Friday, September 30, 2011

THE RING Jennifer Rogers Spinola

In Brazil Jennifer's engagement ring is worn on the right hand
While interviewing volunteers and speaking to Brazilians through interpreters, I felt something come alive in my heart. Something amazing, bold, beautiful that I’d only hinted at in my dreams. What if? What if? I began to wonder, as I put down my notebook scribbled with notes and interviews, and linked dirt-smudged hands with settlers’ brown-skinned children.  

What it would be like to say yes? To take a step further? To leave my job and comfortable American surroundings behind and set foot in foreign soil, committing years of my life to serving God through international missions? I went out on the flat hotel roof, still warm from the sun, overlooking orange adobe tile roofs and houses fading in the twinkling golden sunset, and sat with God.

As I began to sort through the now-open boxes in my life, packing and questioning and praying and saying good-bye, the tables shifted suddenly. Instead of sending me back to Brazil as I’d hoped, God seemed to be opening the way to… Japan? Yes, Japan. Through past relationships, coincidences, thoughts, and prayers. Chance meetings with Japanese Christians who urged me to tell the Japanese people about Christ.

So instead of boarding the plane for Brazil, I waited anxiously in the cold terminal of Newark Airport for a plane bound for Tokyo. Shivering with fear and nerves, and wondering if I’d ever find my way back to the country of my dreams. The country where God called me. Where smiles ran in our veins like blood. Hand clasps and kisses and hugs and tears.

I’ll never forget the day I sat there at my computer, staring at a blinking row of text: “I want you to meet someone there in Sapporo,” an acquaintance from Tokyo had written, knowing nothing about my past or my secret plans. “He’s a really wonderful Christian! You’ll like him. And he’s from Brazil! I’ve told him about you, and he’s waiting for you to call!”   My heart stood still.
 Of course it started before that, back when I was serving as a short-term missionary in Sapporo, Japan, and nearly ran smack into that nice Brazilian foreign exchange student an acquaintance from Tokyo had mentioned. Right in the middle of a (very rare, in Buddhist Japan) Christian bookstore. Athos and I had spoken on the phone a couple of times, including one talk that lasted until around five in the morning. Never, ever in my life have I talked that long to any man. Probably to any female, for that matter.

Our wonder and questions bloomed, over the following months, into something sparkly and nerve-tingling, always alive with the awareness that in my missionary program, crafted especially for young singles, dating was disallowed. Completely. No smooching, no make-out sessions, no getting engaged and making promises. We could meet, of course, in ministry or as friends, which we did with increasing frequency.

But after boarding my final flight to the U.S, suddenly, here we were: continents apart. Yet the following morning I answered the phone to Athos and we talked about this mystery called marriage. “I've been in a jewelry store,” he said. “Looking for engagement rings." I felt my heart leap into my throat, mouth too dry to speak. We had never discussed rings. Never talked about engagement. Not yet.

We had never kissed on the lips. Even once. Only on the cheek. Even the day he brought out that beautiful ring into the sunlight, glinting there in its box, and slipped it on my finger.

Why did we forgo kissing? I don’t know. I’m not such a wise or holy woman. I have made my share of mistakes and messes. But this time we wanted something new. Something different. Something neither of us had ever done, all fresh, like an unbroken path set out before us.

Which is what took us to the front of my Richmond, Virginia church on Valentine’s Day. February 14. Candles quivering, the sanctuary smelling of flowers.We had sung, prayed, joined hands, and stood before the church, presented now as a married couple in the sight of God and friends and family. A calling as glorious and heavy as the silver wedding band I slid on his finger.
            “You may now,” said the pastor, “kiss the bride.”

Jennifer is married to Athos, her Brazilian husband, who she met while serving as a missionary in Japan. Athos studied politics and law at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, where he met Jennifer, and is a political analyst at the Embassy of South Korea in Brasilia. She’s lived in Brazil since 2004. They have one son, Ethan, who they’re in the process of adopting from Brazil. Athos and Jennifer are active in Brasilia International Church, where they’ve been members since 2005.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Humour & Hard Work Won Her Heart - Grant and Verna O'Donnell

Grant & Verna  -  Montreal, May 1997
Verna was born in Montreal and came to Australia in May 1996 on a working holiday with a good friend.  They came to work at Teen Ranch, a Christian youth camp, located outside of Sydney. 
At my prompting, she tells her story:

"While there, with a little bit of adjusting to the Australian lifestyle/culture, my friend and I loved meeting these incredibly  
hospitable Australians, eager to show off their wonderful country. And Grant was one of the full-time staff members.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but I think we both experienced a certain curiosity towards each other. I had been told that a fair few girls had chased him in his short time at the Ranch, so I kept my distance for a while – even though there was always an unmistakable nervousness whenever we were around each other.

Grant was a quietly funny guy – he and a few of his friends were often ‘bunging it on’, keeping my friend and me constantly amused!  Humour was big in my family, so in some ways my initial attraction to Grant was probably because he could make us laugh. He was also a very hard and conscientious worker – a trait I noticed right away. He worked harder than most - very obvious in a place where people came and went so often it was easy to not carry your load … and it showed me that he took the work of the Lord seriously.

While these qualities were important, it was discovering how hungry he was for God that really drew me to him. And after being there for a few weeks, we got the opportunity to hear him lead morning devotions for the staff, where his knowledge and passion for the Lord was profoundly evident. This made it increasingly difficult to ignore the growing attraction I was having for him – he really stood out.

We both knew that this relationship was very different than anything else we had experienced, and we had no doubts of God’s hand in bringing us together. Grant took me up to Chinchilla, Queensland, in the October holidays to meet his family, and while we were up there he proposed. My parents flew us back to Canada for two weeks, so that Grant could then meet all of my family. We were married in Montreal, at my home church, on May 17, 1997. Grant’s immediate family flew over, and we had a few other Aussies at the wedding too, which was neat.

With Hudson, Kelsey and Rory
 We returned to Australia at the end of July, and settled into our life back at the Ranch, only now as a married couple. There were plenty of ups and downs, of course, being newlyweds in communal living. In many ways it wasn’t ideal, but knowing God was behind our relationship helped us through many of the more difficult times. Our first child, Hudson, was born in 2000. I became an Australian citizen in 2002, the same year as our daughter, Kelsey, was born. Our youngest son, Rory, was born in 2005.

Not knowing what we were going to do in the immediate future, Grant enrolled in Bible College for 2 years. He has always had a heart for ministry work, so this seemed a logical step. Meanwhile, I became involved in leading the church's music ministry. Then, after college, our church offered Grant part-time support as he ministered as a hospital chaplain and in various capacities within and without our congregation."

I always wondered how these two met, so thanks, Verna, for sharing your story! 

Friday, September 16, 2011


Wedding Day, August 11, 1974
After a rebellious year during high school, I gave my life wholeheartedly to the Lord. One of the first things I felt God asking me to do was break up with my boyfriend, who wasn't a Christian. I was heartbroken, but at peace because I knew I was being obedient to God. Still, I'd always dreamed of marriage and a large family (I wanted 12 kids!) so I prayed that God wouldn't make me wait too long to find a husband.

The summer before I went off to college, my best friend was dating a guy from a neighboring town. This guy just happened to have an older brother who'd recently broken up with his girlfriend. He was heartbroken, and my friend and her boyfriend figured the two of us may as well be heartbroken together, so they set us up on a double date with them. I'm not sure I believe in love at first sight, but it was definitely "intense like" at first sight. One of the first things I discovered about this guy was that he'd given his life to the Lord about the same time as I had. So we had much in common, and just really liked each other from the get-go.
Even though Ken and I parted ways at the end of the summer to go off to different colleges, we kept in touch through daily letters and occasional visits, and at Thanksgiving, 6 months after we met, we got engaged. We were married 10 months later. Best decision I ever made!
Ken and Deborah now

Ken and I have raised four amazing children and now God has blessed us with four precious grandchildren! (All under 5!) We celebrated our 37th anniversary in August and if we match Ken's grandparents' long, long marriage, we still have 45 more years to go!! His grandparents fell 18 days short of celebrating their 83rd wedding anniversary before Grandma died this year at the age of 100. God willing, Grandpa will turn 102 later this year. They've left us quite a legacy!
Next May, on the weekend that would have been Grandma and Grandpa's 84th anniversary, our youngest daughter will get married. Ah, the circle of life. : )
Thanks for sharing your story, Deb.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Paralegal Christian Romance Writer

Who could resist a story about a gal with an irresitible smile and a yellow rose between her teeth? JoAnn Durgin-author.

I like to say I’ve been around in the nicest sense. Meaning that I’m a native of southern Indiana, but have also lived in Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. More specifically, I lived in Big D when J.R. Ewing sat on the wall outside our downtown office building at noon and ate lunch with us lowly working types. I met my husband, Jim, when he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, wore a Stetson, answered to J.D. and swaggered – just a little. By the time we married in 1987, it was a case where the girl from Indiana met the guy from Rhode Island in Texas, married in Kentucky, honeymooned in Hawaii and then settled in California.

I started writing full-length fiction and enjoyed being a stay-at-home mother and youth pastor’s wife for six years. Then on to cold but quaint Burlington, Massachusetts, where my husband became a senior pastor of a lovely white church on a hill. I counted it a blessing to drive by Louisa May Alcott’s girlhood home on my way to my part-time legal position in historic, gorgeous Concord.

 In November 2005, we made the move back home to my roots, home in my heart. We call it Kentuckiana where the Ohio River separates Indiana from Louisville, Kentucky. It’s home, and the people are usually friendly and mannerly – except when behind the wheel of a car. I work as a full-time paralegal and part-time at the local arts theater for Broadway productions, the orchestra, opera and ballet. Jim and the children are all thriving here, and still laugh when school is called off for one spotting of a snowflake. But they love it as much as I do. Thank the Lord.

And thank you, JoAnne, boots and all! You can follow her at

Friday, September 2, 2011


This Historical Romance has been some years in the making. I've come to really know and understand why my characters act the way they do. As in real life, their past has so much to do with their present.

As an art student I'd wander through the cell-blocks of the Old Darlinghurst Gaol wondering about its previous inmates. I'd heard about The Bloody Code and how it was enforced. Incidentally, the famous 19th century actress, Sarah Bernhardt was given a tour and it highly amused her to discover the jailor's cat was in reality a cat-o'-nine-tails!

Years later, after simmering away in my subconscious, the idea for this story had me scrambling to do some thorough research. Scrolling through various Ticket-of-Leave documents, I found my heroine, and as they say, "the plot thickened". I knew it was a real saga and only a trilogy would capture all the various twists and turns in her life and the life of those she loved. Also, in a marvellous God-incident one eventful day I "happened" to attend a High Court hearing of a murder case. The court room had apparently been built early in the 19th century which gave it the exact atmosphere I could have wished for. I hung on every word of that judge and from notes taken, I was able to quote much of the judge's manner in the handing down of his verdict.

As in so many historicals, the story begins in England. And on our return from an evangelism conference in Amsterdam, my husband and I spent 3 short days in London. We traipsed the back streets, lanes, parks, and famous landmarks all part of 19th century London Town. We visited the British Museum and Windsor Castle and the details I gained from soaking up the atmosphere in those particular places I  used to great advantage in Books II and III. Being there is great, but if you can't manage the travel, an author's fabulous 21st century tool, the Web, is a far cheaper and more convenient alternative.

Signed Sealed Delivered, released  by Ark House Press, is Book I of the Watermark Women Trilogy. Pre-order from your Christian Bookstore or Koorong.

*Read the prologue at and click BOOKS.