My sons loved meeting him in person, and he did some of his “auction calling” for them. He almost had us bidding on a pair of sneakers sitting in the middle of the living room.

The Amish have been writing about their lives for a long time. In periodicals like Die Botschaft and The Budget, Amish writers across Canada and the United States connect with each other, and Amish printing presses and publishing houses bring books by Amish authors to Amish readers. But such magazines and books are read mostly by other Amish and Mennonites and rarely by the larger reading public. What is new about the Plainspoken series is that it makes Amish first-person writing accessible to readers outside Anabaptist circles.

We all know that interest in all things Amish is rampant right now, and Loren knows it too. I think he’s a little ambivalent. Given his faith’s emphasis on humility, he’s not comfortable being in the limelight, and we at Herald Press are respecting his wishes in a variety of ways: no author photo, of course, and marketing plans tailored to the parameters of what he can offer as an Amish author. But Loren still has hopes for his first book and its potential to reach readers. He tells me that his three wishes for readers of this book are: “that they will be inspired by how joyful the Christian life can be; that they will realize how absurdly normal the Amish are; and that they will relate to how much we can enjoy a good joke.”

Chasing the Amish Dream launches on Tuesday. Keep your eyes open for the next two books in the Plainspoken series. In Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to Old Order, which will release in February 2015, Old Order Amish writer Marlene C. Miller tells her rare story of growing up non-Amish and joining the Amish as an adult. Then in May 2015, Hutterite writer Linda Maendel will invite readers into her experiences as a lifelong Hutterite living in a colony on the plains of Manitoba in Hutterite Diaries: Life in My Prairie Community.

So you can tune in to the latest season of Breaking Amish, if you’d like, or visit the Amish-themed tourist attraction nearest you. Then again, you could pick up a copy of Loren’s book and listen to an Amish writer tell his own story for a change.

You can order Chasing the Amish Dream for $9.75 U.S. until the end of the day on Monday, October 20. 

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

A Dispatch from Frankfurt

What do you get when you put together 7,000 exhibitors, spread over 5 buildings, with over 100 acres of space, and over 250,000 visitors? You have the Frankfurter Buchmesse the world’s largest book fair, which took place last week in Frankfurt, Germany.

Besides showcasing their best work, the Fair is THE place to go if you want to sell foreign translation rights for your works. With that in mind, I went. And being a great lover of books, this was a part of my job that I was more than glad to do.

The Fair buildings are so vast that it takes nearly 15 minutes to walk from the front to back–nearly a kilometer.

IMG_6055There are signs showing the way, but it seems that you never seem to get there. We were located in Hall 8, the largest, which is English Language. Fortunately for me, there was also an S-Bahn (train) stop in the middle of the Fair Grounds. That saved my feet and lots of time.

 

IMG_6071Besides the thousands of small publishers, the big publishers were there, too. While Herald Press shared half of a 4 square booth, some, like Harper Collins, had one hundred times as much space, staffed with an army of rights negotiators.

 

IMG_6128Not to be intimidated, I enjoyed spending about 1/4 to 1/3 of my time walking the floor, seeing publishers from Asia, Europe and South America. The rest of the time I had meetings in our booth, with prospective publishers.

 

 

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There were massages to relieve the long and stressful hours of walking the exhibit hall floors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Germans had their own hall (it’s their fair, after all) and so there were many uniquely German sites there, like a painted Trabant, the icon of the former East Germany. Their hall was the most densely packed of all.

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I had lots of good contacts, lots of good leads, and made lots of new friends. While there may be some out there who worry about the future of publishing or the book industry, there wasn’t a hint of that this past week. We see a bright future ahead. And in the next year, we look forward to seeing a lot of new Herald Press titles published around the world!

~Russ Eanes

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Russ, from the Frankfurt book fair