Standing before us was a very unassuming woman, who apparently was going to be presenting an elective on the art of devotional writing. I have no experience in devotional writing, nor have I had any desire to.
As I sat, I wondered how perhaps the people either side of me could be semi-entertaining if I needed it to keep myself awake. Somehow, as this woman began to speak I knew there was no other place I needed to be for the hour that followed.
Her journey with Words of Life
Major Barbara Sampson, from the Salvation Army church (New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga) stood before us and she had the kind of voice where your own breathing needed to pause so you could hear her. She spoke slowly but confidently, with humility and passion about her journey as a devotional writer for the Salvation Army's publication Words of Life.
She spoke of the struggles and of the joys of writing day in day out and finding what God may want to say to a reader who wouldn't be reading the devotion until it was published many months later.
For six years her task was to write daily devotionals based on the Bible, which are published three times a year and circulated around the world. 11,400 copies are currently printed and read by people from all walks of life (sagoodnews.org).
As I watched her she radiated the presence of Jesus and I could tell that the daily relationship with God she encouraged others to have, she truly lived out.
As Barbara took on the role of devotional writer in December 1999, she expressed her faith in the adequacy of Jesus to be her inspiration. How powerful are those words. She quoted Isaiah 50 verse 4, a verse that she said has been and still is her motivation and encouragement in writing:
'The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue; to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught' (salvationist.org).
As Barbara spoke to the 45 ARPA workshop delegates she challenged us and taught us from keys that she had learnt as an experienced Christian writer. I hung on her every word as I came to the realisation that what she was speaking about was not solely about devotional writing.
What she shared also related to our daily walk with Jesus, personal journaling and Christian writing, in its many forms.
We all know how vital listening is. But the way Barbara spoke about listening you could tell she was someone who knew how to listen and her quiet voice almost pleaded with us to understand its importance. What she was referring to was listening that goes beneath the surface. "If you want to write, you need to listen" (Major Barbara Sampson, 2012).
She encouraged us to listen first and foremost to God and His Word, to the world, to language, to people and their stories and to ourselves. We learn so much from listening and out of it our writing flows. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway (Proverbs 8 verse 34 NIV).
The essential disciplines
She continued with further points on the discipline of writing, deadlines, finding themes, writing blockages and feedback. From her years as a devotional writer she had learnt so much and was now passing this on to young and old writers who have a creative passion for writing of all kinds.
Barbara challenged the delegates, "don't die with your music still inside".
Barbara Sampson's stepped down from her role with Words of Life in 2006. Barbara currently works in Christchurch as the director of a team involved in rebuilding the community after the devastating earthquakes.
She is spoken of very highly within the Salvation Army and at the conclusion of her service in devotional writing the Chief of Staff Commissioner for the Army said that she had such a combination of skills, including Bible scholarship, a deep spirituality and a particular awareness of the importance of inclusivity.
He stated that her contribution to the ongoing excellence of Words of Life has been a distinctive one (salvationarmy.org).
What I saw and heard of Barbara in her hour talk in Wellington last month certainly confirms these words and if nothing else she inspired the whole room to draw closer to Jesus each and every day. I know it has for me.
Laura Veloso is wife to John and the mother of 3 young boys. She is trained in child welfare and primary school teaching and has experience in overseas missions and youth leadership.
Laura Veloso's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/laura-veloso.html