Tearing Things Down and Building Them Again

About three months ago, I got an idea for a book. It came to me in a strange place, a place where my mind usually doesn’t wander. I was sitting in church, listening to one of our pastors talk about the Israelites being delivered out of Egypt in the Exodus narrative. The idea came slowly but by the end of the service, I had the whole book mapped out in my head.

I knew, though, that it would be a difficult book to write. It was going to require tons of research. It was going to have me looking intimately at certain passages of scripture that I have always wrestled with. And, quite frankly, it was going to require me to step out of a comfort zone that I have relied on for far too long.

See…those that have visited this sorry excuse for a blog over the last several years know that I am a Christian. But even a step beyond that, I have worked pretty hard over the last few years to successfully weave my faith into my fiction. The results were books like Break Every Chain and Bound. These books would easily be considered Christian fiction (though I think many traditional Christians might steer away from the horror elements of Bound) and I am fine with that. Even my Cooper M. Reid books are heavily influenced by my faith but I also know that traditional Christian markets would never consider them Christian fiction.

But those are genre arguments and that’s a post for an entirely different day.

The comfort zone I need to step out of is proclaiming myself a Christian, almost as if it is an excuse. Hey guys, I still write horror from time to time but it’s okay because I’m a Christian and my faith is a big part of my writing now.

Or something to that affect.

But as this new story idea evolves and I get more dedicated to writing it, I’m realizing that labeling myself a “Christian in the publishing industry” isn’t good enough. I’ve really looked back on my past writing projects as well as my old ideologies and made a pretty tough decision. Or, rather, one that should have been tough but was made with relative ease earlier this week.

Anything I have written that does not contain a reflection of my faith has been taken down from Amazon. And since I went all in with Amazon due to KDP, that means that those titles are now gone. Extinct. No more.

This includes the very first book I ever had traditionally published, The Bleeding Room. Others that are gone are The Masks of Our Fathers (which, looking back, was really far too long and should have just been a long short story) and The Hollows (which, if I’m being honest, is probably the weakest of my books).

This decision took so long because in the past few years when the idea to un-publish them came around, I refused to do so. The only reason I had to do it was not wanting to scare away Christian readers that had discovered me through Break every Chain or Bound. And to me, that was sort of like selling out.

But the decision this time around was different. I see it as resetting my career in a way. And this time, it just made sense. It also stems from a very inspiring speech from a very random person that I would have never expected to have been inspired by. (The guy is Phil Vischer and the talk can be found here for those interested).

It also came form a snippet of a message at our church from last year. It made me realize that those that call themselves Christians and only do the trendy and attention-seeking chores are making other Christians look bad. The example given in the message was: “those that post Bible verses on Facebook and have the Jesus fish emblem on the backs of their cars but outside of Sunday gossip, slander and tear others down…stop it. Stop it and shut up because you’re making the rest of us look bad.”

I am, of course, paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. And while I don’t think I slander or gossip or tear others down, I was proclaiming the name and nature of Christ while also promoting stories and ideas that had no moral high ground or redeeming qualities.

Let me preemptively clear up a misconception that can be taken away from this. I see nothing wrong with writing horror. And honestly, I still write it to some extent. I am absolutely not one of those Christians that bash horror…though there are personally some movies I won’t watch or books I won’t read because I don’t feel connected to them due to their explicitly evil nature. (Yet another blog post for another day…)

But with where I am spiritually, I simply can’t do it anymore. The Bleeding Room is a great example of this. I wrote that book when ghost hunting was popular and I was even dabbling in it. It was written for the express purpose of scaring the hell out of people and getting gore down onto the page. I’m still proud of the book but when I think about the 25 year-old that started shipping it around to agencies and publishers, I don’t recognize him. Or, rather, maybe I do recognize him but just don’t identify with him anymore.

I am fully aware that those that know me well or even those that have read this blog fairly regularly will think no differently of me because of this. And in that regard, I guess I’m fortunate. While I still write with a bent towards the supernatural, that bent comes from a different place now. And really, this story idea that smacked me in the middle of church three months ago is going to be the ultimate exercise in that.

For those that don’t believe in God, I think there is a misunderstanding about the core of Christian belief. Having been a non-believer for the first 26 years of my life, I understand it. That misunderstanding is that the core of how we live our lives is based on a belief in a God that we can’t physically see. But in a case like this one, it goes one step further. It’s believing that the God we can’t physically see will bless us in one way or another if we trust in him and take these bigger decisions and plop them down into his hands. And believe me…this decision to take down old titles and focus solely on stories that are a bit out of my comfort zone was not a decision that Barry Napier would have ever made on his own.

Whether you’re a believer or not, I think everyone reaches that point in life where you know something needs to change. This change had been nudging at me for about a year but just now nudged hard enough to wake me up and push me in an unfamiliar direction.

Here’s hoping the majority of you will come along to see where that direction takes me.

 

 

the Nicaragua posts: Day Three

I woke up with conflicting feelings. It was our last day in Managua, the last day with all of these kids I had grown to know (and attached to).  Yet I wanted to get home to my own kids as quickly as possible. It was depressing to ride out to House of Hope, knowing that it was our last day.

And while I don’t think the kids really knew that it was our last day, I think they could tell based on our moods. Out of my group, there were some that were in tears just about all day.  Others took it relatively well.  For the majority of the day, we played. And again, we played hard.

One of the key moments for me was in giving the kids the books that I mentioned in this post several weeks ago. The way they looked through them and carried them around made it obvious that they cherished them. It was very cool for me to see one child pointing out the creatures in Where the Wild Things Are (or, in this case, Donde Viven los Monstrous), and just in awe of them.

One member of our group also brought a few puzzles which the kids played with for hours. It was really cool to see how they worked with us, not being able to speak much Spanish, in putting the puzzles together.   The day, in all honesty, was a big blur to me. It went by far too fast. My ribs ached a bit from all of the hugs these little kids gave me and for the next day as they ached, I couldn’t help but smile.

I had been wrestling with the idea that to these kids, the young girls in particular, we were just another group of Americans that came down, pretended to care, and then left. But they basically killed this idea on the third day.  One girl that I had spent quite a lot of time with over the last two days drug the translator over to me and had her tell me a bit of disheartening news.  Now, with the expression on her face, I knew it was a joke but all the same, it stung.  The translator sort of giggled and said “She says when you’re gone, she’s going to be sad. She will cry and cry.” Another quick round of translation and more giggles added on: “She’ll cry a lot.”

We did everything we could to slow down our departure. One more hug here, one more high-five there. Then, as I was walking to the van, doing a pretty good job of not breaking down, I looked back and saw perhaps the most touching thing I had seen on the entire trip.

One member of our group was sitting on the ground, her back propped against one of the home’s boundary walls. She’d been sitting there for about half an hour before with two kids in her lap, singing with them and playing. Now there were four kids sitting around her, one hugging on her in a way that I think only parents can really understand. I felt bad for her because it was clear that she was really struggling to not weep uncontrollably.

And as I watched, she finally broke and cried. The children, rather than being weirded out and leaving her alone, hugged on her tighter. Another girl even cupped her face in her little hands and wiped away her tears.  It was that moment that brought back a comment our team leader had told us during our planning meetings a few weeks before: We go down there to help them, but they end up doing so much more for us.

A thought went through my head which was later echoed by this member of our group later that night. As that little girl—probably no older than eight or so—wiped this woman’s tears away, I thought: Wow, that’s backwards. Isn’t this supposed to be the other way around?

Then, feeling the tears coming on, I made it back to the van without becoming a blubbering mess.

I understood her tears although maybe not as powerfully as a woman would. You cry because you know you may never see these children again. You’ve come to show love for them and are now leaving them to their lives where, ultimately, our few days with them did nothing to change what has happened to them in their past.  It really is an overpowering sort of feeling.

We left with half of the van in tears. It was the largest silence between the twelve of us since leaving Virginia four days before.

Back in the airport in Atlanta, I ended up somehow on the phone with my grandmother and she asked “Did you enjoy it?”

My answer was “Yes.”

“Would you go back?” she asked.

“Today, if I could,” I said.  And it was that comment that almost had me sobbing in the middle of the airport.  Yes, I would have missed my family and the folks at work would have been pretty angry, but in that moment I didn’t care.  I wanted to be on a plane, headed back. The ache in my ribs agreed and seemed to actually flare up a bit in response.

We came home. I shared stories and digested it all. Already, I am trying to figure out how to make another trip down there within the next sixteen months or so.

I took away a lot of lessons and personal stories which I won’t share here, as they are too personal. But I keep thinking back to that last scene—the little girl wiping away the tears of an American woman that had only experienced that lifestyle for three days—and it gives me a certain sort of peace. Those young girls, despite their past, know that they are loved and valued beyond what their pasts have taught them.

Credit it to God or good will or whatever you want…but this trip was proof to me that love and hope can thrive even in the most dismal of places.

One of the reasons women come to House of Hope is to learn trades that will allow them to earn enough money to finally break away from prostitution. This is a group of women and young girls creating jewelry which they sell in the market. If they do well enough, they are given micro grants to start their own small businesses.

the Nicaragua posts: Day Two

We woke up the next morning, excited and tired. The previous night, as mention in my last post, a water line burst (well, not a line, per se, but a mini-water tower type structure bolted to the top of our guest house) and put a nice amount of water on the floor of the main room. So everything was damp, but it didn’t stop us from eating breakfast and debriefing on yesterday’s events and what to expect in the next fifteen hours or so.

We piled into our van again and bumped our way through Managua, headed to House of Hope. When we arrived there, we weren’t the only ones. Headed down the poorly maintained dirt road to the home, we saw many women walking to the home from elsewhere in Managua. As we unloaded from the van, we were hugged/attacked by several of the children we had met the day before.

We were then allowed to enter a mid-sized covered area that serves as the hub of House of Hope.  Here, once a week, House of Hope holds a morning worship service of sorts. More than two hundred women attended this service while we were there, all of whom are living in prostitution or had suffered sexual abuse in their lives. Many walk as far as five miles to attend. Others are picked up in a bus that Oscar (that mountain of a man I introduced you to from Day One) drives through Managua and the outlying areas. The women come here to seek comfort, to hear motivating stories, and to seek a way out. They sing songs and pray and share their stories among one another.

The worship service was pretty amazing for me to experience. Seeing these women and knowing the hurts of their pasts, it was crazy to see them singing songs to God, lifting their hands to the sky and worshiping. The musical accompaniment consisted of a tambourine and clapping hands, but it was just as powerful (if not more) than a traditional American worship service in a church of 700 or so.

This whole event was extremely moving for me because one of my big issues with becoming a Christ follower was wrestling with the concept of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people?” It was, in fact, one of my big weapons-at-the ready to assault Christians with when I was a non-believer.

In many ways, I got my answer that day. See, the answer I have always been led to was that there is a greater and significant purpose of some sort to all pain. I saw this firsthand as I watched these women together. Many of them are in prostitution because they have no other choice; it’s the only way they can make money. Others have been sexually abused and are looking for freedom from it.  Yes, these women have all been dealt a crappy hand. But their stories serve to uplift one another and motivate them to come to House of Hope, in an attempt to change their lives.

Their pain and horrible histories are a commonality among them all. So when one woman shares how faith and the teachings/lessons of House of Hope have freed her from abuse and sexual slavery, there is hope in that. And the other women that are “on the fence” or have never experienced a feeling of self worth notice this.

Once the service was over, the home became a flurry of activity. Women sat together and talked. Kids started going wild. This, of course, was my group’s cue. We played tag, soccer, and many piggy-back rides were given. Then my group made the mistake of pulling out the bag of water toys we had packed to give to the kids.

World War III ensued.

I kid you not, a water fight of epic proportions broke out. I am not even exaggerating when I say this fight went on for about two and a half hours. Water guns evolved into water cannons. Water balls were then incorporated. After a while, someone broke out several buckets. It was the most fun I’d had in a very long time. I got beyond soaked. I also made the mistake of wearing my sneakers. They got drenched and never properly dried. They reeked when I took them out of my luggage after returning home and were promptly thrown away.

This was also the day I realized that these kids—not just the girls but some of the younger boys, too—make connections to you pretty quickly. One little boy in particular stayed by my side most of the day. When he asked to be picked up, I’d pick him up and he’d cling to me as if he was afraid I’d put him back down and run away. It was explained to me later than the majority of the boys at the home have never had any sort of father figure. So when men pay any sort of attention to them, they milk it up as much as they can. I saw this same sort of thing with the younger girls and the women in my group. It’s one of those things that is both sad and inspirational at the same time.

I also found myself spending a lot of time with the same two kids more than the others. The language barrier made it hard to really interact with them, but our translators helped. The kids asked tons of questions about where we are from and wanted to know about our families.

With the two children I had made a connection with, I kept my questions to them rather simple. I was afraid to know too much about them. I didn’t want to know the details of their histories. I didn’t want to know if they had been abused…particularly the five year old girl that latched onto my leg as we tried to leave that afternoon. (Note: If there were no laws, this little girl would have easily fit into my duffle bag and there would now be three children in the Napier Household).

The day sped by and I honestly didn’t want to leave the home. We went out as a group and had dinner, where I passed on the local delicacy of bull testicles. I replayed the day over and over in my head and I kept asking myself  why I didn’t show this much compassion and love for my own kids. That, quite honestly, is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with since getting back home.

When I crawled into bed that night, I was quite possibly more tired than I had ever been in my life. Just before I fell asleep, I realized it was because it was the first time in my adult life that I had been both physically and emotionally exhausted at the same time.

I fell dead asleep but woke up several times in the course of the night. In total, I got about four hours of sleep before it was time to start day three.

these real horrors (and the hope they bring)

I’ve wrestled with whether or not to write this post…I really have.

In the end, I decided to go ahead and do it.  The next few paragraphs are going to likely be hard for some of you to read. But in the sake of awareness and what I almost, in a way, feel is my responsibility, here goes.

Some of you may recall a post from last year (can’t find the link right now) where I briefly mentioned my wife taking a trip to Nicaragua.  It was a very defining moment in her life and some of the stories and memories that she brought back affected me in ways I’m still trying to understand.

That being said, when the opportunity arose again, I acted.  For those of you that believe in God and know when you’re being prompted, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  And for those of you that don’t…it’s basically identical to that “push” you get from your gut when you’re in a situation and know right away with the uttermost clarity that you’re supposed to do a certain thing.  (By the way, having once lived as a non-believer, I am slowly understanding that instinct and God are basically the same thing…but that’s for another post).

So in a couple of days, I’ll be leaving for Nicaragua.  Yes, it’s part of a church outreach/missions sort of thing.  No, we will not be going there to whack them over the heads with Bibles or assault them with life lessons or scripture.  Why go, you ask?  Well here’s the skinny.  (Note: I’m excluding the names of locations and people for the sake of respect; however if any of you are moved by any of this and want to know more, feel free to e-mail me).

This place I will be visiting for a week ministers to and provides aide to prostitutes in one of the most underprivileged areas in Nicaragua .  The intention of this home is  to not only give these women and young girls hope, but to also rescue them from futures of neglect and abuse.

There is no way to easily explain the pain and suffering currently being experienced by the women and children in Nicaragua. This home I am visiting provides women and their children with a way out of having to work the streets.  Yes…even children are involved. Many of the prostitutes are extremely young and these are the stories that have devastated me.

Imagine a 5 year old girl chained behind a shack and fed like a dog, only paid attention to when her owner sexually abused her. She was left outside in the rain and the heat. She slept on the ground. She did nothing; she did not play, she did not sing, she was not a child. She lived on a chain and was raped and abused. That was her life.

Imagine two sisters, 6 and 4, sold into the sex trade by an aunt that needed the money (a fetching sum of about $20 US for both girls).  After the girls were rescued by people at the home, that same aunt came to the home and took them back. She then promptly sold them to another brothel where they were separated from one another. (The home has no legal rights for the children; if a family member comes for them, there is nothing to be done to stop them).

These are true stories…true horrors that most of us can’t even comprehend.  However, due to the help of the home I will be traveling to, all three of those girls have been rescued and are no longer living in neglect and abuse. The scars, of course, remain.  Any girl sexually abused at such a young age will likely never be able to have children of her own.  And of course, there are countless trust issues to be considered.

As a father of a 5 year old daughter, when I hear stories of girls that are as young as 4 or 5 years old being sold into the sex trade and subjected to sexual abuse, there is no way to ignore it.  Similarly, the need to act—the need to help—is not easy to ignore, either. For the older women, they have regretfully accepted it. Prostitution is a way of life for them and it is how they make their living.  But the young girls are forced into it, often being sold into brothels as young as 4 years of age because their mothers can’t afford to take care of them and other family members simply don’t want them.

When these women and girls come to the home, they are given the opportunity to receive education and learn skills that will help to provide a sustainable source of income so that they can provide for their families without resorting back to a life of prostitution.  The goal is to teach the women another trade (sewing, card making, baking, etc.) and then, through money donated to the home through donations and offerings, provide these women with micro business grants.

As for the younger girls, the teachings and love provided to them through the home instills a sense of worth in them. It shows them that the world is more than abuse and anger.  While more than 60 women and children call this place their “home,” more than 300 attend the “workdays” where they are taught new skills while sharing stories about how the home and their faith have helped to heal them emotionally.

While there are no accurate numbers, it is estimated that around 70% of all women that have experienced the support and encouragement of the home have turned away from a life of prostitution, finding other financially sound ways to support their families and ensuring that future generations are not subjected to the sex trade, sexual slavery, and abuse. And when a woman turns away from that life, it means that her children will not have to endure it. (With prostitution, many girls decide to follow in their mothers’ footsteps as young as 13 years of age. This is for both the money and believing that prostitution equals acceptance or love by the men that “hire” them).

I suppose I decided to share this mainly because this trip is a huge event to me.  Not only that, but it never hurts to open the eyes of the public to the tragedy of sexual slavery that is often swept under the rug around most parts of the world.

Most importantly, this trip is not about trying to convert these women and children. Not at all.  Besides, most of them have become Christians since their rescue, relying on their faith and eager to tell stories of their rescue and how their lives have changed.  So this trip is more about lending a hand and, more importantly, playing with the children.  The women have sons and daughters that visit and live at the home that have been robbed of their childhood. To play games and to even just read to them gives them an experience that they never had, yet American children are spoiled on and take for granted.

I personally took it upon myself to collect as many Spanish children’s books as I could find.  They have no toys, very few clothes, and ZERO books.  Meanwhile, I have about 300 paperbacks, 150 digital books and access to libraries every day.  So this is me trying to do my part.

Again, I realize that many people may feel far removed from something like this because, at its core, my trip is about  a belief in God (or, at the every least, a very real hope that these women and children usually don’t know exists).  Being a former atheist, I get the detachment at the mention of church.  I get it, I understand it, and I don’t fault anyone for that.

But with a cause like this, it comes down to human decency and the need to react to these very real horrors.  As a guy that has spent the past 12 years writing about imagined horrors, the idea of what is going on in Nicaragua, the Ukraine, and all around the world in regards to sex trafficking saddens and disgusts me. And rather than whining and asking God how He could allow things like this to happen, I finally stopped placing blame and asked myself “What can I do about it?  What can I do to help?”

The answer was easy.  And that’s why I’m leaving in a few days for Nicaragua.

I told myself in December of 2011 that I would spend 2012 being a more honest writer.  Based on this post (which grew much longer than I intended), I’m staying true to that. So maybe I did finally stick with a resolution!