Rachel Pieh Jones

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Stronger than Death, Book Tour in Minnesota


Come on out and hear a reading, ask all your questions, meet the author, get your book signed!

Who wants to be stuck inside on a frigid January or February Minnesota day? A warm, cozy book event sounds like a great reason to brave the chill.

I’d love to see you, from Alexandria to Minneapolis, St. Paul to Austin, here are some of the places I will be in January and February, 2020.

I’m coming to Minnesota because of the darn cancer that just won’t go away. I have several doctor’s appointments already booked and my goal is to have MORE book events than I have medical events.

I want the distraction and the joy, to not think about cancer and treatment. If you have a group that would be interested in hearing about Stronger than Death (or my other books: Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, the Djiboutilicious Cookbook, and Welcome to Djibouti), or about writing, expatriate life, etc, get in touch and let’s plan something.


Here is where I’ll be, some times are TBD (and I will update as events get added)

Thursday, January 16 at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Sojourner’s group

Sunday, January 19 at The Irreverent Bookworm, 10:00-3:00. What a great name for a bookstore. Seriously. I love it.

Friday, January 24 at Eat My Words, 7:00 pm (these bookstore names, aren’t they just wonderful?)

Saturday January 25 at Sweet Reads in Austin, Minnesota, time TBD (Candy and books?! Does it get any better?)

Thursday January 30 at Subtext Books, 7:00 pm

Saturday, February 1 at Cherry Street Books in Alexandria, Minnesota, 1:00-2:30 pm.

 

Djibouti Jones in 2019

2019 was an awesome year and a hard year. I published my first traditionally published book! I got to go an incredible book tour! I signed a second book contract!

I also had cancer treatment and the cancer still came back. Are there upside down exclamation marks? I’d use one there. Here’s my cancer manifesto, which also, amazingly got published as a bookmark by my awesome sister who is a doctor.

Here is the book, the essays, and the podcast interviews I got to work on this year.


The Book

Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.

Find it at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Amazon

More info from Plough Publishing

From Booklist: “Why would anyone leave everything they ever knew behind to travel to a remote Muslim village in northern Kenya, to live among desert nomads dying of tuberculosis? Annalena Tonelli, a self-described ‘nobody,’ was a humanitarian from Italy, and a revolutionary in her own humble way.”

“A searing account of a person, place, deadly disease, unspeakable violence, and, ultimately, faith, love, and sacrifice.”

 

Articles

Making Order Out of Chaos, for the New York Times

Running While Foreign and Female, Christian Science Monitor

Split Me Open, to be included in The Other Journal’s print version

A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God, chosen for inclusion in the Norton Reader Anthology (I’m listed in the authors right next to Thomas Jefferson, so that’s cool)

Are Missionary Kids Missionaries?, Christianity Today Special Edition

Learning to Love Modern Day Lepers, Christianity Today

What Happened When I Lost My Literary Agent. Twice. Jane Friedman

How (and why) to Tell the Stories of “Quiet” Influencers, Ethical Storytelling

The Most Unlikely Marathoners in the World (Somaliland Marathon), Deadspin

Witnesses of the Kingdom, Plough

A Love Stronger than Fear, Plough

The Wells of Wajir, for EthnoTraveler

12 essays for A Life Overseas

 

Podcasts

 

Another Mother Runner: Running in Djibouti

Between the Desert and the Sea, at Books and Travel with Joanna Penn

Fierce and Lovely, with Beth Bruno

On Outsiders and Idols, at Mom Struggling Well

Taking Route, on living longterm abroad

Taking the Middle Seat

Giving Up Normal, with Jen Howat: Living at the Crossroads of Faith and Culture

Part 1

Part 2

Forties Stories with Christy Maguire: Getting Kids to College and a Diagnosis

The Family Culture Project, about keeping in touch long distance

Expat Focus, about raising Third Culture Kids and creating an intentional family culture

 

Here’s to a healthy and productive 2020.

By |December 16th, 2019|Categories: Writing|0 Comments

Rethinking the Nativity

I am tired of the Christmas story.

Clarification: I’m tired of the way I keep hearing it and seeing it and reading it. Let’s think about the Christmas story, as seen in thousands of movies, children’s pageants, poems, novels, kid’s books every year:

Joseph is kind of a chump. He gets pushed around by some angels and then makes the totally irresponsible decision to drag a pregnant woman in her late third trimester to a town miles and miles away, on foot or maybe on a donkey. He plans this trip so poorly that they barely make it to Bethlehem on time and while Mary is (silently and peacefully) enduring labor pains, he is knocking on the doors of the local Sheraton and Holiday Inns. Apparently though Joseph is from this town, he no longer has any connections or relationship with people there so not only is he irresponsible, he must have been quite the jerk.

The streets are empty, no one sees this pregnant woman and harried man, no one cares until the hapless innkeeper reluctantly allows the couple to use his filthy, though warm and well-supplied with soft, cuddly hay, stable out back.

Mary gives birth, alone, the umbilical cord is magically cut, the placenta just disappears, though Joseph would have had no idea what to do with it and Mary would have been in no state to direct him. The baby has this funny glowing circle over his head, doesn’t cry at all, is wrapped in a dirty, torn blanket, and perhaps licked by the barn animals.

Some shepherds come and see the baby and the parents living in the filth and stink of an animal barn and leave rejoicing.

This makes for beautiful paintings, poetry, songs, and children’s plays. But does it fit the cultural norms? More importantly, is it what the Bible teaches?

nativity

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How about this instead? (for more on this, read This Advent Season, A Look at the Real Setting)

Joseph, a man of courage and faith, realizes that his fiancee is in serious trouble. She could be stoned any day by the villagers because she is pregnant and not married. He is not required to bring Mary along to be counted in the census because she is a woman but he decides to tie his name to hers, tie his reputation to hers, and saves her life by taking her out of the village until the baby is born and emotions can simmer down. Who knows if they walked or rode donkeys but there is a distinct possibility that they rode in a cart. In any case, they arrived in Bethlehem before the day of Jesus’ birth. The Bible says: While they were there the time came for Mary to give birth. The Bible does not say: the moment they arrived they frantically pounded on doors.

He is wise, planned ahead, and is a hero. Not merely a background character, indistinguishable from shepherds in most nativity scenes.

It is hard to imagine that a working man of integrity and faith would have been rejected by relatives, no matter how extended. Not in this culture. In Djibouti people impose on extended relatives all the time, for long periods of time, cramped into small living spaces shared with livestock. No one would turn away a pregnant relative. No, he had family in Bethlehem and he went to the home of relatives where he and Mary rested from their journey and prepared for the birth of the baby.

The word ‘inn’ doesn’t refer to a Holiday Inn or Sheraton style building where a bed and meal can be purchased. It more likely refers to an upper room in a family home. Quite possibly Joseph’s relatives had other distant family in town for the census so the upper room was occupied. This meant the couple had to sleep downstairs in the open living space where animals were kept at night for safety and where they ate from troughs dug into the earth at one end of the room. They maybe slept on mats or piles of blankets, just as they would have upstairs. The room was warm and sheltered, probably filled with other traveling relatives.

Mary didn’t give birth alone. No place in the Bible is this written or implied. More likely she was surrounded by women. A midwife, Joseph’s relatives, neighbors. Shepherds came and found the child and his mother and left rejoicing because not only had they seen Grace and Mercy in the flesh, but they had seen a woman and child well-cared for and surrounded by caring women. Otherwise, they more likely would have praised God for that Grace and Mercy and then said: What are you doing here alone and cold?! Come with us, our women will care for you! No way would they have left a young mother and infant in that state and left rejoicing.

I don’t want to be too harsh, but maybe in the West, the first version, the version we are so used to, is acceptable because we can relate. A man unable to plan well for his pregnant fiancee. A woman in labor turned away, the needy ignored in the streets. Maybe we feel comfortable imagining that in ‘those’ places people only had dirty torn clothes to wrap around their babies, that in ‘those’ places mothers allow cows to lick their newborns. Maybe this, in some way, frees us from responsibility to act. If our Lord was born this way, it is not lowly or demeaning for other babies to be born alone, into a cold and unwelcoming world.

But in the East, in the culture and time in which Jesus was born, no way. Family, hospitality, food, community, these things are highly valued, no less in Jesus’ lifetime. A pregnant woman was not left in the street, especially when relatives were in town and even if she was pregnant out of wedlock. I could list off names and names of women I know in eastern cultures who have been pregnant outside of marriage and who have been neither stoned nor rejected from their families, but lovingly welcomed and cared for.

We want to make the birth of Jesus as hard as possible, as cold and lonely and desperate and painful as possible. Why? Is it because we can’t grasp the infinite coldness, loneliness, desperation, and pain of what the incarnation truly meant? We wrap it up in dirty clothes and stinking animals, in physical loneliness and fear. Is our feeble attempt at re-imagining the Christmas story our way of trying to understand, to put images and emotions to something so powerfully and deeply beyond our comprehension? To bring the miracle of God-made-flesh into our realm of understanding?

No matter what other pictures we paint to describe his birth nothing can make it harder than it was. Nothing can make it more loving than it was. Nothing can make it more miraculous than it was.

Jesus left heaven and was born a human baby, destined to die a human death.

Saying that Jesus was born into the hands of a skilled midwife or into a house filled with light and laughter and community takes nothing away from the glory of that night. It simply makes it more authentic.

*these thoughts stem from the incredible book: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey and I highly recommend this book. Highly.

*image credit

The Street Life

Where hope meets potential.

Check out The Street Life.

The Street Life a social enterprise based in Nairobi, Kenya. The purpose of this organization is to provide support, services, and resources to at-risk children and youth, many of whom are depending and living on the streets for survival. We currently operate in Nairobi, Kenya and provide assistance to various local NGOs in Somalia and Somaliland. Since 2017, The Street Life has been a dependable source for linking the populations we serve to accessing basic necessities, healthcare, education, and employment. To learn more about what we do, please visit www.welcometothestreetlife.com.
By |December 5th, 2019|Categories: africa|Tags: , |0 Comments

The Legacy of Annalena Tonelli, Carrying It On

Find Stronger than Death at Amazon,  Barnes and Noble,  and IndieBound

I love hearing how readers are moved and challenged and inspired by Stronger than Death. Some responses have even moved me to near tears.

I spoke at an English language school for adults in Djibouti. After my talk and an engaging Q/A time, students gathered in small groups to continue the discussion. One young man wrote his thoughts out and read them to the group. I asked if I could take a photo of his words and he gave me the paper. This is what he wrote:

“A good person is someone who displays love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, humility, patience, and she was faithful, and endures all things. Annalena was someone who displays self-control and considers others more important than herself. Annalena was a good listener and someone who displayed integrity and dignity and accountability toward others.”

This was so beautiful and it was incredibly meaningful that he picked up on these character traits. The conversation around the tables included things like how hard it can be serve, when other people tell you to not bother, or how disappointing it can be when service is rejected. We talked about how we can all take one little step, like picking up one piece of trash. Or how we can sit beside someone who is sick and be a loving, caring presence, even if we don’t have money to help treat their illness. And how we can hope to motivate others by our example.

It was lovely.

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Here is from another reader. People have asked how I think Annalena would react to having a book written about her and I hope Jodie is right:

“I finished it with the sense that Annalena would be proud – even as one who didn’t like all the attention – because you portrayed her in her humanness as well as her saintlikeness.” Jodie P.

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Someone else told me they finished the book with tears in their eyes and with ideas for how to be more aware of students in her classroom who might need a little extra affection or attention.

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Another person told me she would use this book to help explain some of her Somali history and culture to her American coworkers.

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Thanks to all for your feedback, for reading, and for sharing.

Don’t forget to leave a review and be sure to share the book with your friends and family! Maybe a great Christmas gift…!

 

Find Stronger than Death at Amazon,  Barnes and Noble,  and IndieBound