Stories that fill up the soul

New series Faith Stories shares the extraordinary in the ordinary

Naomi Reed knows the power of stories and she wants to use it for good.

“There is so much in the media at the moment that feeds our negativity or our fears,” explains Reed, an Australian author and speaker with a passion for real, personal tales. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could share short stories that fill up our souls?”

Aiming to do just that is Faith Stories, a new series compiled by Reed and published by Eternity. Having written a book of faith stories in 2017 – Finding Faith – Reed was inspired to seek out more “ordinary” people and their “extraordinary” stories of God in their lives.

“I wanted to keep asking people interesting questions about their faith journeys, and I wanted to keep sharing those stories, with a wider audience.”

“Stories are powerful because they connect us as human beings,” explains Reed, who began writing as a way to process her own difficulties with being a missionary family in Nepal in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Dubbed “Australia’s best chronicler of Christian life” by Eternity editor John Sandeman, Reed’s series of Faith Stories capture what she calls “tiny snapshots” of a diverse group of people.

From a young woman describing the death of her father when she was a teen, to a man who moved from England to Australia in his 70s – and started going to church – crucial to each person’s story is a Bible verse. Reed was particular interested in why that verse is important and “in what ways has God used that truth in your life, in an ongoing way?”

“Some of them have described a verse that God showed them years earlier at their conversion, or through deep challenges, or grief or fear,” says Reed. “Others have described something more recent – a Bible passage that they read this week, or at work, or while feeding a new baby.

“Sometimes, we assume that faith stories are only interesting if they’re dramatic or foreign or larger than life. But we need to hear and tell the stories of how God is at work, through his word and his Spirit, in the ordinary days, while we were reading the Bible over breakfast, or on the train to work.”

“Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could share short stories that fill up our souls?” – Naomi Reed

Reed was personally struck by reading the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes during the seventh monsoon season she experienced in Nepal. Reed and her husband Darren served several times with International Nepal Fellowship, a medical mission where they helped train local practitioners with their physiotherapy skills.

In 2003, the monsoon hit hard. It was the seventh rainy season the Reeds has experienced; Nepal gets rain steadily each year, for about 120 days, starting in June.

“So there was a lot of rain and I was home schooling our three boys on this Himalayan ridge. Without shops or ovals or swimming pools, internet or much electricity or running water. So that was a struggle. But as well as that, there was a civil war.”

Bombings, “shoot-on-site curfews” and strikes were unsettling Nepal, so Naomi was stuck at home all day and night. She started to write “as a means to stay sane” because she felt trapped and had plenty of questions for God. And, as she poured out her soul, Reed began to recognise what God had done, and might be doing, in her life.

At the same time, she also found Ecclesiastes resonating with her. Reed was not only struck by the biblical book’s expression of how “meaningless” our existence can prove to be, but also chapter 3’s powerful reminder that everything God does will endure forever – and people should revere him for it.

“I just stopped there and paused. That’s amazing; this is God’s world, he is at work, so we respond to him – and we can respond to him through the Lord Jesus.”

Reed’s writings about her own faith journey became My Seventh Monsoon, and she was surprised to find that not only did people read it, many wrote to thank her for sharing her personal experience: “Because we connected through struggle, we also connected with the hope that we share – the hope in the Lord Jesus.”

Reed wants people to connect deeply with Faith Stories and be “deeply encouraged”.

“All of them remind us that God is wonderfully at work across the world, speaking to his people, through his word, in struggles and in hardship, as well as in joy and delight – and mundane ordinariness.

“Perhaps as we read them, we will see that we’re on the same shared road … Because if God can comfort and enable that lovely 60 year-old lady whose daughter died – and she became the sole carer of her three grandchildren – then God can also equally encourage and enable us in all of our struggles and ordinariness and surprising encounters.”

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