A Big God in Great Tragedy in My Big Sister’s Great Novel

Today I’d like to “re-blog” my sister’s latest blog post. She’s managed to write a novel in which she struggles with some difficult realities, deep theology and biblical doctrine coming out the other side with a renewed faith in the gracious sovereignty of God. I’m impressed. Her website and blog are found at www.ShannonVR.com.

This latest blog post was her presentation at a Christian bookstore’s “Librarian Night” where church librarians were invited to meet 3 authors, including my sister, Shannon VanRoekel. Her novel is Desert Fire. Here’s Shannie’s post:

Desert Fire was written under compulsion.
In 2003 I was reading horrific emails from a cousin doing field-work in Darfur, Sudan.
Stories of Janjaweed, (translated demons on horseback), but actually a well organized and supplied militia, thanks to the government of Sudan, who ride into African villages and machine gun down civilians, including women and children.
Stories of women and young girls being raped and brutalized in front of their families.
Stories of men who would have their arms macheted off while being laughed at and told they would never be able to shoot a gun or get revenge.
Stories of women who risked gang rape every time they went to collect firewood, but did so willingly, knowing that if her husband or sons went to collect it they would most likely be killed. The media had not yet begun to comment on the genocide, in spite of many reports that had begun to circulate. It took some time, even after they finally started reporting it, to use the term "genocide".
At this time God had been leading me to pursue my desire to write. I had been going to Christian Writer’s conferences, taking courses, getting stuff published here and there.
I had written a children’s historical novel which was being rejected back and forth from publisher to publisher.
Maybe I should try writing an adult novel! I had recently read and been inspired by Randy Alcorn’s book, “Safely Home”, a story based on the true story of the persecution that the Christian church is undergoing in China. Because of that book, I had felt compelled to pray for my brothers and sisters in China for the first time—not just because of the difficulties they faced, but because through the story I had learned to care about brothers and sisters in the Lord who I might never meet in this life.
I thought, "If I were to write an adult novel, I’d like to be able to write something like that. A story that would shed light on a troubled area, not normally in our radar, in order to raise awareness and empathy for those we might otherwise overlook and forget about."
I began to wonder if God wanted me to write about Darfur?
Of course, I argued.
But I haven’t been there. No one in my immediate family has ever even died. My life has been full of raising a family, gardening, hanging laundry on the line and lazy summer days at the lake. I can’t write about genocide in Sudan. In an information age like ours, the needs of the world are screaming at us so loud from every direction that many, myself included, have felt overwhelmed into paralysis. Escapism is our nation’s favorite activity. Entertainment its favorite get-a-way car. I wondered how I could write about Darfur without adding to this “overload” factor.
I tried to ignore it for a while.
But one day, driving home with the family from a wonderful holiday in Tofino, I found myself discussing with my husband and kids a plot line for a novel:
What if a man in prison were writing a letter to the daughter he’s never known to tell her about the treasure he’s found? And what if this daughter were a female journalist on assignment in Darfur?
I finished the rough draft for chapter one on the ferry ride back to the main land.
And Desert Fire was born.
I discovered some surprising things about myself while writing this novel.
What did I really, really believe about the problem of pain and human suffering and where God was in the midst of it?
And how does anyone truly affect change? Is change possible? If not, why am I even writing this book? But if it is, do I have a role to play in it?
We ended up going as a family to volunteer for three months at "Seeds of Hope" Home for HIV+ and AIDS affected children in Zambia.
I didn’t know how to live after that.
How do you care so much for so many parentless children and then remove yourself completely from them, possibly for a lifetime?
"How can I be faithful to myself and my heart and the burden of love you’ve given to me?"
I cried to God.
And He led me to The Lord’s Prayer.
So I began to pray it. Every day. Over each kid, the home, the workers, the organization, the country…
Over Darfur.
I discovered that every single burden God brought into my life, in spite of all my limitations and boundaries, was met fully when I took them to Him, walking through the Lord’s prayer with them. I discovered that every aspect of humanity and its needs is identified and taken care of.
God also taught me about trusting Him.
I learned from Zambia and from some uniquely crafted trials He had planned for me that I could trust Him. Even in the dark.
In the place where I couldn’t see if things were going to get better or not. I could trust Him. He was real, even there.
That was the best lesson of all.
Finally, I learned that God loves happy endings!
The Bible says:
"Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
"Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory."
God says He declares the end from the beginning. He sees the whole picture. Not just the now. He sees the end of this box called TIME that He has set men in, in fact, He holds it in His hand. He sees already the great justice and salvation that He has brought to earth. He sees a perfect and glorious end to our "time" that exists inside of Himself.
He is, after all, the creator of story and the best author. And we all know that we live for a happy ending. Well He sees it. Already executed.
What He purposes He will accomplish. His purpose? To glorify Himself! So do I believe that the act of God bringing glory to Himself (God and men declaring His works are good and just and worthy of praise)in the face of the present suffering is a happy ending?
Once I would have questioned if that were enough.
But after writing Desert Fire I have complete faith that it is the very hope of life, itself.
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." -2 Chron.7:14

Original Post

Thanks Shannie. Keep up the good work. Soli Deo Gloria!


  1. You're welcome, Shannie! It's my honour really. But being an author you should know that proper English has a “u” in the word, “honoured”. 😉

  2. Sorry 'bout that.
    I'm Americanized when I write since being published with an American publisher–honor, favor, behavior, humor, etc.etc.
    I didn't know that it was automatic, though…or is that tho?

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