Dear From the Heart reader, it is my privilege today to introduce to you, Conference Director and author, Marlene Bagnull.
Marlene thank you for joining us here today. Marlene you arrange and plan two writers’ conferences a year. Can you tell us when this first became a vision of yours? Exactly how did you begin the process and where has this journey taken you?
Actually it all started in early 1983 with the Nazarene Publishing House offering to help establish Christian writers groups. Shortly after that the editor of The Christian Writer asked me to plan a seminar for him in the Philadelphia area. I took a leap of faith and said yes to both opportunities little knowing that today I would be directing not one but two Christian writers conferences, each with a faculty of 60 plus. Truthfully, I’ve often said I would have run the other way. Why? I really wanted to serve the Lord, but self-doubts had a stranglehold on me back then. God has been so good to take me by the hand and grow me as He has grown the conferences.
What is the particular mission of your writer’s conferences?
My ministry and the ministry of the Greater Philadelphia and Colorado Christian Writers Conference is to encourage and equip Christians to “write His answer.” Whether through nonfiction or fiction, I believe our writing needs to point our readers to the answers that only can be found in Christ. This doesn’t mean quoting Scripture on every page or in every chapter, and it certainly does not mean preaching. Instead, I believe we need to be so grounded in biblical truth that it naturally flows through writing that is winsome and excellent.
I would imagine the planning of a conference is a lot of work. Do you have helpers?
As I was saying, I would have run the other way! It never ceases to amaze me how much work is involved in directing a three-day conference. Although this is my 27th year directing Philly and 14th year directing the Colorado conference, it doesn’t get any easier. I’m grateful my husband is now retired and is able to help with mailings and data entry. My three grown children, son-in-law, and daughter-in-law help each year at the Philly conference along with my three grandchildren. Well, Erin at 20 months, is still too little to help, but soon-to-be six-year-old Laura and her four-year-old brother Ryan love coming to the conference and helping. And then there’s my dear friend in Colorado, Margie Vawter, who assists me with both conferences. I’m very grateful she’s able to fly in and stay with us for a week or longer for the Philly conference. There’s also Wanda Dyson who coordinates the appointments for both conferences and lots of people who come alongside to help during the conference. Can I use more through-the-year help, especially in my home office? Absolutely!
Did your book title, Write His Answer: A Bible Study for Christian Writers and Write His Answer, A Book of Encouragement for Writers come before during or after the conference planning began?
The first edition of Write His Answer was released the day the Gulf War started. It, as well as the second expanded edition, both resulted from meeting the editor at a Christian writers’ conference. I waited until the 25th anniversary of the Philly conference to make “write His answer” the conference theme. Immediately people began referring to the conferences as the
“Write His Answer Conferences” and so the theme has stuck. Given the ongoing crises in our world I can think of no better theme.
Do you have any other titles brewing about in your head?
I have about 15 chapter titles for another Bible study book for writers and would also love to do a how-to “write His answer” book, but right now I know I can make the greatest Kingdom impact by directing the conferences. There honestly isn’t much time for writing during the almost year-round job of directing.
Has it been a fun experience over all, planning and promoting these conferences? Do you have any miracles you would like to share with us? Any times when you believe God showed up in a very pronounced way?
Fun? Not really. Years ago when I worked in the editorial offices of the American Baptist Churches I used to think that deadlines were exciting. They are anything but exciting and fun now. But does the conference work bring me joy? Absolutely! Even though the hours are often ridiculously long, the time pressures intense, and the computer glitches that seem to always occur during conference season stressful, I am so grateful Father has called me to this work. Each conference I see Him at work touching and changing lives, including mine! And every year He definitely shows up in a very pronounced way. One year that especially stands out in my memory is when we had two sheets of Styrofoam with little metal crosses on each that represented the number of Christians who had paid the ultimate price for their faith during the three days of the conference. I invited everyone to come and take a cross and then go back to their seats. We held our cross up and prayed for our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Last year in Philly C. Hope Flinchbaugh led a Chinese secret house church experience that she will repeat this year in Colorado. Words cannot describe the impact it had on all who participated.
How exactly does a writer’s conference meet the beginning author?
Jesus talked about building our house on a solid foundation. I believe that is what a Christian writers’ conference does for a beginning author. Beyond learning the basics and how to avoid all-to-common mistakes, the relationships that are formed are so important in encouraging a beginner to keep writing.
What do your conferences offer the published author?
For sure there is always more to be learned and friendships to be formed and deepened. Conferences also offer published authors valuable networking opportunities. One of the special features of each conference are the FOUR 15-minute one-on-one appointments with faculty that conferees choose.
Have authors that attended your conferences gone on to becoming published authors? Any one we might know?
Joyce Magnin has a debut novel with Abingdon and Christa Parrish met her agent at the Philly conference and is now publishing novels with Tyndale. Miggy Krentel was in her 80s when she went to the Colorado conference and landed a contract with David C. Cook. There are so many others. Thank You, Father!
This year what is the particular social justice issue you hope to bring to light for many that might not be aware of and what ones have you championed in the past?
Social justice issues and especially human trafficking will be highlighted at both conferences as well as the needs of persecuted Christians in China and North Korea. The August 12-14 Philly conference will offer a new continuing session on “Justice, Compassion & Advocacy” with Dr. John M. Perkins (also keynoting); Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz, advocacy writer, World Vision Int’l; Steven Lawson, senior editor, Regal Books; and a team of professionals.
What has been the hardest part of the fulfilling of this call on your life?
Without a doubt the spiritual battles. I remember Jim Watkins saying years ago that you can’t get several hundred people together and excited about writing for the Lord only to have the evil one say, “Isn’t that nice!”
What do you hope people will take away from attending this year’s conferences?
It is always my prayer that they will encounter God in a new and deeper way. Knowing Him is the key to making Him known in our writing.
Where can people find out more about you and the conferences?
In my “spare” time I manage three Web sites. The umbrella for my ministry is www.writehisanswer.com. It has Bible studies, how-to’s, info on my Write His Answer and Get Your Book in Print Seminars that I’m available to teach around the nation, a bookstore for writers, and more. Then there’s www.writehisanswer.com/Colorado where writers can register securely online for the May 12-15 Colorado conference. The Philly conference at www.writehisanswer.com/Philadelphia still has last year’s info. I plan to begin updating the site the end of this week and open online registration April 1. No fooling!
I confess to being Facebook, Twitter, and Shoutlife challenged although I do have an account with each. I know there’s so much more these groups offer that would help spread the word about the conferences, but until someone comes alongside to help me or Father miraculously grants me more hours in a day, I only occasionally post updates.
Would you like to offer our readers out there a last word of encouragement?
Keep your eyes on Jesus as the writer of Hebrews says. Stay in the Word. Trust Him and His perfect timing, and don’t give up. Stay on the growing edge spiritually and professionally. And to combat the self-doubts, disappointments, and discouragement that those who are truly called are likely to struggle the most with, order Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers through my online bookstore at www.writehisanswer.com.
Marlene, thank you so much for joining us here today and I hope our readers will check out your links here in this blog and make plans to attend one of your conferences. I have had the privilege to attend both and feel they offer some of the best workshops, and faculty appointments an author could hope to find.
From my heart to yours,