Author and Missionary Evelyn Puerto Goes BEYOND THE RAPIDS

Today, Evelyn Puerto is hanging out with the Scribes. She comes to us with exciting experiences and a story to be shared! Welcome, Evelyn!

Thank you, Scribes, and thank you, Katy. For 12 years I served as a missionary and traveled to many dangerous places in the world. I think the most risky trip was flying to Kathmandu a week after a coup had shut down the airport for a few days. I wasn’t really sure the airport would stay open so I could leave, and rumors were flying about civil war flaring up.  

After I returned from being a missionary in Russia, I got married, inheriting three stepdaughters, two stepgrandsons and a cat. Loving the people who came into my life with my husband has been a joy, even when my writing time is interrupted to help a stepdaughter with a car insurance problem. All fodder for another book some day!

And speaking of books and my writing…

Beyond the Rapids is the true story of Ukrainian pastor Alexei Brynza, who served as a Baptist pastor during the final decades of the Soviet Union. He and his wife endured fierce persecution as they struggled to raise their four children as believers in a culture hostile to Christianity, living under a regime determined to stamp out their faith. The Brynzas’ children, forced to choose between God and the communist system, wrestled with temptations of ambition, popularity, love and wealth. Beyond the Rapids is a story of the grace and mercy God extends to His faithful people, and how He helps them triumph over seemingly undefeatable foes.

I met the Brynzas when I traveled to Ukraine while I was serving as a missionary based in Russia. Their warmth and joy as they shared their stories captivated me. Beyond the Rapids compiles their inspiring stories, and reminds us afresh that God is bigger than any trial we face.

In writing Beyond the Rapids I bounced between believing in the story and thinking that what I was writing was mind-numbingly dull. The best way to get past that is to get lots of feedback. But that can be harder than it seems. After I had my first draft finished, I asked four or five people to read it. The only comments I got back were general statements along the lines of “I liked it.” My big mistake was not finding other people to read my book. Instead, I kept rewriting based on what I thought needed to be improved.  I only started feeling confident in Beyond the Rapids after I had gotten several reviews from people I didn’t know. For me, finding honest critics who can offer specific suggestions for improvement while being encouraging is the key. If I know what the problem is, I can rewrite it. It’s the nagging feeling that something— but I don’t know what —is wrong that creates the most doubt.

My biggest misstep in my writing career was a mistake I made from the beginning. Looking back, I can’t imagine why I was so blind. What I did was start writing, thinking I had a clue what I was doing. I had no idea that writing groups and critique groups and conferences even existed. For someone who loves research as much as I do, I can’t believe that during the eight or so years I was writing Beyond the Rapids I didn’t stumble on one of these groups. I would have learned so much and found people who would have offered constructive criticism. That would have saved me a lot of time and many, many rewrites.

As for what’s to come after Beyond the Rapids, lately I’ve been thinking of trying science fiction, which is completely different from the biography/true story genre of my first book. I was enthralled with The Hunger Games, and am inspired to try a bit of world building to see what I could come up with. I’ve got part of the story figured out in my head already, and plan to start seriously working on it in January.

And if I couldn’t be a writer anymore, I’d want to go on the speaker circuit. This is almost shocking for me to admit, since I’ve spent most of my life terrified of public speaking. I started working on my ability to speak in front of groups in order to market my books. Once I got past my fear, I was surprised by how much I enjoy it and that I seem to have a gift for it. Instead of writing my stories, I could share them orally.

I love to hear from readers, and can be reached at evelyn@beyondtherapids.com. Follow me on twitter @evelyn_puerto, or check out www.facebook.com/Beyond.the.Rapids

And readers can find Beyond the Rapids here!

Thank you, again, Evelyn for sharing a bit about your experiences and your story with us.

Readers, please ask Evelyn some questions, and I’ll start us off…

What led you to becoming a missionary? And for the record, I would come to listen to you speak!

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10 thoughts on “Author and Missionary Evelyn Puerto Goes BEYOND THE RAPIDS”

  1. Evelyn, thank you for sharing. Being a missionary is rewarding, and of course sometimes risky. I worked for Africa Inland Mission seeing missionaries off to serve in Africa. My kids were missionaries in Bangladesh for a couple of years. We visited both Africa and Bangladesh and did our own mission work. That part of my life was rewarding. And that when I met my husband, through friends at the mission. Blessings to you in your writing, and your mission work.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate those who help send missionaries off to the field, as I’m not sure I would have made it without those who helped, supported, and encourage me. Blessings to you!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Evelyn. Writing groups, critique partners, and attending workshops or taking on-line writing courses has been an essential part of my experience over the past seven years, and definitely, the craft can be learned. Having en engaging story to tell is another thing all together. Writers are storytellers but storytellers aren’t always writers. It’s a much more complex process to put the proper words to paper and have them come alive for the reader. I can see that learning the craft is a lifelong pursuit, and hopefully a joyous one for us. I’m glad you found your community.

    As for writing sci-fi, I recently released my first book in a YA Dystopian trilogy called Waning Moon and I’m in the thick of writing Book Two. The thing that is slowing me down the most is having to stop to do research. Creating a world that does not already exist is challenging and requires a ton of research. My story takes place in the not-too-distant future, so I can use some of the technology that is available today–just souped up a bit in some way. It’s amazing to see what your brain comes up with. Have fun in your next endeavor and good luck with Beyond the Rapids.

    1. Writing a story on paper sure is different from telling it orally, as I learned as I tried to capture the stories the Brynza family told. What sounded great they way they told their stories often came across flat and dull when written out. It was a challenge to bring their stories to life for readers in a way that was true to the voices of those who lived those stories.

      Best wishes for your YA Dystopian trilogy! I’m just getting started, but am sure I’ll enjoy the research part of it, and being able to let the story go where it will.

  3. Thank you again, Evelyn, for sharing with us!

    Readers: Evelyn will be here later this afternoon to respond to your comments.

    Evelyn, I recently met a woman from Uzbekikstan. She is now a Christian, but grew up Muslim. She is now in the process of translating the Bible into Uzbek. Such a wonderful woman of God who has trusted Him even when it was not safe to.

    So my question to you is do you get to hear from people you missioned to? I know we don’t always get to see the fruit, but have there been times when God has allowed you to?

    1. Katy, I am always in awe of people like the formerly Muslim woman who is now translating the Bible into Uzbek. People like that take risks we can only imagine, yet they remain faithful and stalwart.

      I do keep in touch with some people I met through my missionary service, many of them through the wonders of Facebook! It’s a thrill to see people I knew as new believers maturing in their faith and passing it down to the next generation. Seeing some of the people I discipled remaining faithful is rewarding beyond words.

  4. Great questions, everyone! I’m sorry I couldn’t reply earlier but I was on a plane traveling from Miami to Milwaukee. I had gone there to accept my Reader’s Favorit Bronze medal for Beyond the Rapids. It was an exciting time to meet other authors and compare notes! So taking your questions in order, what led me to be a missionary? The Berlin Wall went down the day before my 30th birthday (yes, I’m dating myself here) and in the following weeks I followed the events in eastern Europe avidly. I started thinking about going to help rebuild those societies. I prayed about this on and off for a few years, but eventually settled on going to serve in Russia. Giving up my career was tough, but I firmly believed God was calling me to serve, even though I wasn’t exactly sure how. I’m glad I clung to my faith and was obedient to His call. He piled up blessing upon blessing during my time in Russia.

  5. I love this candid interview! And feel compelled to share something that happened at a writer’s meeting tonight at my house, because other writers looking for critiquers might find it helpful. A newish writer shared how devastated she was by a harsh critique at another group she was at earlier in the week.

    She’s not new to being critiqued so it wasn’t that. It was the harshness of the criticism: “This is lazy writing and your characters are too shallow.”

    We critiqued the same piece in our group, and afterward she shared this woman’s remarks. I had to admit that although unkind and unhelpful, the critiquer was correct. The writer needs to learn to show instead of tell (“lazy writing”) and we gave her some concrete examples of how to do that, especially with emotions. And she needed to add more layers to her characters (which will make them not seem shallow). All that to say, critiquers are not always helpful and sometimes they can be downright demoralizing.

    If writers can find critiquers who offer solutions and guidance rather than simply identifying problems, that’s fabulous. Our pastor this morning said, “A wise man has many counselors. A fool listens to them all.”

    1. Great points, Sandra! Finding those reviewers who are honest but still encouraging is so important. And the wise writer will figure out which critics (and what part of the feedback) to listen to.

  6. Loved the interview- I started reading “Beyond the Rapids” this week, and it’s absolutely fascinating! Miracle after miracle- what a privilege for you, Evelyn, to be a part of this family’s lives. Thanks so much for sharing this story- I know it will a blessing to many!

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