Saving Children – One Book at a Time

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Atlanta, GA – 10/02/2017 — Highly-reviewed author Justin Gabriel announces that 100% of his profits from the sale of his novel, Kings of the Promised Land, will be donated to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. “I’ve felt convicted about the lack of generosity in my life and wanted this book to be used for a purpose greater than personal enrichment.”

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is a non-political, nonprofit humanitarian organization that has provided medical assistance and emergency surgeries to thousands of innocent children from Palestine and other countries in the Middle East. PCRF has been awarded with the coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator for accountability and transparency. Of particular interest to Gabriel is the Gaza Mental Health Program.

A work of “faith-based historical fiction,” Kings of the Promised Land (Elk Lake Publishing) tells the epic tale of the rise and fall of King Saul and his rivalry with the future King David in ancient Israel. The novel currently has a five-star rating on both Goodreads and Amazon, where it is available for purchase in paperback and Kindle formats. “Read a great story, buy a gift for that book-lover you know, and do some good at the same time!”

CONTACT:
Justin Gabriel
PO Box 921412
Norcross, GA 30010
author@justingabriel.org

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Missions & Evangelism: Lessons Learned

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This year I had the opportunity to go on two very different missions trips (and my firsts).

I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by traveling to Japan. But I was not there as a tourist, I went as part of a group of four Americans at the invitation of a Christian church in Ishikawa Prefecture. Rendezvousing with two Japanese translators and meeting the pastor and his wife, we served as ambassadors of Christ in a number of ways.

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We canvassed the surrounding neighborhoods with fliers and invited people to some of the upcoming special events the church was hosting. We had daily prayer and focused teachings on prayer and discipleship. We facilitated two screenings of the Jesus film in Japanese. We participated in a Mama & Kids party and were able to engage in Q&A with members of the community. And I had an opportunity to share powerful testimony during the Sunday service about how God has drawn my heart to Japan time and time again and the care I know he has for the Japanese people.

Second, I was able to attend Dragon Con in downtown Atlanta with a group of missionaries through Gamechurch, a nonprofit ministry that attends various gaming conventions across the U.S. and a couple in Europe. For four straight days, we worked a booth in the vendor hall, handing out free swag (lanyards, stickers, pins), gamer Bibles (the gospel of John with some commentary), and told people the simple but profound message of “Jesus loves you.”

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From both of these experiences, here are some of my observations and conclusions:

Speak the Language, Understand the Culture

If you aspire to any missionary or evangelistic activity, you should speak the language and understand the culture. I spent several months prior to my Japan trip not only practicing speaking and reading Japanese via Pimsleur audio CDs, iPad apps, and watching Japanese TV shows on Netflix, but also by reading as many books as I could get my hands on to understand the history, philosophy, aesthetics, and etiquette of Japan. I barely made a dent in the potential pool of linguistic and cultural knowledge, but what I did learn served me immensely in Japan and opened doors.

Likewise with Dragon Con, I understand the culture and speak the language of gaming and various aspects of geeky pop culture. Every Gamechurch missionary is a Jesus-loving gamer! If I was not, I would have had zero credibility (more on that later). Both Japan and video-games are two of my seven core interests, so these trips were natural fits.

Evangelism is Fun

Growing up, I dreaded the idea of traditional evangelism outreach. Accosting strangers in the park or, worse, going door to door, was a thought that raised my anxiety and triggered an avoidance response. I came to identify more with the prophetic type of work, of speaking to and nurturing the people of God, rather than the evangelistic work of reaching out to people who are not yet believers.

Although I am deeply idealistic, I am also extremely pragmatic. I view walking up to strangers at the park or knocking on doors to share the gospel as an ineffective and outdated method, with little hope of making any converts. But more than that, I view such behavior as a violation of the Law of Christ, or specifically of the second greatest commandment. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the phrasing of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you. Would I want Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on my door or interrupting time with my family at the park? Absolutely not! So why would I do that same behavior to others?

But during my two missions trips, I learned that evangelistic outreach can be very enjoyable and rewarding, even addictive! To do it right, you need to be meeting some sort of need or have some sort of unique angle or gimmick. As the old saying goes, nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

My church has had good experiences hosting immigration help seminars, international food festivals, and giving out balloons at a local international festival. In Japan, special events were being advertised or community activities offered. With Gamechurch, we were handing out free stuff! At my most recent job, I would be able to weave apologetics into my weekly ethics lectures in response to questions from atheistic members of the audience. In David Platt’s Radical, he describes setting up a table in New Orleans and offering to read people’s future for free (using scripture).

What Would Jesus Do?

Outside of Dragon Con, a group of angry street preachers / protesters set up on the corner with large signs and loud bullhorns. Their signs pointed out that God hates the sin of the Dragon Con attendees, and that such people as “idolators, porno-freaks, dope heads,” and others are doomed to the fires of hell for eternity. These protesters generated a lot of anti-Christian sentiment inside and outside the convention with their methods. I have seen their like elsewhere before, such as at the BelleChere festival in Asheville, NC.

First, I wonder what their actual goal is. What are they trying to accomplish? I’m genuinely curious. Second, I wonder if they think they can achieve that goal with this particular method. From everything that I saw, they were making Christians look bad and driving people far away from Jesus. Instead of their conversation being “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6), it was nothing but spades of salt.

Thankfully, the extreme negativity of the street “preachers” outside put what we were doing in a much better light inside. We had people say things like, “I’m an atheist, but thank you so much for doing what you’re doing this way, instead of like those guys!” I was happy to be able to say “Jesus loves you” and give out free pins to many, many people, including a self-described Satanist and another guy literally cosplaying as Satan.

As I think through the four gospels, the only people that Jesus was verbally harsh and confrontational with were the self-righteous religious hypocrites. Otherwise, Jesus was dining with sinners (Matthew 9:11) and letting immoral women touch him (Luke 7:39).

Generosity is Good

In a little over one year, I’ve been able to raise $3,500 for missions trips and other charitable endeavors. That is also a first for me. For the past few years I’ve been focused on trying to provide for my family and have had little margin for generosity. That lack of generosity has been gnawing on me. But apparently, I’m better at raising money for missions trips and evangelism than I am at selling books!

With that in mind… stay tuned for an exciting announcement…

On Becoming a Published Author

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The one enduring dream of my life has been to become an author. The earliest memory I can recall on the subject is from perhaps the age of four, sitting outside and looking at the pictures of Pack Rat Pete by Robert Quackenbush. As a preschooler I didn’t know how to read, but as my mother read that library book to me, I thought – this is what I want to do! Before I could spell, I would dictate stories for my mom to write as I doodled illustrations in crayon, and I fondly remember sitting on the front step with my dad as a child and improvising interactive tales about Henry & Bill: Dinosaur Detectives.

Sure, I flirted with other career paths in my youth (Zookeeper! Private Investigator!), but until my interest in psychology solidified in the summer after 6th grade (inspired by reading Michael Crichton’s Sphere), being an author was my single overriding professional goal. I dreamed of the day that I could walk into a bookstore and purchase a copy of my own book; that’s when I would know that I had truly arrived. I also knew that if I reached the end of my life without becoming a published author, I would consider myself a failure. Hey, I might even need to pull a Van Gogh and cut my ear off in some sort of melancholic artistic protest against the world’s indifference.

Sometimes aspiring authors receive disheartening messages on their journey: “Why is it so important to be published?” or “Have you thought about self-publishing?” Okay. These people just don’t get it. And every aspiring author knows the sting of the ubiquitous rejection letter. Writing a book is the easy part – then comes editing, and finding an agent, and finding a publisher. The amount of rejection one can face while vulnerably revealing one’s labor-of-love, soul-bearing art can crush you if you let it.

But, as of a week and a half ago, my literal (and literary) lifelong dream came true. I am now a published author. Pinch me. My faith-based historical fiction (or “Biblical fiction”) novel, Kings of the Promised Land has been released to the world. It’s registered with the Library of Congress and has an ISBN and everything!

So, what is it like to accomplish what one has sought after their entire life? Well, I definitely did not have a Julie & Julia moment, dancing on the front porch with my spouse in joy as I opened an envelope to find a surprise publishing offer with a juicy book advance, nor did I come home one day to find a mysterious package, only to discover… my book in printed form! Indeed, many of my readers received copies of my book long before I did! And, although I felt a true adrenaline rush while signing my publishing agreement, the immediate nights after my book was published were sleepless, full of anxious tossing and turning as the weight of my new task sank in. I wrote a book. My book got published. But now I actually need to get people to READ the book!

I am very, very grateful to God for the inspiration, direction, and publication of my first book. May all the glory belong to him. I am no longer somebody who likes to write, nor an aspiring author, but truly an author. That fact has barely sunk in. I have crossed a threshold which cannot be uncrossed. But, I also realize that as one journey has ended, a brand new journey has just begun. I may have achieved my lifelong dream, but I, God willing, have a lot of life left to live.

 

 

Kings of the Promised Land: A Novel

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KINGS WILL FALL. OUTCASTS WILL RISE.

The Priesthood is in disarray. The House of God has been dismantled. The scattered Twelve Tribes are surrounded on all sides by stronger, more technologically advanced enemies, ready to invade. Will the Chosen People be “wiped off the map?” In this epic tale of faith-based historical fiction, the fate of a nation hangs in the balance as three men struggle for the soul of ancient, Iron Age Yisra’el.

Shemu’el: the wise and respected Seer finds himself at odds with the will of the people. They want to replace the rule of Yahweh with the rule of man.

Sha’ul: the strong and handsome first King of Yisra’el. Hailed a savior and unifier of the nation, can the King overcome the temptations of absolute power or will he fall into darkness?

David: the young shepherd who becomes a legendary Hero, betrothed to the princess. But with great success comes many enemies, and the warrior-poet soon finds himself in a desperate fight for survival.

What readers are saying about Kings of the Promised Land:

“I actually felt as if these events were unfolding right before me.”

“Tolkien-esque.”

“A Judeo-Christian Game of Thrones.”

“Makes the scarlet thread that weaves all scripture together come alive for me!”

“A masculine work of Biblical fiction.”

Order it now on Amazon or for Kindle

An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble

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As a writer I often feel that I was born into the wrong time. The reading proficiency of most Americans has declined over the past two decades. Borders Group, Inc., which operated Borders and Waldenbooks, went bankrupt and shuttered its doors in late 2011. Traditional media as a whole has struggled to adapt to a digital world of low overhead, free content, and instant gratification. The Christian Writer’s Market Guide – 2012 begins on this unenthusiastic note: “We began work on this edition with a myriad of mixed feelings. Would publishers or publications report going out of business or closing their doors to freelance submissions – given the economy? Thirteen book publishers and 21 periodicals dropped out of the guide…” What is an aspiring author to do?

I remember my first exposure to Barnes & Noble. The largest bookstore I had ever seen (with what seemed at the time to be an odd name) opened in my hometown of Burbank, CA and the store and window displays of books, books, books were intoxicating. From that day I could not see a Barnes & Noble and resist going inside, browsing the aisles and savoring that sweet new-book smell. I knew then that I would successfully achieve my dream of being an author on the day that I could walk into a Barnes & Noble and buy a copy of my own book off the shelf.

But will that dream ever be realized? Barnes & Noble’s stock price is hovering around $9.20 per share, down from a high of $46.25 in March of 2005. The company is on its third CEO in as little as two years. Nook sales are down and the company had to drastically stop the bleeding of its e-reader division. I am not a businessman, but as a longtime fan of the brand and lover of books, here are three suggestions for how Barnes & Noble can adapt (or die):

GO SMALL

I have encountered many smaller, independent bookstores that are thriving in their communities. Quail Ridge in Raleigh, NC, Malaprops in Asheville, NC, and FoxTale Books in Woodstock, GA are just a handful of award-winning and profitable local stores with a loyal customer base and active community presence. Barnes & Noble needs to go small – opening concept stores that eschew having thousands upon thousands of books that people don’t want while focusing in algorithmic fashion on the books that sell or that can be highlighted and effectively introduced to readers. You don’t need a warehouse with twenty versions of Monopoly, $50 Blu-Rays, and off-brand Starbucks coffee. Dramatically reduce your overhead while focusing on high quality products sold by a handful of employees with degrees in English and Library Science. Look at how the successful local bookstores are staying profitable and adopt their strategy.

BEAT AMAZON

If Nora Ephron were alive today, she could make a sequel to You Got Mail where the Fox Books corporation is being outgunned by a savvy book web-seller, just as Fox Books forced The Shop Around the Corner out of business. My common experience is that Barnes & Noble carries a million different books… except whatever one I happen to be looking for. I inquire with an employee, if I can find one, if they have such and such in stock. A quick computer check will confirm that they do not have it in store, but I can order it and come back later! Do I ever take them up on this offer? Of course not. I can go home, order the book at a significantly lower cost, avoid sales tax (depending on the state), and have the book arrive at my front door in two days with free shipping. There is no contest. Oh, and would I like to sign up for a paid Barnes & Noble Membership Program? Uhh… no thanks. How can Barnes & Noble beat Amazon at its own game? Here is a radical suggestion: free one-day shipping of any book not currently in stock to the customer’s front door.

DEVELOP CONTENT

The Hunger Games trilogy has sold over 65 million books. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold 60 million. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has sold 80 million. There is an incredible amount of money to be made with the right books. Publishers now days are more risk-averse than ever, and yet the three examples listed above were all unknown quantities at one point. I have always thought it to be the height of stupidity that the publishing industry takes such a passive role in finding, developing, and promoting talent. Sports agents attend the sporting events of children and teenagers to find the next big thing. In contrast, aspiring authors hammer against the closed and indifferent doors of literary agencies and publishers for years, trying to get noticed. This is nothing if not a market inefficiency – untapped talent wanting to let a struggling industry sell their potentially profitable products. Amazon and Netflix have found great success in getting involved in the production side of audiovisual media. Amazon and Netflix both have produced popular and award-winning television shows. Barnes & Noble should scout untapped talent, nurture that talent, and use its massive platform to promote these new books. As first-time authors are happy to sign a publishing contract for very low compensation, Barnes & Noble could reap massive profits.