She thought she wanted to be a missionary, but the missions organization denied her application. In its kindest choice of words possible, it said that her skills weren’t a “sufficient match” for their purposes.
It wasn’t like she had applied for a leadership position. She wasn’t asking to be director, worship leader, preacher. The job she was applying for was—wait for it—“Laundry Supervisor.” But her skills weren’t “sufficient.” She received this message just a little while after her fiancé told her he didn’t want to marry her.
“I was unwanted,” she wrote later. “A loser. No one wanted to marry me, and now I couldn’t even wash clothes for Jesus in Africa.”
At that point, Robin Jones Gunn felt about as low as possible.
She decided to get on with her life, though, figuring she needed to fit in, conform, live a normal life.
She kept teaching her Sunday School class of middle school girls. They knew about her desire to be a missionary. She had told them all about it, and they were her Greek chorus, cheering her on. When she gave them the bad news, one of them, in a Yoda-like manner, was happy to hear it.
“Good,” the girl said. “We don’t want you to leave. We want you to stay here. We think you should find a job telling stories. We love it when you tell stories.”
The problem was that Robin didn’t WANT to tell stories. Telling stories always got her in trouble when she was little. Teachers had a word for her stories. They called it “lying.” There was nothing special about telling stories.
“I put aside all hopes of traveling to unknown corners of the world, and for the next 10 years I lived the life that had been given to me,” she wrote.
One day when she and her husband were on a camping trip with the girls in their church youth group, she found several girls in one of the tents on a sunny afternoon. They were reading. But the books they were reading made Robin cringe.
“Read something else,” she begged them.
The trouble was that there wasn’t much for that age group that was positive and uplifting. The girls challenged Robin. “Why don’t you write some books for us?” they asked. “We’ll help you.”
Robin wrote her first novel by taking a chapter each Sunday for the Sunday School class to read.
“They told me everything I did wrong and everything I needed to change, including the characters’ names,” she wrote.
The result was a novel about a girl named Christy Miller and her boyfriend Todd. The response of the girls was that they wanted more stories.
“We need more role models like Christy and Todd and the rest of the gang,” they told her. “You tell us things about God when you teach, but when you write about them in a story, we remember them. Your stories change us on the inside.”
The encouragement from the girls kept her going. So did a Bible verse that Robin claimed as a message from God. It was Psalm 102:18: “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”
That first Christy Miller book led to another one. Then another, then another, as Christy went through middle school, then high school, then college, then got married.
Robin started other book series, too. The books have sold more than five million copies.
A gift that she had from the very beginning, one that originally caused her embarrassment, turned into something much bigger than she could imagine. From the very start she was “sufficient.” She just needed some girls to help her realize it.
Do you think that maybe you’re already equipped to participate in what God is doing in the world? My guess is that you are. And that’s no lie.
Robin Jones Gunn will be speaking at 7 p.m. at Point Loma Nazarene University on Feb. 17 as part of the annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. Tickets are at www.pointloma.edu/writers, or (619) 849-2695.
— by Dean Nelson
Nelson directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. His book on seeing God in everyday life is God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World.